By Fajar binti Benjamin

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From a young age, society has been exposed to the concept of fast food and the culture surrounding it. Often, the two main features of fast food that we hone in on is 1) convenience and, 2) cheapness. After all, who wants to cook after a long day of working? Or who wants to bring the family with energetic children into a restaurant and wait half an hour for food to arrive? Between a full meal of fries, burger and drink; or a single plate of one food at the same price – we’re bound to choose the option that offers variety in the meal. 

Today, however, despite the reputation living on, fast food is far from cheap, and sometimes, not very ‘fast’ either. So in this edition of Echo Eats I present to you: “fast food, and alternatives that are faster”. 

1) Fast Food Burger VS Stall Burger

Cheapness

There was a time, back in the 80s wherein a McDonald cheeseburger would only set you back RM1.50. Nowadays the price has almost quadrupled to over RM5. Is inflation the only factor to blame? Or have the margins been pushed unnecessarily high because the ‘cheapness factor’ is less of a concern for customers today? 

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For comparison’s sake I have prepared a table of the cheapest ala-carte item and the most expensive one on 3 different burger menus as of 2020.  

Cheapest  Most Expensive
McDonalds RM5.00 – McChicken RM18.95 – Double Spicy Chicken McDeluxe
Burger King RM5.45 – Chick ‘n’ Crisp RM14.15 – Whopper with Cheese
Sunway Mel’s Burger RM3.50 – Chicken/Beef burger RM8 – Chicken/Beef double special with cheese

What we can conclude from this table is that the cheapest item on the McD in-store ala-carte menu is a good RM1.50 more expensive than what is offered up by the burger truck right outside Sunway College’s gate. That is a 30% difference. While there’s no denying that there is a difference in the taste of the patty, arguing which one tastes better would be completely subjective. What can be argued though, is that neither patty requires a higher production cost and that one burger is guaranteed to be prepared fresh with full control over the sauces and veggies going in. I’m sure you can guess which one that is. 

Convenience

McDonalds has been making deliveries for a millenia. Perhaps an exaggeration, but it sure feels that way. Back before GrabFood and FoodPanda, everyone had the fridge magnet with the football players and the McDelivery number on their jerseys. I have fond memories as a child of my friends and I trying to sound like adults while making orders on the phone. 

These days, no one calls anymore. It’s all done with just a few taps on the phone screen. What’s interesting is that the pricing of all items completely changes once you try to order online. Suddenly, the 5 Ringgit McChicken is an 8 Ringgit 10 cents McChicken. Not including delivery fee. Curious right?

The convenience of the option between a fast food burger and a burger-stall burger is relative to where you live. However, in many housing areas, there will be a stall that is closer than the nearest “fast food” outlet and it will be faster to walk there, order, wait for your food to be prepared, and walk home to eat it; than to wait for a fast food delivery. It’s also healthier for everyone involved, including the environment!

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2) Fast Food Chicken VS Frozen Fried Chicken

Cheapness

Fast Food

5 pieces RM/piece 12 pieces RM/piece
KFC RM26.50 RM5.30 RM60.50 RM5.04
Texas Chicken RM25.71 RM5.14 RM58.80 RM4.90

Did anyone else expect Texas Chicken to have better value per chicken piece?

Frozen Chicken

First Pride Fully Cooked Golden Fried Chicken (750g) RM14.60
Ayam A1 Crispy Fried Chicken (700g) RM10.35

*700 grams is approximately the equivalent of 8 pieces of fast food chicken.

There is a drastic difference in price between the fried chicken you can buy at a fast food store and the fried chicken you can fry yourself at home. Accounting for the larger size of fast food chicken, that’s still over double the cost per chicken consumed. The difference is definitely justified by the ‘freshness factor’, the overhead costs of the fast food restaurant and the ease of not having to cook it yourself. But still. 

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Convenience

Frying frozen chicken is a hassle. The oil spitting, the 10-minute waiting time as you sweat in front of an open flame, and then the dilemma of where to throw the oil afterwards. On top of all that, sometimes the chicken doesn’t even fry all the way through! When thinking in those terms, perhaps the extra cost of ordering fried chicken is worth it. 

However, air fryers are a thing that exists, and there’s no beating the convenience of having the food already in your freezer when the fried chicken craving arises. Moreover, the fried chicken won’t have time to dry out and have a sad texture before you eat it if you fry it yourself. There is also a wider variation and selection of flavours and innovation at the frozen fried chicken aisle in supermarkets than just the ‘original’ or ‘spicy’ options you can purchase at most restaurants. 

Other benefits of frying your own chicken include:

  1. Can choose any part
  2. Can control oil intake
  3. Can make it in the middle of the night
  4. Vegan frozen fried chicken is a thing
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Conclusion

So now, after I have put more research effort into this than I’ve put into my final year project, I can conclude that fast food is no longer the ‘cheap and easy’ alternative to cooking at home that it once was. For one, faster options are available to most people in residential areas. Options that are cheaper, fresher and (dare I say it?) healthier exists in the free market.  

For another, cooking at home is no longer the huge hassle it once was with innovations such as air fryers, oven-heatable frozen food, and healthy ready-made frozen meals constantly being refined to ease our lives. 

The fast food industry is a huge contributor to plastic waste and carbon emissions in the world. Generally, most companies don’t have very good social practices, no matter what CSR projects they present in their annual reports. Not to mention all the dietary diseases linked to the practice of eating fast food. If possible, reduce your consumption and remember, ‘convenient and cheap’ are claims of the past! Fast food now is ‘addictive’, ‘pricey’ and ‘bad for the environment’!

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