In the American mind, fast food by definition is bad for us—it’s greasy, processed and unhealthy, the major contributing factor in creating an obese generation.
But is fast food always the enemy of nutrition? Far from it. My favorite European fast food franchise, Nordsee, was founded as a fishing enterprise in 1896. During the 1960s, the company started opening stores that sold meals prepared from fresh seafood. It was a hit, and today there are more than 400 locations, primarily in Germany and Austria. Situated in urban areas, they offer a choice of baked, steamed or fried dishes, and provide a delicious alternative for people on the run.
None other than Ferran Adria, the dean of molecular gastronomy and proprietor of the recently shuttered El Bulli, is dabbling in this concept. Adria supposedly grew concerned about the obsession with fast food that was taking hold among Spain’s youth. He has started a collection of restaurants called Fast Good, located in NH Hotels in Madrid and Salamanca. You won’t find exploding olives or foie gras foam at Fast Good, but there are dishes such as pasta with parmesan; panini with brie, bacon and spinach; freshly ground veal hamburgers topped with melted gorgonzola, and fig yoghurt smoothies. The olive oil in the fryers is changed daily (during my brief fast food career, I was nearly fired for changing it twice each week), and the French fries are never previously frozen. Dishes start around six euros—not dirt cheap, perhaps, but the unspoken secret of American fast food is that it’s not cheap either.
There’s another benefit to places such as Nordsee and Fast Good. Employees who are engaged in turning out a quality product tend to have a better work ethic, self-concept and quality of life. If you doubt this, simply go into your neighborhood McDonald’s or Burger King, order a cup of coffee, and spend some time observing the workers. You’ll have a hard time figuring out who’s more unhappy—the people eating this food, or those preparing and serving it.