What America’s Supersized Fast Food Culture Looks Like

The Photo Blog
July 7 2014 11:37 AM

What America’s Supersized Fast Food Culture Looks Like

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Super-Soda, Metropolis, Illinois, 2005. A man with a large plastic drink mug bearing the McDonald’s logo poses in front of a Superman museum advertisement.

Susana Raab

Fast food in the United States has never looked more strange, scary, and pervasive than it does in photographer Susana Raab’s series, “Consumed.” Since 2004, the Washington, D.C.–based photographer has been traveling on and off throughout the country capturing the disturbing signs of a culture built on unhealthy habits.  

The idea for Raab’s series originated the summer before she started graduate school at Ohio University when she read Eric Schlosser’s book, Fast Food Nation, which explores the evolution and impact of fast food in the United States. “I guess before that I thought it was bad and the food was unhealthy, but I hadn't seen the statistics or thought about how that manifested itself across American society,” she said. “Even if you don't eat fast food, it affects you because you're going to be paying for someone's diabetes treatment, or you're subsidizing the corn that goes into the food. There all these issues involved and that's what the book helped me articulate in my mind so I could process that into visuals.”

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Looking Finger-Lickin’ Good, London, Kentucky, 2007. Three competitors in the annual Col. Sanders look-alike contest, held at the World Chicken Festival, prepare to face off.

Susana Raab

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Corn-Dog, LaBelle, Florida, 2006. “I knew I shouldn't have asked him if he wanted the foot-long corn dog,” said this boy’s father while watching him tackle eating the large dog.

Susana Raab

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America’s Favorite Clown, Athens, Ohio, 2005. The feet of Ronald McDonald overwhelm those of a young girl posing with him for a photograph at a children’s fundraising event.

Susana Raab

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Taco Bell Drive-Thru, Daytona, Florida, 2006. “I bet you’ve never seen this before,” said the customer at the Taco Bell Drive-Thru window as he picked up his order after driving his vehicle, a motorized wheelchair, through the drive-thru lane.

Susana Raab

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Praise the Bratwurst, McArthur, Ohio, 2004. A man lifts up his hands in praise in front of a bratwurst booth during an early morning gospel show at the Wild Turkey Festival.

Susana Raab

In Ohio, Raab started seeing signs of fast food everywhere she went: trash overflowing a local street festival, for instance, or a sinister-looking Ronald McDonald at a fundraising event, or a man enraptured at the Wild Turkey Festival. Eventually, Raab started looking outside the state for subjects, including Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest in New York and the World Chicken Festival in Kentucky. She also captured the habitual happenings at fast food establishments—which often proved just as bizarre as the costumed festivals—and the ubiquitous iconography of restaurants like McDonalds. “There’s a disconnect in what we're doing to ourselves, not just our bodies but our landscape. We're a nation of strip malls and awful plastic things made in China,” she said. “I'm not judging anyone individually, but as a society we've just become overrun by fast food.”

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Raab plans to continue the series by photographing in states west of the Mississippi. But she’s in no hurry: Perhaps fittingly, she’s fine with taking things slow. Meanwhile, Raab hopes her photos makes people laugh and think about some serious issues. “Just like any problem, awareness does a huge amount to begin to resolve it. I hope these photos make us more aware so we can raise children who are even more aware and then we can have laws or just make personal choices that are healthier,” she said.

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Too Long at the Fair, McArthur, Ohio, 2005. Trash overflows a container at a local street festival in Ohio.

Susana Raab

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Chicken in Love, Athens, Ohio, 2006. A couple enjoys a hamburger at a Wendy’s fast food restaurant, located near the Ohio University campus, on Halloween night.

Susana Raab

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Hot Dog Platter, Coney Island, New York, 2004. A hand reaches for a hot dog from the platter given to members of the press after the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Susana Raab

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The Chicken’s Dilemma, London, Kentucky, 2005. A chicken appears perplexed, trapped between impersonators for Col. Sanders and John Wayne, at the World Chicken Festival, a celebration of all things Col. Sanders, founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Susana Raab

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Food-Fighters, Coney Island, New York, 2005. Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest competitors, or food-fighters, tackle plates of hot dogs while umpires look on.

Susana Raab

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