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The Foolishness of Furiously Fast Food

I was given a free coffee at McDonalds last week.

The manager gave it to me because I had been standing in line for 4 or 5 minutes while a new cashier was trying to sort out the breakfast order for the painters who were in front of me.

It was just after dawn and two tattooed guys with splattered pants and company issued T-shirts were trying to remain calm while the new lady behind the register kept pressing the wrong buttons. After a couple of minutes the older of the two guys actually leaned over and tried to help. This is when the manager stepped in.

She got them their order and gave me the coffee saying, “Sorry you had to wait so long.”

I dumped three creamers into my steaming cup and slurped the goodness of beans that were handpicked on a mountainside in the other hemisphere.

That first jolt of caffeine got me thinking about the speed of food and how it influences culture. I know contemplating culture at a McDonalds seems like an oxymoron. For sure it’s not always easy to think deep thoughts when top-forty lyrics jumble together with the epithets rising from the gaggle of old men who mysterious gather at sunrise in the corners of fast food places.

In spite of all that noise, my thoughts lit upon the title of a book I picked up long ago at a used book store. “Leisure – The Basis of Culture” by Joseph Pieper. It was published in the 1950’s, the same decade golden arches started spouting all over America and calories started flying across stainless steel counters.

The main gist of the book is that humans need free time to create culture. Pieper argues that when all our time and energy is used trying chase down our food, we don’t have the time and energy to paint pictures or write poetry. In other words: when food is too fast we don’t have time to create culture.

Native Americans who lived on the plains are a great example of this. The beautiful bead work and glorious head dresses they created didn’t happen until after they tamed the wild horses that escaped from the Conquistadors. Once they figured out how to hunt on horseback, killing buffalo became way easier. This was when they finally had enough time to weave dyed porcupine quills into their children’s moccasins and eagle feathers into their warriors bonnets.

After a few more sips of coffee I suddenly woke up to the reality that history has repeated itself. That once again our food is too fast for us to create much culture. Fast food has turned the plastic tables, the big red clown shoe is now on our foot, and the predator has become the prey!

Yes my friends it’s true, our food is chasing us.

It waits in ambush for from behind drive through windows. It spears us between the ribs and pounces on our souls. Our too-fast-food is bleeding our creative juices into greasy paper bags while we lay anesthetized in our glutted stupor.

We try to out jog it, out crunch it, out P-90 X it. But all too often our food is just too fast for us and it sinks its sweet teeth into our ever narrowing veins until all we can do is gulp down a culture that comes to us in 140 character swigs.

If I could ride a time machine I would love to sit down at the kitchen table with my great grandmother. She raised her dead daughters three children on a small farm, and It would be interesting to tell her that in the not to distant future we could get a bucket of chicken in three minutes-not the three hours it would have taken her to kill, pluck, quarter, and cook Sunday dinner.

With the revelatory knowledge of such fast food, she might have predicted that with all that free time on our hands our ceilings would be covered with beautiful frescos, we would all be fluent in four or five languages, and that all our kids would be playing concertos by age six.

Sadly, she would have been wrong.

Jeff Ell is pretty good at catching, killing, picking, and growing things to eat. He regularly finds bemusement in the outdoors and enjoys telling his stories to anyone who will listen. Jeff’s the author of Ruth Uncensored, blogs at and can be contacted via Facebook or smoke signal.

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  1. Great work Jeff! Always love your stories and your insights into humanity. Zebras and gazelles are also pretty fast food for big cats. Must be why they don’t have much culture either… By the way, Zirk is such a wonderful name. Any ideas on where that came from.

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