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Fast Food and Rousseau’s Civil Society

November 7, 2010
by

While engaging in some late-night television surfing, I was aroused by the sight of a chicken leg—golden brown and crispy—casually defying the laws of gravity as it rotated on screen. Hunger overcame me and as I stared at the smiling face of Colonel Sanders, I became aware of my craving: KFC. Naturally, I became conflicted between what I should do (eat food that wouldn’t kill me) and what I wanted to do (stuff my face with extra crispy). KFC’s team of marketers must have anticipated this moral dilemma because within seconds, the words “No Trans Fat” appeared in bold lettering.

I’m not delusional. Regardless of trans-fatty acids, I know KFC is hardly doctor recommended; however, I feel that the restaurant chain’s attempt at nutritional reconciliation relates to Rousseau’s view of society. Rousseau stated that the very essence of civil society takes away from the natural equalities of man in the state of nature: “But as soon as one man needed the help of another…equality disappeared, property came into existence, labor became necessary.” (Rousseau 399). Rousseau acknowledges that man was bound to form civil society, and his written pieces are intended to make civil society, which he deems as inherently evil, the best it can possibly be. I think that the modern-day crusade against trans-fatty acids serves as a parallel. We all know that the average item on a fast food menu is unhealthy, but we keep eating for a multitude of reasons: fast food is quick, easy to manufacture, readily available, and, above all, satisfying.

The truth of it is that fast food, just like civil society, will always be a part of our lives. It is inherently unhealthy for us to consume fast food just as civil society inherently deprives us of the equality that we find in the state of nature. But will we ever rid ourselves entirely of fast food? Most likely, no. The best we can do is to make fast food healthier.  Will we ever revert back to the state of nature and get rid of civil society, so we can return to our fundamental liberties? No, we can’t simply forget and erase what we have learned with human reason. The best we can do is to establish democracies over monarchies so that freedom will be enforced. Rousseau remarked that “only the general will obligates private individuals, and there can be never be any assurance that a private will is in conformity with the general will until it has been submitted to the free vote of the people” (Rousseau 443). In conclusion, civil society and fast food are staples in our lives. It is our job to mitigate their negative effects through whatever means we deem necessary.

 

While engaging in some late-night television surfing, I was aroused by the sight of a chicken leg—golden brown and crispy—casually defying the laws of gravity as it rotated on screen. Hunger overcame me and as I stared at the smiling face of Colonel Sanders, I became aware of my craving: KFC. Naturally, I became conflicted between what I should do (eat food that wouldn’t kill me) and what I wanted to do (stuff my face with extra crispy). KFC’s team of marketers must have anticipated this moral dilemma because within seconds, the words “No Trans Fat” appeared in bold lettering.

I’m not delusional. Regardless of trans-fatty acids, I know KFC is hardly doctor recommended; however, I feel that the restaurant chain’s attempt at nutritional reconciliation relates to Rousseau’s view of society. Rousseau stated that the very essence of civil society takes away from the natural equalities of man in the state of nature: “But as soon as one man needed the help of another…equality disappeared, property came into existence, labor became necessary.” (Rousseau 399). Rousseau acknowledges that man was bound to form civil society, and his written pieces are intended to make civil society, which he deems as inherently evil, the best it can possibly be. I think that the modern-day crusade against trans-fatty acids serves as a parallel. We all know that the average item on a fast food menu is unhealthy, but we keep eating for a multitude of reasons: fast food is quick, easy to manufacture, readily available, and, above all, satisfying.

The truth of it is that fast food, just like civil society, will always be a part of our lives. It is inherently unhealthy for us to consume fast food just as civil society inherently deprives us of the equality that we find in the state of nature. But will we ever rid ourselves entirely of fast food? Most likely, no. The best we can do is to make fast food healthier.  Will we ever revert back to the state of nature and get rid of civil society, so we can return to our fundamental liberties? No, we can’t simply forget and erase what we have learned with human reason. The best we can do is to establish democracies over monarchies so that freedom will be enforced. Rousseau remarked that “only the general will obligates private individuals, and there can be never be any assurance that a private will is in conformity with the general will until it has been submitted to the free vote of the people” (Rousseau 443). In conclusion, civil society and fast food are staples in our lives. It is our job to mitigate their negative effects through whatever means we deem necessary.

So long as they undertook only what a single person could accomplish, and confined themselves to such arts as did not require the joint labour of several hands, they lived free, healthy, honest and happy lives

14 Comments
  1. aaronyan1123 permalink
    November 7, 2010 12:40 PM

    Appreciated your creativity but I do not think fast food is not a good example to explain the realtionship between the civil society and state of nature. What about the days we have no fast food at all? Imagine back to 1960s, do we have desire of creating civil society during the time with no fast food at all?

  2. November 7, 2010 1:40 PM

    I think this is an interesting comparison but a little off. What about the people on diets that have a strong will power. Do these people, who fight the advertisement of fast food, also fight civil society and the state of nature. There are a few areas where this argument can be broken down but all in all it is quite creative and funny.

  3. Dani Weinberg permalink
    November 7, 2010 2:38 PM

    I agree that the author of ‘Fast Food and Rousseau’s Civil Society’ made an interesting comparison; however, I think that this comparison is bit to simplistic and thus doesn’t hold for many outliers. For example, as mentioned above, many people have enough internal control to not eat at fast food restaurants because they are so bad for you. But these people are still involved in civil society. Unlike with fast food, people cannot pick and choose to enter or leave civil society. Also, I think that an important distinction between the choice of fast food and civil society is that people are always in civil society. There is no picking and choosing – you are always in civil society. However, with the fast food example, you don’t eat it everyday – only sometimes. You can choose to pick up and leave a fast food restaurant at any point or to just stop eating it. We do not have these same options with civil society.

  4. Spriel permalink
    November 7, 2010 3:03 PM

    Even though there are some faults to this argument (as mentioned in the above comments), I think that there is a creative aspect to this post that is important to recognize. While it is clearly not a perfect comparison to the ties to a civil society, for people can’t just choose to enter a civil society as they can with fast food, it was a very interesting application of Rousseau to modern day that allows it to be unique from all other posts, and for that reason I enjoyed reading this blog.

  5. jaclburr permalink
    November 7, 2010 4:15 PM

    I think fast food is a strange analogy for civil society. Yet, I understand your arguments that we will likely never completely go back to being without it. We will more likely continue to strive to make it healthier, but as we need food quickly, cheaply, and conveniently, it will stick around, just as people who needed help from each other had to form civil society.

  6. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 7, 2010 4:48 PM

    I think that changmc makes an interesting connection between fast food and civil society, however, like the previous comments, there are some flaws in the juxtaposition. Firstly, the author states that “fast food will always be a part of out lives”, but there are some people who go their entire lives without ever consuming Wendy’s, McDonnell’s, or anything of the sort. Secondly, I think the idea of making fast food healthier and establishing democracies are not analogous, even though they both might be a step in the right direction. Overall though, I found this article to be pretty creative

  7. Trevor Cookler permalink
    November 7, 2010 5:18 PM

    Interesting post, however I do agree with the majority of these comments that fast food may not be the best parallel to civil society. Rousseau writes a lot about how civil society is largely about the rights and duties of the citizens within it. Present day citizens don’t exactly have an obligation to eat fast food. It is not that there is only fast food or no food for the day. This is a funny parallel to Rousseau’s text and although I cannot completely agree with you I did enjoy reading it.

  8. Meredith Ambinder permalink
    November 7, 2010 6:00 PM

    I agree with most of the comments above that state that though this argument is unique and creative, it does have a few holes. However, I was confused about where you were heading with the comparison until you mentioned the way in which they are similar through our unwillingness to revert back to our past practices. I think you make a very interesting comparison between the fact that we, as a society (not just one person with will power), will never go back to only eating healthy, natural foods just because we know fast food is harmful and the fact that we will never return to a state of nature after the civil society was created. I, myself, am wondering: why can’t we turn things around after we acknowledge that a new aspect of our society is harmful?

  9. crorey permalink
    November 7, 2010 10:01 PM

    As my dad has told me time and time again, “People buy the menu, not the meal.” His quote doesn’t just apply to fast food however. If you think about it, basically every business in the world acts in the same way KFC does because everyone “needs the help of others.” Businesses have to make their product look more appealing than others’ in order to survive. Your KFC example also goes along with one of the reasons Socrates got sentenced to death. KFC intentionally “makes the worse argument seem better” (Trial and Death of Socrates) by only stating the good about their food instead of the good and the bad, all in order to get people to buy their food. Do people ever do anything about these “crimes” though? Of course not, because we need businesses to survive in order for our economy to survive, and therefore for ourselves to survive. It is definitely very interesting how much deception there is in business and how so many people just ignore it because it is essential in our capitalistic economy.

  10. seangordon permalink
    November 7, 2010 10:09 PM

    This is definitely a cool way to try and relate Rousseau’s ideas to a somewhat newer, modern idea. Like some of the other posters said, it is a bit of a stretch. Still- I can appreciate the ideas you are trying to convey here and liked the funny topic. I think that fast food is something that could and eventually will be phased out of our society as it is replaced by healthier yet tasty alternatives (give science 10 or 20 years). This would in turn get rid of any feeling of obligation to eat it, even for the weak willed.

  11. November 7, 2010 10:18 PM

    At first I was a bit confused about how fast-food and Rousseau’s idea of civil society related, although an intersting and creative perspective. Now that I think about it more, it’s becoming clear. Perhaps, the establishment of civil society was inevitable because man doesn’t exist alone, but co-exist with other men that he is bound to come in contact with. When they encounter, there is a need to define some type of relationship between them, which eventually progresses to civil society. As people join, the means of doing so results in inequality that did not exist when they were individuals in the state of nature. Rousseau views this as a negative. In terms of fast food, with the existance of food, it was inevitable for man to advance its production i.e. fast food. As a result of moving so far from its original state, issues have araised, such as health factors (trans fat). Despite, the negative aspects of both, people are not going to go back to the way things were because we have adopted these things in our culture,and it would be hard to imagine life without them. We are so comfortable and familiar with these things, that getting rid of them is not an option, but they can be improved.

  12. changmc permalink
    November 8, 2010 12:19 AM

    Whether people choose to indulge in fast food or not is irrelevant. It’s an omnipresent choice and one day, month, or even year spent avoiding it does not necessarily prevent one from eventually lapsing. The same can be said for civil society. A man who spends his entire life living amongst the wildebeests of the African Savannah effectively isolates himself from civil society for a time, but the choice of returning remains, as alluringly tempting as a Double Baconator with cheese.

    In response to some other critiques of my argument, fast food does have implications on our lives outside of the choice to consume it. Do you think the taxes paid yearly to support the hospital bills incurred by Americans on Medicare are not affected by those who choose to decimate their circulatory system with McDonald’s and KFC? Of course they are. America is the most obese nation on the planet, and every individual who pays taxes is affected by that truth.

  13. erikamir permalink
    November 9, 2010 8:31 PM

    I really enjoyed this blog post and it even made me a little hungry! I think it was creative to compare fast food to civil society. If you think about it, eating fast food like civil society is inevitable. Fast food has become a part of our society.

  14. chris070310 permalink
    November 9, 2010 8:45 PM

    I felt that this blog was different. You took an outside thought of civil society and comapared it to food. I believe fast food is apart of our civil society, becasue all man participate in this exercise. Yes, fast food has been proclaimed to not be healthy, however, like you said it’s cheap, easily manufactured, and most of all satisfying. It seems very ironic, that the food that is healthy for you, is expensive, not easily maunfactured due to spoiling, and sometimes not satisfying. In other words, in order for fast food to exist it has to be used by all men, therefore, if it’s used by a majority it is in fact apart of a civil society.

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