The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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How I Quit Fast Food
Carmen Rios

Until I read Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food, a book for young people by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson about what we eat, I was one of the many teens eating fast food almost every day. I loved fast food. Eating it was like getting a special gift.

By the time I was in middle school, I’d gotten so tired of eating the Latin food my mom made every day: arroz blanco con abichuelas (white rice with beans) and pollo frito (fried chicken). I preferred McDonald’s. I knew that eating too much fast food could make me fat, but I didn’t see myself getting any bigger (I only weigh 105 pounds). Plus, the food was delicious.

I wanted to eat McDonald’s every day but I couldn’t afford it. So I waited until every Wednesday, when my stepfather got paid, and every Friday, when my mother got paid. I’d go to school excited on those days because at the sound of the bell, I’d be going home to get at least $6 to spend at McDonald’s.

My sister and I would rush out of the house and speed walk down our block, turn right, and walk three blocks to our neighborhood McDonald’s. On our way there, we’d anxiously talk about what we wanted to eat. The Big Mac meal was our favorite and we almost never got tired of it.

But when I craved chicken, I’d order the five-piece Chicken Selects meal and my sister would order a “Number 2,” the meal with two cheeseburgers, fries and a beverage (we always chose Coke). All we had to do next was choose the size of the meal (usually medium). After we ate, sometimes we’d get back in line and order apple pies and a medium vanilla shake.

After I got a job last January, I promised myself that I wouldn’t waste my money on fast food because I didn’t want to get fat. I also wanted to spend my money on clothes and things to decorate my room. But the food was so hard to resist. Right after I got my paycheck every other Friday, I’d stop at a McDonald’s or KFC. The next day, I’d bring my sister and my friend along with me and buy them lunch.

Sometimes I’d spend half my paycheck on fast food. I’d spend $6 one day and another $6 the next. Then I’d get hungry in the middle of the night and my sister and I would head out to McDonald’s for a late night meal (it’s open until 1 a.m.).

Once I spent my whole paycheck ($135) on fast food. It started off with me buying just one meal. The next day, I asked myself, “What’s another $6?” And in the end, I thought to myself, “I wasted everything else on food. What’s the point of saving $20? Might as well waste that on food, too!”

Sometimes I’d eat at McDonald’s every single day, and not even the movie Super Size Me, about a man who only ate McDonald’s food every day, scared me into stopping. The movie started off with a perfectly healthy person and ended with the same person—except that he was fat and had heart problems, all because he ate every meal at McDonald’s.

In fact, the movie made me crave McDonald’s. I watched the guy ordering a meal and I could almost smell the French fries and taste the Big Mac sauce. I wanted so badly to eat his food.

When I saw him throwing up, I told myself the movie was unreal. Who actually eats McDonald’s three times a day every day and “super sizes” the meal whenever they’re asked if they want the largest meal size? I usually ate fast food two or three times per week, and I never super sized anything. “It’s no wonder he got sick!” I told myself.

But then I read Chew on This last April. The book disgusted me to the point of wanting to throw up. I was shocked to learn about how the animals we eat in these fast food restaurants are killed.

First, the chickens are fed a grayish mixture of old pretzels and cookies covered with a layer of fat to make them gain more weight, according to the book. This causes many chickens to die of a heart attack. The rest are tied upside down by their legs to a chain and thrown into a tank of water that’s charged with electricity.

image by M Wartella

That’s supposed to make them unconscious, but the chickens that aren’t properly shocked have to live through the rest. They’re carried to a blade that slits their throats. Then they’re dunked into a tank of boiling water.

Cows that are turned into hamburger meat are also badly mistreated. They’re placed in feedlots. One feedlot can hold up to 100,000 cattle, which means the cows are crowded very close together. They don’t eat fresh, green grass. Instead, they are fed special grain designed to fatten them quickly. I cried when I read about this cruelty. I couldn’t believe I was a part of it.

The book also made me worry about obesity, which I’ve learned is a condition characterized by excessive body fat. It’s a growing problem in this country. Did you know that there are 110,000 deaths every year related to obesity? (People who are obese can develop diabetes and other health problems.)

I believe the obesity problem is connected to the number of McDonald’s around the world—31,000 restaurants in 120 countries—and their cheap prices.

A McDonald’s Big Mac meal didn’t sound tempting or delicious anymore. Every time I thought of eating in a fast food restaurant, I couldn’t help but think of the cows and chickens. It made me feel guilty and nauseous. Right after finishing the book in April, I changed the way I eat. I haven’t been back to McDonald’s, not even once.

Instead I’ve been going to Subway and ordering the 6-inch meatball sandwich on Italian bread, with American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. I thought that Subway would be a fresh and healthy alternative to Big Macs and fries. But in an interview with Chew on This co-author Chuck Wilson, I learned that my Subway meatballs probably came from the same factories as McDonald’s hamburger meat.

Now, I’m confused about what I can eat. There are no restaurants in my neighborhood where I can eat healthy food. Even if there were, I’ve learned from experience that eating healthy usually means eating something that I think tastes disgusting.

Still, when I get hungry during the night, I make myself a salad or I eat fruit that my mom or I bought. I still get to eat what I want, but I make sure I’m not overdoing it. I feel much better about myself and I feel healthier—fresh, clean, and not as heavy. And with the extra money I have, I can buy more clothes, shoes, and beauty supplies.

I haven’t given up all junk food—yet. I think it’ll be difficult for me to give up soda and candy because I like to drink Pepsi and eat Snickers bars. But I bet I’ll end up cutting down on junk food slowly, thanks to this book. And I’ll make sure that any child I have doesn’t fall into the hands of McDonald’s.

I don’t think McDonald’s should take all the blame for the increase in obesity and health problems across the country, though. Adults can choose if they want to eat McDonald’s or not. Nobody is forcing them. They can say no at any moment, just like I did. Most people know what eating fast food can do to them, but they still continue to eat it.

But I don’t think McDonald’s should advertise to kids anymore. If kids eat McDonald’s when they are toddlers, they are likely to eat it for the rest of their lives, according to the book. If this happens, animals will keep getting treated badly and the earth will be populated with obese people.

Chew on This definitely made me think about what I eat. “The title of the book, Chew on This, says it all,” said co-author Charles Wilson. “We just want kids to think about something they take for granted in everyday life.”

So that’s what I’m trying to do. Eric Schlosser, the book’s other author, told me I don’t have to stop eating fast food but I should treat it like a special treat. “You don’t want to die,” he told me in a recent interview. “You want to do everything you can to live a good, long, healthy life. That means knowing what you eat.”

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