Fast Food Finds a New Groove

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When America’s favorite and most garish eateries begin serving burgers made from grass-fed beef at the drive-through window, prepare for a revolution. Hundreds of small farmers and ranchers around the country are supplying fast food restaurants with free-range chicken, all natural beef, and pork from barnyard pigs. As the restaurant chains have grown and expanded into new markets, the small producers have prospered as well.

Consumers, who once voted the Big Mac their favorite Thanksgiving dinner, are increasingly wary of what might be lurking inside the bun. Reports about diseased animals from factory farms, ponds filled with reeking livestock waste, and new drugresistant bacteria do not build consumer confidence. So, surely it is no surprise that residents of the fast food nation are looking to upgrade their dinner menu.

Some fast food restaurants now insist on meat from animals raised in actual pasture without the benefit of growth hormones and antibiotics. Others are going even further, offering shakes made from fresh seasonal berries and onion rings from local produce. As they make the switch to more natural products, their clientele is growing. Let’s Be Frank, a small chain of “natural” hot dog stands in San Francisco is beginning to infiltrate the hot dog market, while Chipotle Mexican Grill has gone big time with 730 outlets in 30 states and still growing.

If food reviewers have anything to do with it, these newfangled fast food chains and their suppliers will be a smashing success. A reviewer from roadfood.com recently sampled the fare at Burgerville, an expanding chain of fast food restaurants in Washington and Oregon. He reports, “Burgerville’s burgers are superb, especially the Colossal Tillamook Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburgers.” As for the fish and chips made from North Pacific halibut, he waxes, “Deep fried until brittle-crisp, each piece feels featherlight and flakes into pearl white hunks that drip flavor.”

Admittedly, the prices are a bit higher than at the traditional fast food restaurants but, so far, consumers seem willing to pay a premium to feel better about their fast food.

Linda is responsible for the PERC web sites, media relations, the national journalism conference, and the media fellows program. She is author of Forest Fires, part of a series of  environmental education books for high school students. She also wrote and produced Square One, a newsletter that introduced grassroots environmentalists to market...
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