Fast food restaurants and fast-casual chains have their place in American hearts, for better or for worse. While some Americans might rely too heavily on diets subsisting of processed hamburgers and fried potatoes, these restaurants provide food services for millions of people for a relatively low price tag. However, as customers may enjoy a 99 cent chicken sandwich, how are enterprises such as McDonald's, Wendy's and the tens of other chains able to keep with the high demand while keeping prices incredibly low?
It's recently come to light that chains are dealing with a lot of questions about their food: How healthy are the meats that these restaurants  use? How sustainable is the practice of producing millions of pounds of food per year? What are the implications that human dependence on fast food will have on the environment and on the welfare of animals in the food supply chain?
Spicing up the fast food market
Fast-casual Tex​-Mex restaurant Chipotle has been in the news over the past few months for their efforts to eradicate GMOs and find sustainably and ethically sourced meats and vegetables. A few months ago, amidst the great pork shortage of 2015, the burrito bigwigs announced that they would be looking for alternative sources for carnitas and endeavor to be GMO-free as soon as possible, Fortune noted. However, this is not only a problem for pork enthusiasts, it poses another larger, more significant problem.
Food with Integrity, a program that Chipotle has that touts the benefits of properly sourced food, now requires that all of its pork products that are only raised outside or in highly humane indoor conditions, reported TriplePundit. Since the company couldn't find enough sources of ethically raised pork for its restaurants, they discontinued serving it altogether. It seems that the entire country doesn't have enough pork supply that's both humane and antibiotic-free.
It's great that Chipotle has such high standards for food, and officials announced that many locations are putting pork back as an option, but what does that mean for the rest of the country and the world that relies on sourced food? How healthy is the food we ingest and how is it affecting our environment?
Super-sized issues
Restaurants like Chipotle open up public consciousness about issues with the food supply chain. Not only are people becoming more aware of what goes into the plants and animals that make up our food. This opens up the conversation further to how we can talk about the implications that our fast food habits have on our environment.
GreenBiz reported that a lot of American restaurants used to purchase goods that were sourced from places that had once be rainforests and while the efforts to stop such practices have not gone unnoticed, there is still more to be done in this specific supply chain. Deforestation remains to be a prevalent issue, and while there are declarations stating that it will be done by 2030, there is still a lot of work to do until we are at that point.
Fortunately, there is a lot of public support for ethically sourced, GMO-free food from environmentally friendly locations. However, consumers need to realize that the low prices of french fries and cheeseburgers come at the expense of our health, the well-being of animals and the environment. In order to make real changes, fast food customers have to get behind the movement. Americans may want the best of both worlds, but we need to find a happy medium before there's no place left for our supply chain to go.
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