The origins of cheap, readily available food date back as far as the 1400’s, when quick food like waffles, pies, and soups became popular for travellers or poor families in pre-modern Europe. Stuff like flat-breads, falafel and other pre-cooked hot meals were all over the streets of the ancient and medieval world and these types of vendors can be considered the first kind of ‘fast food’.
Today, the US are most notorious for fast food, and this is tied up with the development of the automobile post WW1. The car was an American icon and soon allowed the ‘drive-thru’, another American icon, to develop.
Although it didn’t use an assembly line system, the first fast food restaurant was indeed White Castle, which opened in Wichita, Kansas in 1921. They radically changed the public’s opinion on hamburgers, which were often viewed as low quality and for the poor.
The McDonald brothers developed the assembly line system, also known as the “Speedee Service System” and opened the first restaurant in 1948. Several fast-food chains that exist today opened soon after. Burger King and Taco Bell got their start in the 1950s, and Wendy’s opened in 1969. Some chains, like KFC existed before the Speedee Service System, but modified their cooking techniques after its debut. McDonald’s, which started it all, is now the world’s largest fast-food chain. Solely in the US, McDonald’s restaurants have 13,837!
However, McDonald’s – and fast food in general – does not always get a welcoming reception around the world. McDonald’s restaurants have been attacked in several countries, including the United States, China, Belgium, Holland, India, Russia, Sweden and the U.K. Protestors have accused McDonald’s and other chains of selling unhealthy food, marketing aggressively to children and undermining local values and culture.