You Will Eat Fast Food Again

I’ll take a #4 Ethical Meal with the Hyper-Local Organic Greens and a Medium Single-Sourced Cold-Pressed Juice to go, please.

By Amanda Kludt

Illustration by Gwendal le Bec

Healthy and ethically sourced food is becoming a bigger priority for a new generation of entrepreneurs, especially in the realm of fast casual operations aiming to offer “slow food done fast.”

The current crop of ambitious salad chains — including Tender Greens, boasting 20 locations from San Diego up to the Bay Area, and Sweetgreen, its national rival that just raised $18 million in funding from investors like restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Daniel Boulud — work with local independent producers to get fresh products and emphasize the seasonality of their menus. There’s also an aspect of social responsibility baked into the businesses: Tender Greens offers internships to emancipated foster youth, while Sweetgreen hosts wellness workshops in a thousand classrooms.

Meanwhile, I’m really excited to watch the debut and growth of Loco’l, the healthy fast food chain from restaurant-world celebs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson. They say they will bring a chef’s sensibility and a focus on nutrition, design, hospitality, and flavor to the burger joint paradigm. It’s refreshing to me to see these commercially successful and critically lauded chefs take on a challenge like this.

Of course the standard-bearer in this movement, Chipotle, has grown to a behemoth now. The chain is not without its critics and controversies, but its push for ethically sourced ingredients and protecting the environment — and its influence on other major players — is huge. Chipotle’s success (205 stores will open next year alongside the expansions of an Asian spinoff and a pizza concept) proves a company can have a social imperative and still thrive financially. And it’s a good reminder that fast food in itself isn’t evil; it’s just the way we’ve been going about it.

Amanda Kludt is the editor in chief of Eater.