How the IE Ruined the World

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Posted March 20, 2008 in Feature Story

In a roundabout way, the Inland Empire ruined not only California, not only America, but the entirety of the world. It did it by tapping into the dirtiest word in the lexicon (convenience) by introducing two far more consequential words: Fast Food.

Fast food has long been a metaphor for American culture: it tastes delicious and it’s cheap; that it offers little substance is secondary information. In his sociological book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser describing how useful future anthropologists would find the discarded wax wrappers and littered paper cups from bygone fast food days to glean a little insight into the ways our times. Rather than create widespread panic, the book only made us feel a slight tinge of guilt.

Fast food joints have become a scourge in low-income neighborhoods, where they often outnumber grocery stores and have been blamed (not without some justice) for America’s obesity epidemic. Because isn’t it laziness that they ultimately serve, a subsidiary of convenience? But that’s not all. Fast food’s been charged with everything from deforestation of South American rainforests and targeting kids with branded school lunches and cartoonish advertising campaigns to spreading American dietary imperialism across newly open markets in Asia. Go ahead and Grimace.

But there are always two sides to a hamburger bun. 

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who ate three McDonald’s meals a day for 30 days—consuming an average of 5,000 calories a day, 3,000 more than an average adult male needs—in his film Super Size Me and subsequently suffered grave health consequences, spawned a decent number of counter documentaries whose collective thesis was that a fast food diet isn’t so bad, so long as it’s coupled with exercise and moderate caloric intake. 

Swedish scientist Fredrik Nyström repeated the Spurlock’s experiment using nine university students who were discouraged from exercising, and while the students did gain weight during the study, they hardly deteriorated as much as Spurlock did during the filming of his documentary. Nyström concluded that Spurlock may have had undiagnosed liver problems prior to his experiment, thus abnormally affecting his health. 

Pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman conducted his own experimentations before Spurlock for a newspaper in Akron, Ohio, and reported that he actually lost weight after a week of Micky-D’s. 

And none of these studies could have been conducted if the devil—er, IE—didn’t create the subject matter. Indeed, fast-food culture is one of the Inland Empire’s chief exports, with McDonald’s getting its start in San Bernardino and giving birth to an entire industry of copycats and competitors—some would say, Hamburglars.

When the McDonald’s hamburger-stand opened in Berdoo in 1940, it wasn’t much different from most small hamburger joints at the time . . . but by 1948, owners Dick and Mac McDonald had revolutionized the short-order kitchen by implementing their Speedee Service System. This system laid the framework for the modern fast food kitchen, turning the whole thing into more of an assembly line process. It proved to be a huge success for their tiny restaurant, and the turnover was tremendous. Thus, the McDonald’s decided to take the concept the marketplace. 

Originally, the brothers had planned to only franchise their kitchen system, but business owners began replicating the entire restaurant style, complete with the two golden arches—originally designed by Fontana-based architect Stanley Clark Meston—which have propelled the fast food chain above Coca-Cola in worldwide brand recognition. The McDonald’s empire now boasts nearly 31,000 restaurants and a half-million employees. But the McDonald brothers weren’t the only ones vying for the hearts and viscera of the Inland Empire, and the chain’s success soon spawned a virtual empire of convenience-driven purveyors of cheap, easy food. 

Glen Bell, who would later go on to found Taco Bell, the second largest fast food chain behind McDonald’s, opened a hot dog stand in San Bernardino after returning home from World War II, and started selling $.19 tacos from a side window at his shack. Bell went on to establish Taco Bell’s predecessor, Tia Tacos and later El Tacos, in the city before establishing his first Taco Bell restaurant in Downey in 1962. Bell himself revolutionized the idea of a short order kitchen, developing specialized equipment to dish out more tacos and burritos per minute than any other short order Mexican-ish chain. 

Similar to the McDonald brothers, Bell would go on to inspire the rapid spread of the fast food empire throughout Southern California. He gave John Galardi, who would go on to found Wienerschnitzel around the time that Taco Bell was launched, his first job and introduced him to the industry. Legend has it that Bell’s wife chose the moniker for Galardi’s chain of hot dog stands. He also employed Ed Hackbarth, who opened one of Bell’s eponymous taco stands in Barstow, and went on to open Casa del Taco in Yermo, Barstow and Corona. He later truncated the restaurant’s name to the more familiar Del Taco. 

And of course there’s Neil Baker, founder of Baker’s Drive-Thru, who combined the fast hamburger stand with the fast Mexican kitchen and opened the first split-kitchen fast food joint in 1952, based on the short order model laid down by his predecessors. 

That’s an awful lot of tempational warfare for one area to engage, but it wasn’t only laziness and convenience each of these innovators were tapping—it was the larger psyche of got-to-have-it-right-now that only enhanced as times got more hectic. 

 

In some ways, the health and social consequences of the fast food industry that was birthed here in the IE seems a moot point. It’s an uber-convenient cultural wart both here and globally; but we’re entrenched in our ways. Even with health risks, a modern man’s attitude is still, “generally unhealthy is nothing against delicious, cheap and easy.” Perhaps the Inland Empire’s gift to the world—and remember, we also brought you the Hell’s Angels!—has created a nasty metaphor for the American way of life. Perhaps it was inevitable, if not us, then St. Louis or Amarillo, Texas.

But hey, hasn’t fast food contributed to the greater conversation of what our society is and why we do the things we do? Isn’t the metaphor a number four combo with extra conscientiousness and a side or morality? 

Ahem, we can rationalize anything—so long as we order a diet soft drink to help offset the reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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