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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Is fast food bad for Europe?

Is fast food and convenience food one American import we Europeans can do without? Whatever happened to those long, sociable lunches and family meals together?

Convenience food is quick and cheap - perfect for a family in which everyone works - but is it undernourishing our bodies and irrevocably changing the structure of our days?

For the Europewide Debate, Europe Today's Janet Barrie brought together Amanda Craig - a journalist and novelist who's written about the liberating boon of convenience food and the hell of family mealtimes; and Antonio Carluccio, a restaurateur and proponent of the Italian "slow food" movement.

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

Yes, fast food is safe if handled properly. The only thing EU citizens have to worry about is a fast politician.
D.Tyler, England

As a teenager I had quite a few meals at fast-food joints like McD or BK. In those days I couldn't stand "traditional" fare. However, as I grew older (I'm 32), I learnt to appreciate fine food and wine. Today, I walk in a fast-food joint only if the alternative is starving. In Europe, especially in France and Italy, fast food is selling mostly to young people. It's just another teenager's bad habit, like smoking - smart kids know how to kick it eventually.
Silvio Sandrone, Germany

There's nothing intrinsically bad about fast food. It just seems invariably badly cooked and served. If burgers and fries were cooked to the high culinary standard normally associated with European cuisine, not only would it be more enjoyable but Europe could also make its mark on the Americanisation of food.
Dave Lock, Wales

I think Europe should develop its own fast food and sell it to the Americans

Mark, Denmark
I think Europe should develop its own fast food and sell it to the Americans. From some of the comments above, it's clear that there is a market.
Mark, Denmark

American fast food companies such as Burger King and McDonalds offer people a tasty quick way of eating. If you incorporate these meals as part and only part of your diet, then I do not think they are harmful. If on the other hand, these fast food meals are your primary diet, then yes they are very high in fat and therefore unhealthy!
Mimi Anayannis, USA

The import of "ethnic American" food tastes such as McD's will soon be supplemented in the UK by our equally tasteless "all you can eat" Chinese and "Country Style" buffets. The British culture has been quick to adopt the "eat with your hands", "who needs a plate" style of eating, which may reflect cultural changes ongoing within the UK? The answer to whether these imports to Europe should continue is simple. Don't like it - don't buy it!
Steve, USA

Don't assume that simply because fast-food companies are American, that all Americans enjoy and/ or frequent them. The caveat "buyer beware" applies here as well.
Michelle, NY, USA

I would rather have a good meal of freshly cooked crawfish gumbo

Stephen, USA
Nothing is bad for you if it is eaten in moderation. Sometimes, when on the go, eating fast food is unavoidable. It tastes pretty good, but I would rather have a good meal of freshly cooked crawfish gumbo. That stuff is unbeatable!
Stephen, USA

Most Americans realise the poor nutritional value of fast food. However, companies like McDonalds and Burger King keep shoving $0.99 deals down everybody's throats. The stuff doesn't even taste good (except to my dogs).
Ivan, USA

It's not that fast food is bad for the EU, it's that the EU is bad for everyone in it.
William Dryden, UK

Hamburger and fries, fish and chips - what is the difference? "Fast Food" and the takeaway are really present just about everywhere and are as old as Rome. The real difference is that Americans have made a lifestyle of it.
Rich, USA

Offensive though the food is, the buildings are far worse

Bill Nicholas, Germany (ex UK)
Offensive though the food is, the buildings are far worse. Travel to any beautiful old city or scenic spot in the African desert, and there's a huge plastic yellow "M" - it doesn't have to be this way, I come from a city where McDonalds was not allowed to have any external advertisements and the town where I now live has done the same. Let's not get pushed around by these trash businesses and start giving them some tough controls and regulations.
Bill Nicholas, Germany (ex UK)

Do we in Europe really want to have similar health problems and a shorter life expectancy like our American friends? It's evident that fast food has its obvious advantages, but part of McDonalds and similar companies' success can be linked to its (ethically questionable) marketing campaign of targeting children, whose appetite for fun is greater than their knowledge for health.
David Escartin, Malaga, Spain

Fast food is something everybody should be able to do without. I'm a vegan, so I never go near those fast-food chain anyway and my family is Muslim, so they cannot eat at these places - and they're still alive!
Ann, USA (Malaysian)

I think you are right but sometimes fast food is useful if everyone's out or too busy to make a proper meal
Neil Harrison, N. Ireland

Everyone seems to link all fast food chains to America, but remember Burger King is British owned.
Mark, UK

When I was a teenager, my parents used to bring McD and all the family enjoyed it. However, over the years the quality of fast food has dropped drastically and I've stopped going to McD, Burger King, etc.
Navid Iqbal, Colorado, USA

Many Americans avoid fast food, but companies like Burger King and the "Golden Arches" market their products to children, who not only want the food, but the toys as well. What can a reasonable parent do?
Drew, NYC, USA

Fast food outlets are just the pointy-end of an American corporate pop culture wedge

Pete, Canada
Sharing the same landmass as the United States, it is very difficult for Canada to assert its cultural independence from the subversive American hegemonic influence. I may not be a European, but I can inject some "food for thought" into this debate. American "hamburger-and-fries" fast food outlets are just the tip of the iceberg. They are "bad" for Europe in two ways, one glaringly obvious: Americans are notoriously fat - by some accounts over one in every two is overweight, many of them obese. This comes largely as a result of poor diet and inactivity - hallmarks of a "fast food-and-television culture". This raises my second point; fast food outlets are just the pointy-end of an American corporate pop culture wedge that, if Europeans are not diligent, will overwhelm Europe's many beautiful and deep-rooted traditions - and I don't mean just French gastronomy.
Pete, Canada

I lived in the US for about 5 years and saw many health problems connected with eating fast food. Also, most of this food contains Monosodium Glutamate. I would never recommend any kind of fast food, you never know what you end up eating.
Eva, Czech Republic

I have spent 10 years in Italy and with a 2 hour lunch-break, I think it would be hard for me to return to the UK.
Andrew Jupp, Italy

All USA fast food recipes are, after all, of European, Asian or American Indian origin. The USA is just better at packaging and marketing it.
Oreste Assereto, USA

I think the American influence on Europe is so huge, that I do everything in order to avoid it. Even that means not eating at McDonalds.
Eirik Gismervik, Norway

Sometimes fast food is unavoidable in our fast-moving life, yet it must not become the way we eat. I've spent a year in America and I don't think we have to eat the way they do. It is both unhealthy and boring, not to mention the alienating effect of not having time for conversation.
Daniel, Hungary

Europeans beware of fast food! You don't know what you are putting into your body

Maldi, California, USA
While Europe is changing its ways into American ones, Americans, being tired of fast food and recognising it as very unhealthy, are trying to avoid fast food in exchange for "slow, old fashioned" food. Europeans beware of fast food! You don't know what you are putting into your body.
Maldi, California, USA

Fast food is overrated in my experience. I remember trying my first Big Mac and was extremely disappointed. I now avoid it like the plague, and happily feast on home-made sandwiches with lots of greens and yummy lean meat.
Jack Jones, Australia

American convenience food. I think the key words are moderation and choice.
Lee Walmsley, UK

Let Europeans vote with their wallets. If they don't want American fast food, then they won't buy it.
Tom Byrne, USA

I've just spent 2 months in Spain, and if it wasn't for my kids I would have turned a blind eye entirely to all the familiar American-based companies (McD, Burger King, etc).
Justine, USA

I think most young Europeans enjoy American fast food and in moderation it is not bad

John, UK
I think most young Europeans enjoy American fast food and in moderation it is not bad. It gives us extra choice in a fast-moving world. Not all fast food has a high fat content. For example my lunch today of "sushi to go" contained a healthy combination of rice, fish and sesame seeds with a chilli sauce. Most open-minded people are now interested in a fusion of gastronomic styles but it varies from country to country. London restaurants have now moved ahead of those of Paris because of their ability to adapt to changing tastes.
John, UK

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See also:

30 Jun 00 | Europe
Big Mac protester to stand trial
16 Sep 99 | Europe
Chirac slams US food domination
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