Origins Of Fast Food

Fast food is largely believed to be a relatively recent innovation, created by Americans out of necessity. Because of the increasingly fast pace of our lives and because we spend more and more time away from home and out of the kitchen, there came a natural need for a quick replacement to home-cooked meals. In enters fast food.
Maybe it will come as a surprise to hear that the concept of fast food actually appeared in Medieval Europe. Urban dwellers had no space, money or the necessary means to cook food at home, so they relied on this sort of “fast food” in Britain, as well as continental Europe, as early as the 12th century.

Because the poor lived in single rooms and had no kitchens and no money, they understandably had very little to choose from, in terms of food. Bread was an important part of their diet, because it was easily accessible and could be “stretched out” over several days, without going bad. Most prepared food was based on flour and was intended to be served hot and consumed immediately.

13th and 14th century London saw fast food like pancakes, pies, wafers and hot cakes, all containing wheat, and meat pastries and pies, which can be considered to be the precursors of today’s hamburgers, due to adaptability and ease of consumption and carrying. London even had a rudimentary version of a non-stop drive-in: food would be prepared and sold at all times, day and night, and travelers would stop by to satisfy their hunger.

Some places sold quite a few meat-based dishes, although not necessarily the type of meat we eat today. They included birds, wildfowl, rabbits, swans and geese, but also fish and chicken. Of course, the finer meats were served to the rich customers, while coarser ones were received by the poor.

But even so, the people who were better-off were not keen on dining in such cookshops, because the cooks were not known to be the cleanest, the most careful or the most honest. Repulsive cooking practices, as well as rotten or spoiled food were not uncommon in these places, which is why they were generally avoided by higher classes, who had the ability to prepare and store food in-home.

In fact, it is generally assumed that the entire reason why dishes were so copiously spiced in the Middle Ages is that they needed to mask the taste of rotten meat or otherwise spoiled food. That is entirely believable, but we also need to take into consideration that food was rather bland in those times, so people were in dire need of some flavor. Both rich and poor people would use spices in their food, with the distinction that the latter could only afford garlic and onions, while the former could indulge in cinnamon, cloves or nutmeg, in order to enhance their dining experience.

The conclusion we can draw from is that fast food, in those times, was not that different from fast food, now. Sure, the standards of cleanliness of the establishments and cooking practices are drastically different, but they serve the same purpose and have the same customer-base: poor, hard workers who are looking for a hot meal at the end of a long day.

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