Every year, I manage to set a new sustainability resolution for myself. Two years ago, I committed to going fully vegan (which I have since happily upheld) while last year, I committed to ditch "fast fashion" and only purchase second-hand/thrifted clothes. Both of these goals have been met and have since become practices I incorporate into my way of living. I found that after awhile, I didn't miss the taste of meat nor did I miss the temporary euphoria of shopping at my local Urban Outfitters.

I wanted to continue my series of resolutions with something that was both achievable and made a difference in my way of life. I started by making a list of some of my most socially and environmentally problematic life practices (i.e. purchasing produce pre-wrapped in plastic, buying conventionally-grown fruit that was likely picked by workers under terrible conditions, etc.) and decided which of the practices I would have the most leverage over. While there were some habits I could not necessarily change, such as buying all of my food from a conventional grocery store rather than growing my own, there were certainly behavior changes I could reasonably implement. One of these problematic behaviors was quite apparent and seemed relatively simple to implement: never purchasing "fast food" ever again. 

Amelia Hitchens

I clearly come from a place of wealth and privilege when I make the statement: I could survive without ever having to eat fast food ever again. I would argue that fast food is so popular in America because it is readily accessible for people who work shift jobs and provides a fiscally reasonable option for families on the go. Instead, I have the opportunity to cook all my meals myself and purchase fresh produce regularly, so I have immense leverage in what I put on my plate. 

The first step in setting a goal to avoid purchasing foods from fast food outlets was to first decide what constitutes a fast food restaurant. I would personally group convenience coffee chains (i.e. Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks), sit-down chain restaurants (i.e. Chipotle and Panera Bread), drive-thru (i.e. McDonalds and Burger King), and chain take-out (i.e. Domino's) as "fast food," but the definition varies among individuals. In northern Vermont, most of our restaurant scene is locally-owned and not what I would consider "fast-food," so I had a little bit of an upper hand in my food choice. 

Part of the reason why I chose to ditch fast food was because I didn't find myself fixating a huge amount of my finances/life within the industry. Prior to this year, I ate at a fast-food restaurant [maybe] once a month- and it was usually just to get a coffee before a long night of work. I'm also not really the type of person to invest a lot of their money into eating out. I consider myself to be a frugal person, so I would much rather cook something at home than order a more expensive takeout option. 

So far, I'm three months into my goal and still going strong. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I've learned from ditching fast food for good. 

1. You can save a lot of money by cooking stuff yourself. 

Did you know the average American spends more than $1,000 annually on coffee? That rounds out to nearly $25 a week- just in coffee! Further, CNN estimates that 37% of Americans eat fast-food at least daily, with one-in-three children consuming fast-food every single day. 

Understandably, if you've never had to buy your own food from a grocery store, you might not have any sort of relative price comparison between fast-food and pantry staples. For example, while some people might claim that veggies are "too expensive" at the grocery store, I find that I can purchase a much bigger quantity of ingredients than I can purchase ready-to-eat from a fast-food outlet. This leads into my next point: 

2. The reason why many people become fixated on fast food is because of its convenience, not because of its taste.

Real talk: Moe's burritos don't have any flavor and Panera Mac & Cheese tastes like cardboard. There's a whole world of tasty recipes filled with dynamic seasoning, bursting flavors, and complex textures- you just have to open your eyes (and your Pinterest) to see it! It might require you to be creative and try new things, but those are the experiences that cause us to grow.

cheese, chicken, sandwich, subway, sub, six inch, foot long
Sam Jesner

3. You'll quickly learn the difference between "wants" and "necessities." 

Eating out makes us feel good! Often, these gastro-experiences are done in the comfort of loved ones or with those we care about. It can bring endorphins, emotion, and everything that is good in the world to light. But, you might be more apt to consider what implications your spending holds if you decide to ditch fast food. In the first few weeks of my "experiment," I passed numerous Dunkin Donuts and audibly sighed when I asked myself: do you really need a coffee? Nine times out of ten, the answer was no. 

4. It might be awkward to explain to your friends why you choose not to order late-night Domino's cheesy bread.

College culture is often one of sheer delirium. If it's 2am, you might not want to have an intense conversation with your friends about transnational corporations and the history of the Slow Food movement. You might be the sore-thumb in your friend group if you decide to sit out on late night deliveries, but I personally found value in sitting with my convictions. You might even convince some of your friends to hop on the band-wagon! 

5. You'll learn more about the people in your community if you choose to patronize local businesses. 

When I went back to visit my parents in Connecticut, I had the amazing opportunity to visit a new coffee shop that had opened in my city (shout-out to Craftsman Cliff Roasters- you guys are the bomb)! I engaged with the baristas in ways that I probably wouldn't have if I just went to the local Starbucks drive-thru for a coffee. Above all, the money you spend in the local economy is more inclined to stay within the local economy (to pay wages, buy supplies, and go back into the pockets of local families) rather than end up in the bottom-line of a corporation. 

6. You'll feel more awake, alert, and ready for your day if you opt to cook healthy options for yourself. 

Commenting on the health benefits of ditching fast food seems like low-hanging fruit, but in a society where the rates of Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease are on the rise, it seems silly not to bring up the benefits of having more control over your food consumption. 

Thai food, Cooking, noodles, bell peppers, cucumbers, college cooking, College, homemade, Thai peanut sauce, Rice noodles
Amy Dong