Fast food has become equivalent to bad food over the last few decades - heavily processed, pre-cooked, high in fat, sugar, sodium, and calories. Yet we still eat it because it's cheap, fast, and addictingly tasty.
But fast food doesn't have to be bad. Believing that fast food can be, and should be simple, seasonal, and healthy, Nathaniel Ru, Nicolas Jammet, and Johnathan Neman founded Sweetgreen in 2007. Now expanded to over 70 locations in eight states, the fast-casual restaurant is dedicated to sourcing and preparing only the freshest and locally grown foods, and change their menu every season to ensure that the quality and taste of the ingredients are at their best state. Every morning, they receive whole vegetables, fruits, and grains, and prepare them in-house.
Co-CEO Nicolas Jammet said in an interview with Refinery29, "Seasons are part of nature, and as a culture, we've overridden seasonality with modern innovations that enables us to eat certain things year-round. To optimize flavors, soil health, and our diets, we'd push for a mainstream return to seasonality, which is what we strive to do with our own menu at Sweetgreen."
Their current summer menu features mouth-watering bowls such as the Hollywood Bowl, made of organic wild rice, kale, jicama, grapes, roasted chicken, drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette, and unique salads like the Rad Thai, a dish made of organic arugula, organic mesclun, cabbage, carrots, citrus shrimp, spicy sunflowers seeds, with a spicy cashew dressing.
Sweetgreen's food ethos is simple, yet rare: they believe that the choices we make about what we eat, where it comes from, and how it's prepared have a direct and powerful impact on the health of individuals, our communities, and the environment. When you dine at Sweetgreen, you know what you are eating: you can see exactly what ingredients go into it, watch how your dish is prepared in front of you, and have a sense of where it all came from. At every store, they list where all the ingredients come from locally on a chalkboard. And within five minutes of your purchase, your food is ready.
Sweetgreen is changing the way we perceive healthy food - just because it is healthy and fresh doesn't mean it has to be expensive; just because it is healthy doesn't mean it will take forever to prepare; and just because it is healthy doesn't mean it has to taste like paper. More than that, Sweetgreen is challenging our long-perceived dichotomy between fast food and healthy food. Too often we think of them as mutually exclusive - it's either spending $5 for a 10-minute meal at McDonald's, or waiting at a fancy restaurant for a $15 bowl of salad that doesn't even fill you up.
And perhaps more importantly, fast-casual restaurants like Sweetgreen's "environmental and quality standards already are pushing mainstream chains to change their practices," commented The New York Times writer Jane Black. For example, Chik-fil-A has promised that all of its chicken will be antibiotic-free by 2019, while McDonald's added a kale salad to their menu last year.
What will the future of fast food look like? With the rise of fast, healthy restaurants like Sweetgreen, I'd say it looks pretty hopeful.