Fast food joints suck the life out of our restaurants

Published 11:07 am Thursday, June 8, 2023

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While bona fide restaurants still are struggling to emerge from a smothering health pandemic to grow their local businesses, they must contend with fast food joints that are laying siege to them.

Fast food “joints” is the nomenclature I choose for places such as Bojangles, McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Sonic, Arby’s, Chick-fil-A, Subway and the rest of the lot. The New York marketing slicks with their “happy meals” want you to call them restaurants and to think that they are restaurants. They are not. Not even close.

My food napkin isn’t without a smidgen of special sauce. I occasionally have circled the drive-thru to grab something at a fast food joint in a pinch even though I know the food isn’t good for anyone’s health. But, 99 percent of the time I’m going to spend my eating-out budget dollars at a local restaurant. Here’s why:

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The food options are more nutritious.

It’s a locally owned and operated business.

Most of the dollars I spend there are circulated in our local economy rather than being shipped off to another state or country. Those dollars are used by restaurant employees and owners to pay for local goods and services. Think of it as though it were a traffic circle as opposed to a one-way exit.

The fast food industry also undermines food security in small communities such as ours. These giant corporations crush local control over food production.

The next time you hear someone clamoring for a Popeye’s to open in their neighborhood, ask them how much of that chicken comes from farms in Western North Carolina. Hint: the answer is zero. The same is true of those chain “steak houses,” which are long on atmosphere and short on food quality.

These chain food joints don’t send buyers to our local farmers markets the way some local restaurants do.

Fast-food corporations are behemoths. They create food deserts, particularly in rural areas like ours where poverty and low income are daily burdens. Ten companies own more than 50 of the biggest chains in the world. Chain franchises often have owners who will never live in our communities. That means they don’t care about us. They only care about siphoning away our dollars.

These fast food corporations use a business model that is the antithesis of sustainable food. Instead, they are anti-local and anti-farmer. They sustain massive factory farms where millions of chickens and other meat animals are crammed together like sardines in a can in order to produce as many as possible in the shortest period of time. In that process, they pollute our water, land and air.

The fast food joints love our area and are expanding rapidly here not only because there is demand but also they are virtually ungoverned by local rules, enabling them to throw up a building in an area smaller than a community swimming pool.

The struggle by our local “mom-and-pop” restaurants is real. Some are hanging on by a spider thread. Local leaders who celebrate the arrival of yet another “happy meal” would do well to remember that it’s their friends and neighbors who are risking it all.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at