Follow TV Tropes


Fast-Food Nation

Go To

As befits a nation comprised of many different cultures, The United States sports a unique range of regional culinary traditions. This is true all over the country, from the massive cultural melting-pots of major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago to the small-but-proud traditions of the rural heartland. Most Americans are perfectly aware of this; they will practically come to blows arguing over which of the nation's many regional BBQ styles reigns supreme, what ingredients a bowl of chili should contain, or exactly what constitutes the perfect amount of spice on spicy chicken.

Likewise, many American culinary traditions are built on regional ingredients. Texans are bullish on beef while the Deep South is partial to pork. Coastal regions from Alaska to Florida sing of their seafood. Even the vaunted Cajun and Creole cuisines of Louisiana are based on foods located in and around the bayou, such as alligator, frog, and crawfish.


Not that you'd learn this from large swaths of the fiction we consume. When food is mentioned in many works, it tends to be from a pretty limited list of foods: hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, fried chicken, Asian takeout — basically, stuff you would commonly get at a drive-thru restaurant. Granted, there are some narrative reasons for this: these are foods that everyone is familiar with and don't require a detailed explanation that might distract from the task at hand.

Sometimes, however, a creator will intentionally portray junky fast food as a major part — if not the majority or even entirety — of what Americans eat. They will deliberately dispose of the vast variety of vittles available in most any given region, and portray ridiculous Nutritional Nightmare Fuel as the only dishes desired by Americans. When this happens, America is being portrayed as a Fast-Food Nation.


For examples to count as this trope, the use of this stereotype must be deliberate. How deliberately this trope is used is generally evident from the way it's played. It's most likely unintentional if the characters' low-nutrient, high-calorie diet has no plot significance and makes no impact on their health or physique, much like a dietary version of "Friends" Rent Control. In more extreme, Anvilicious examples, typical Americans may be portrayed as morbidly obese, or actively dying because of their diets. The most extreme examples tend to be limited to political cartoons, works making a point about the evils of a junk food-based diet, and works attempting the "'Murica the Boorish" variant of Eagleland. If the latter, the engorged Americans are likely to be arrogant, obnoxious, and mean as well.

It's worth noting that there are some grains of truth in this trope. The idea that Americans eat too much fast food is indeed a stereotype that exists across the world, due in no small part to fast-food restaurants being one of the States' biggest cultural exports. There's also the fact that, on the whole, Americans do rely on fast and convenience food more than is ideal. However, the causes of that trend are much more complex than "Americans have no self-control." Many Americans' lifestyles have become so busy and fast-paced that fast food may be the only viable option for the amount of time available to eat. Fast food is also often cheaper, at least in the short term, than buying large quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is why many of the heaviest consumers of fast food are in the lower income brackets.

Tends to involve lots of Deep-Fried Whatever. May involve Food Porn if it describes particularly delicious-sounding junk food, or Nausea Fuel if deliberately taken to disgusting extremes. Often overlaps with Big Eater. See also Nutritional Nightmare for foods that may be appealing but are horribly unhealthy. Rarely involves a Lethal Chef — at least, in the trope sense. The chef involved may be lethal in the long term, but probably not because the food tastes bad.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Hetalia: Axis Powers: In America's introductory scene, the other characters are unable to understand what he is saying because he is scarfing down burgers while talking. When England asks him to stop, he switches to drinking cola while talking instead.

    Eastern Animation 
  • In the South-Korean animated series Pucca, the first appearance of recurring villains Texas Lugie and his wife has them open a fast food restaurant with fattening and highly addictive food, causing the villagers to become really fat and out of shape.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: "The Food Court" highlights the fascination Penny's mom has with the title venue. The poem includes a list of her junk-food favorites such as cookies, fries, burgers, shakes, pretzel bites, ice cream, onion rings, and fried fish filet sandwiches.
  • In Miraculous: The Phoenix Rises, the eight food groups on the updated, corporate sponsored food pyramid are Mcdonalds, Popeyes, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Coca-Cola, prescription painkillers, and cigarettes.

    Films — Animation 
  • Grumpy Bear Vincent's entire stash in Over the Hedge is composed of junk food, with Pringles expy Spuddies regarded as the epitome of foodstuffs. When RJ the raccoon has to replenish this stockpile, he and his friends raid human suburbs, where junk food seems to be their sole staple.
  • In The Triplets of Belleville, the titular city is a caricature of New York City, where the citizens are almost exclusively grossly overweight people eating hamburgers and other junk food.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle spoofs this as an example of how much the world has changed from Rocky and Bullwinkle's world of perpetual reruns from The '60s to Real Life during the Turn of the Millennium in a Running Gag of our heroes passing through the same small midwestern, where all of the establishments are nothing but fast food chains.
  • Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me paints America as obsessed with McDonald's and the titular super-size option, to the point of health risk without care by the corporation. The core of the film is about Spurlock eating only McDonald's food for a month on only McDonalds food, causing significant weight gain, cholesterol increase, and some immediate physical and emotional illness. The significance of these results have been criticized, mostly because Spurlock didn't keep a precise record of what he ate (so one can't tell if the stated 5000 Calories per day came from oversized portions or ordering too many items per day) and his body's reaction was definitely exacerbated by his diet changing so suddenly (he had been on a vegan diet for some time before).
  • In Demolition Man, ever since the Fast Food Wars, Taco Bell is the only place to eat (at least in the US). None of them are fast-food places, though, as junk food has been outlawed — they're just called "Taco Bell" now, having long since become a much fancier dining establishment.
  • The 1995 Disney-distributed comedy Heavyweights takes a jab at the child obesity epidemic in the U.S. in that fast food restaurants have become so ubiquitous that parents have resorted to shelling out thousands of dollars for weight-loss camps to slim down their morbidly obese teenage sons. They resort to cheating on their diets by sneaking in junk food (it wasn't that challenging, the film's fat camp was surrounded by streets of fast food joints) and end up gaining double-digit numbers of pounds before getting their next weigh-in, making the supervisor have a meltdown (it's hilarious; he starts talking to himself loudly, then screams at everyone else) and force them to hike for twenty miles in one day alone.
  • Exaggerated and parodied, like so many other elements of American lower-class culture, in Idiocracy. Growing portion sizes went hand-in-hand with the dumbing down of America; the fast food chain Carl's Jr. sells fries and tacos in "extra big-ass" portion sizes, and the sit-down hamburger restaurant chain Fuddruckers has seen its name devolve into a reference to anal sex.

  • Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is all about the history of fast food and the unique place it occupies in American culture and society today. At one point, Schlosser visits the Cheyenne Mountain military base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and muses about what might be the last remains of America in the event of the end of the world as we know it:
"And should Armageddon come, should a foreign enemy someday shower the United States with nuclear warheads, laying waste to the whole continent, entombed within Cheyenne Mountain, along with the high-tech marvels, the pale blue jumpsuits, comic books, and Bibles, future archaeologists may find other clues to the nature of our civilization: Big King wrappers, hardened crusts of Cheesy Bread, Barbeque Wing bones, and the red, white, and blue of a Domino's Pizza Box."

    Live-Action TV 
  • It has been noted that Adam Richman's gross-out fest portraying the very best and worst of American eating, Man v. Food, has succeeded in presenting a not very flattering picture of American eating habits to viewers outside the USA. The insane eating challenges, and even the standard portion sizes Adam explores in his tour of American food, have contributed to the (largely false but generally held) perception outside the USA that all Americans are waddling, obese, three-hundred-pound gutbuckets who habitually eat to excess.
  • Parks and Recreation: Several episodes' plots revolve around the Parks and Rec team attempting to get the citizens of Pawnee to be healthier, though they themselves are constantly tempted into eating terrible fast food. The most popular restaurant in the town of Pawnee is Paunch Burger, a burger joint with comically massive portions (their small drink is essentially a bucket), whose logo is a profile silhouette of a very fat man. Even the main cast regularly comments on how salads are a terrible food item with no redeeming qualities, and they commonly find themselves tempted into eating Paunch Burger food despite their disapproval of its effects on society. Another episode focuses on "nutrition" bars with an absurdly high sugar content, and the team's attempts to prevent them from being sold at parks, though the public loves them... because they're literally addictive.
  • Supernatural: The show revolves around the Winchester Brothers as they drive around the country, hunting ghosts, demons, and monsters. Dean Winchester is a big aficionado of junk food, never giving up the chance to pig out on burgers, fries, and pie wherever they go (and yet somehow still manages to always look as thin and toned as Jensen Ackles). Sam Winchester, meanwhile, tries to eat healthy and is always seen regarding his brother's eating habits with disapproval. Deconstructed in Season 7, when it's revealed that the Leviathans' plot involves using an engineered food additive to turn America's population into fat, complacent, human cattle ripe for harvesting - starting out with burgers, but ramping up their operation to include virtually all processed foods and soft drinks by the end of the season.

  • Larry Groce's 1975 novelty hit "Junk Food Junkie" is about a man who seems to be a health food advocate but leads a secret life of eating Nutritional Nightmare foods.
    Oh yeah in the daytime I'm Mr. Natural
    Just as healthy as I can be
    But at night I'm a junk food junkie
    Good Lord have pity on me!

    Video Games 
  • In the Grand Theft Auto series, most of the places you can get food are fast food places, hot dog vendors, or food trucks. (This makes sense, as most players probably don't want to take a break from unfettered chaos for a fancy meal at a fancy restaurant - the closest thing one can get to a meal, in fact, is at the Well Stacked Pizza.) The only exceptions to this are when the player is on a date or out with friends, then a diner or fancy restaurant is an option. True to form, the games milk this for all it's worth, with ads for these places on radio and TV highlighting their overstuffed portion sizes, the animal cruelty that goes into making the food, how it can be potentially deadly (Burger Shot's specialties have some... suggestive names) and (in the case of the Italian-themed Olive Garden parody Al Dente's) the fact that the "ethnic" cuisine they serve bears no resemblance to anything that people actually eat overseas.
  • Saints Row does this in the first two games with any food the player purchases coming from fast food places like Freckle Bitch's. The food system is done away with in the third game and doesn't return for the fourth, so this doesn't continue.

    Web Original 
  • The Creepypasta Burgrr is about a fast-food chain that... appears in the middle of the protagonist's hometown one day, and he's the only one who notices how disgusting and unhealthy the food is. Everyone, from his nasty old bag of a neighbor to primetime news anchors, eats it except him, with the implication being that it's subsumed across all of America....

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • There is a "Fast Food Boulevard", an entire area filled with fast food restaurants, most notably Krusty Burger.
    • In "Sweets n' Sour Marge", after Springfield is named the "world's fattest town", Marge realizes there's sugar in practically everything the townspeople eat, prompting her to declare war on the sugar industry.
  • Satirized in South Park where in "Ass Burgers", it turns out that the fast food joints of the United States are all a militarized gangster-like organization (they only claim to be rivals in the public image but are actually collaborators) intent on monopolizing America's entire food market and when Cartman's burger stand becomes instantly popular, they try to get Stan to give up the recipe for Cartman Burgers simply for taking away their customers in a small mountain town at most. These major billionaire fast food chains in America do not even sit well with small kiddie stands on the street selling foods.