Fast Food Versus Batch Food

Welcome back everyone! Sorry for the hiatus, things got super busy after the Memorial Day holiday. I hope everyone had a great holiday! I actually started writing this post after the holiday but never finished. Now here is the much anticipated post:

At the end of Memorial Day Weekend we were driving home from Williamsburg Virginia where we had a great time at the Busch Gardens theme park and water park. Along the way we passed by a myriad of Fast-Food chains that are always peppered down the highways. We knew we were on a tight timeline to get home, since passing through New York city at the wrong time would certainly mean long delays and traffic. But this is a long 8 hour drive that we got up early for  and we were certainly starting to feel some hunger pains as the hours passed on! Luckily we had some waters and Honest Teas to keep us going for a while.

So we were on the hunt for somewhere to eat along the route home. We have already excluded almost all fast food joints from our minds as options to eat. However, when I really think about it, fast food appeals very much to my industrial engineer mind set. When we think about delivering a product to a customer in this day and age we are primarily focused on cost, quality, and time to deliver. On cost fast food on a high level always has a competitive edge, although a lot of highway fast food places have their prices jacked up way higher than normal. The term quality is open to interpretation since most of us question the quality of the foods at fast food places in terms of health. However quality also implies consistency and reliability, that you can go to any McDonalds around the world and always get the exact same meal. That is an amazing feat, however it may come at the cost of over-processing and adding preservatives. I actually just saw a great article about McDonalds french fries quality control here.  When we talk about time to deliver this is also key, modern customers always want their product exactly when they need it. Here we wanted something quick that we can possibly take with us in the car. So on all accounts for the modern engineer Fast Food seems to fit the bill.

Fried Chicken is America!

Fried Chicken is America!

Ultimately we looked up a Wegmans grocery store that was off the highway to eat at their prepared foods section. Ironically it was the Wegmans in Woodbridge, New Jersey near the chemical production plant that I had worked at for 8 months, so I had already been to this location numerous times. I got their wild caught salmon sushi that they were newly featuring, it was quite good! So this detour cost us an extra 5 minutes off the highway, 45 minutes to get our food and eat (its hard to eat with chopsticks and drive), and then get back on the highway. Luckily we were still early enough to avoid true rush hour traffic, and were back on pace to get home at a reasonable time.

When we finally got home we were exhausted from the long day of driving, but I had some work to do! I had a batch of sauerkraut that had been fermenting for a full 4 weeks! I used the wild fermentation method which means I used no starter culture and it is a long process. It was ready to be jarred and go into the fridge. On top of that my kombucha was smelling finished too, so I jarred it and started another batch. I also had some dehydrated sweet potato chips and some homemade beef jerky all in the fridge (I keep them in the fridge because I make them with no preservatives, other than salt). So my point is I had a pretty good feast of sauerkraut, kombucha, beef jerky, and sweet potatoes waiting at home for me ready to snack on.

My batch of sauerkraut all jarred up!

My batch of sauerkraut all jarred up!

And that’s where it connected with me that all my food had been made as part of batch processes. As in the typical definition of the work, a batch is a quantity of material that moves together through a process, like a batch of laundry. Certain batches can take longer than others, such as the sauerkraut taking 4 weeks, kombucha 1 week, and dehydrated foods 1-2 days. There are many inefficiencies involved with batch processing which is why most production facilities will try to move way from that to a more “fast food” approach. The inefficiencies include managing extra inventory and work-in-process inventory, any materials that you have sitting in stock isn’t making you money, and in a way it is a liability that it could become expired due to shelf life or other issues. It terrifies me when I have a batch of sauerkraut sitting for weeks that could potentially get overrun with mold during the process. Another classic waste is waiting, obviously I’m not standing and staring at my food for 4 weeks for it to be finished and the key to managing waiting time is to make sure you are busy doing other things. So even if you are brewing some coffee in the morning you want to make sure you are effectively filling your time with other things.

A batch of kombucha!

A batch of kombucha!

But the nice thing about having batch processes is that once its done, it is available anytime I want it similar to fast food. I can adjust the batch sizes accordingly depending on the factors of shelf life and consumption. If I plan on eating a lot, then I need to make bigger batches to hold me over as long as they don’t sit out too long and get spoiled. And really there isn’t a lot of work that goes into them, mostly just waiting time that if you manage effectively you won’t even notice. I like to think that on a bigger scale we have essentially “outsourced” our foods to fast-food places. We have relied on them to do our batch processing. On a global scale there are a lot more wastes being generated through fast food, such as conveyance (movement of goods from one place to another), overprocessing (for sure), and tons of inventory waste. By bringing food production back “in-house” we can lower the burden on environment, and ensure the quality of our food. The exciting part is that every batch can be a little different, so even though that may annoy people not to get a consistent product, my mind starts to get excited to try to understand the reasons why batches might differ, and what variables are key to ensure consistency. More on that in another post!

Thanks for reading!

Andrew

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