Mark Bittman breaks down the pitiful options for healthy fast food and perfectly explains the hierarchy of restaurant types:
First, there are those places that serve junk, no matter what kind of veneer they present. Subway, Taco Bell (I may be partial to them, but really. . .), McDonald’s and their ilk make up the Junk Food sector. One step up are places with better ambience and perhaps better ingredients — Shake Shack, Five Guys, Starbucks, Pret a Manger — that also peddle unhealthful food but succeed in making diners feel better about eating it, either because it tastes better, is surrounded by some healthful options, the setting is groovier or they use some organic or sustainable ingredients. This is the Nouveau Junk sector.
Chipotle combines the best aspects of Nouveau Junk to create a new category that we might call Improved Fast Food. At Chipotle, the food is fresher and tastes much better than traditional fast food. The sourcing, production and cooking is generally of a higher level; and the overall experience is more pleasant. The guacamole really is made on premises, and the chicken (however tasteless) is cooked before your eyes. It’s fairly easy to eat vegan there, but those burritos can pack on the calories. […]
Despite its flaws, Improved Fast Food is the transitional step to a new category of fast-food restaurant whose practices should be even closer to sustainable and whose meals should be reasonably healthful and good-tasting and inexpensive. (Maybe not McDonald’s-inexpensive, but under $10.) This new category is, or will be, Good Fast Food, and there are already a few emerging contenders.
I just love the phrase “Nouveau Junk Sector”. It sounds like something from a science fiction food novel.