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I just finished working on another one of my youth anthologies, and this time it was about fast food. I absorbed a ton of random information about the fast food industry (you really don’t want to know, I promise), but one thing that really stood out is while American culture has shaped the demand for fast food, fast food has in turn transformed American culture — and not for the better.

Without a doubt, there are few things as quintessentially American as fast food. A few startup burger places catering to early SoCal car culture rode the expanding interstate highway system to grow into the fast food industry that we know today, filling a niche in American culture like no other.

“The extraordinary growth of the fast food industry has been driven by fundamental changes in American society,” writes Eric Schlosser in Fast Food Nation, his seminal book on the all-American meal. “A generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food in the United States was spent to prepare meals at home. Today about half of the money used to buy food is spent at restaurants — mainly at fast food restaurants.”

Forty-five years ago, Americans spent around $6 billion on fast food; in 2014, projected fast food sales were over $195 billion, according to Statista, a web-based statistics company. Eighty percent of Americans eat fast food at least monthly, and almost half eat it at least once a week.

According to Schlosser “over the last three decades, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society” and has become nothing less than “a revolutionary force in American life.”

For millions of people, fast food restaurants are the source of happy memories of birthday parties, first paychecks, and ubiquitously available comfort foods. For others, they represent a desperate oasis on a busy day or a reliable rest stop on a cross-country car trip.

For still others, however, fast food equates to dead-end jobs, poverty-level wages, cultural imperialism, food deserts, and serious health issues like obesity and diabetes.

The massive purchasing power of the fast food industry, however, makes it one of the most powerful industries in the world. Because of that, it is inextricably linked to millions of American jobs, to the national economy, to the stock market, and to the interests of powerful multinational corporations like Monsanto, Cargill, and Archer Daniels Midland.

Fast food directly influences US agricultural policies, the living conditions for livestock in factory farms, and the accepted practices in slaughterhouses. It shapes government oversight of food safety and global public health statistics, and it helps determine the price of eggs, the cost of dinner, and consumer attitudes about mass consumption.

Fast food chains sit at the top of the industrial food system, shaping everything that goes on below them — from the kind of potatoes farmers plant in Idaho, to the acres of Amazon rainforest cleared for cattle grazing, to the availability of fresh food in inner-city communities.

“During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture,” writes Schlosser. “Fast food and its consequences have become inescapable, regardless of whether you eat it twice a day, try to avoid it, or have never taken a single bite.”

Fast food doesn’t get to have the final word, though. All of our food choices have the potential to be transformative, so it is up to us to vote with our forks. Organic produce delivery companies in the Bay Area and elsewhere are doing their part to help reclaim the American diet, one bite at a time.