What is the meaning of the essay The Ritual of Fast Food?
Writer Margaret Visser's observations about the way we eat are expressed in the larger work The Rituals of Dinner, and "The Ritual of Fast Food" is an examination of fast-food restaurants.
Visser argues that fast-food restaurants give us what we want: a consistently designed space no matter where the chain restaurant is located in the world, a manageable price for the food, a standard vocabulary, uniforms, and reflections of what is universally valued: cleanliness, affordability, and even what is trendy, such as being environmentally friendly.
Ordinariness and informality, Visser observes, is an important strategy of the fast food restaurant, and part of the ordinariness is the feeling of safety. The food is good, and the cheerful lighting keeps the criminal element away from families. Her point is that the ordinariness and informality require significant effort and precision.
Ultimately, Visser explains that beneath the surface of the predictability and ordinariness of the fast food restaurant lays the exploitation of technology, "ruthless politics," and "elaborate organization." The essay also implies that beneath the "cultural construct" that provides the Big Mac lurk darker complexities.
The essay is meant to describe how fast-food came into being and how it has changed since that beginning. It also works hard to describe the amazing level of "sameness" that is desired by consumers and the way that appeals to people who are eating away from home.
From its beginnings as a public-house type of establishment that served the same thing which came to be called an "ordinary," to its current form as a franchise of a place like McDonalds or Burger King, the fast-food establishment derives is utility from sameness, that the consumer can expect the same thing no matter where they find a franchise. The prices should be manageable but the most important aspect is meeting the customers expectations of sameness.
The essay points out the ways that a current fast-food franchise must deliver a very complex set of tastes and textures to a very picky consumer but all of that complexity is hidden so that the customer simply orders and then gets what they expect.