We sure love convenience. Whatever requires little effort seems like such a good thing that we often don’t stop to think about it. If we do, then at least some of our conveniences have undesirable costs. Take drive-thru windows at fast food restaurants.
When it comes to food, electric and gas stoves sure beat chopping firewood. Over the last century or so, industry has provided many other gadgets from slow cookers to food processors to cooked, cut chicken strips so we don’t have to take as much time to prepare our food.
But lots of people don’t cook anymore at all. It’s more convenient to eat out. With fast-food restaurants, we don’t even have to wait for a table and table service. With drive-thru windows, we don’t even have to get out of the car. But let’s step back and think about our how much that convenience costs.
Fuel costs of drive-thru windows
Your car costs something to operate. Most of us have cars that run on gasoline. I won’t try to compute how much gasoline costs. The price where I live is different from where you live. In a month or so, it will be different for all of us.
Here’s another variable: if you drive a small car, you get better mileage than someone who drives a large car or van. That’s as long as you’re driving. If you’re stopped and idling, you’re getting zero miles per gallon, no matter what you drive.
Your costs at the pump only account for the most obvious of the real costs of the gasoline. That cost begins with the cost of drilling for crude oil, pumping it, and transporting it to the refinery. It continues with the cost of making the gasoline and transporting it to the gas station.
Of course, you pay all those costs, plus the wages of all the people who do all the various jobs, at the pump. But think of what the pump price does not include. Here are just two examples.
The U.S. Navy protects shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf and elsewhere, among other geopolitical costs.
Everything from drilling to delivering gas to the gas station has environmental costs. Industrial processes and trucks spew air pollutants. Pipelines and tanks leak. Spectacular leaks make international news. Ordinary ones hardly even make local news. Someone has to pay for the consequences, but it’s not part of the cost of your gas.
Land use costs of drive-thru windows
Fast food restaurants need land for their buildings. Except for a few chains that depend entirely on drive-thru business, they require parking lots. All recent fast food restaurants have been designed and built with drive-thru lanes from the start.
Earlier ones needed extensive remodeling or even demolition and rebuilding before they could offer the service. And all the rubble went to a landfill.
Sometimes a store doesn’t have enough land for the traffic it gets. The drive-thru line at a Biscuitville near my house sometimes extends out into the street. So not only does it have lots of cars idling and getting zero miles per gallon, the last cars in line occasionally cause a traffic hazard.
When you finally get your meal, it comes in a disposable bag. Each item comes in a disposable container or wrapper. You have bought a lot of trash with your food. Of course, you never just dump it out the window on the side of the road. I hope. But if you look around at all, you know that some people litter. It’s poor land use!
Health costs of drive-thru windows
Fast food has certain nutritional costs. The food industry spends a lot of money to develop tasty products that people will want to buy over and over. So they layer salt, fat, and sugar in such a way that the food can actually become addictive.
Besides tasty, it has be easy to eat. Have you ever noticed that your fast food meals don’t require as much chewing as food you cook yourself? You can finish it so fast that your body doesn’t have time to recognize that it’s full. Even though your meal may have half the day’s allotment of calories. Fast food causes part of our obesity epidemic.
Using the drive-thru window instead of going into the restaurant only makes the problem worse. You sit in the car. We’re only beginning to learn how unhealthy it is to sit too long. But when you sit in line at the drive-thru, you’re breathing everyone else’s exhaust fumes.
If you want to eat fast food, park the car. Walk into the store. Stand in line. It doesn’t count as much exercise, but you’ll burn more calories and less gas that way. And breathe cleaner air.
Now that you’ve seen how much one common convenience costs, read the other articles in my occasional series on the cost of convenience.
Drive-thru line. Source unknown.
Car exhaust. Some rights reserved by eutrophication&hypoxia.
Drive-thru at night. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Obesity. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons