The debate on those damaging drive-thrus

Published Wednesday August 20th, 2008


Having recently read a statistic suggesting that 40 per cent of our meals are considered fast-food and of that nearly 80 per cent of those pass through a drive-thru window, I was determined to do my part and see that change.

My plan is to write to local municipal councils, to the ministers of Local Government, Health, Wellness, and Environment, and of course write the ever-so-influential letters to the editor.

As the environment grows as an issue of concern and as land-use planning becomes increasingly important in Metro Moncton, policies on drive-thrus will certainly become increasingly important for municipalities and planning commissions. Nationally, there also appears to be a trend and a growing persuasion that drive-thrus just ain’t what they used to be.

My letters will be to the point and no tip-toeing around. The statistic above is deplorable. Simply put, drive-thrus must be stopped. Moreover, those that currently exist should be systematically dismantled, and cities and towns should give serious thought to phasing them out. Municipalities and planning commissions should be aware of the health, environmental and even social evils these lanes of laziness are responsible for, if they do not already know. My letters will include those condemnations as well as many others.

We suffer from a serious societal illness where we can exchange e-mails daily with hundreds of people, spend hours on the telephone and texting (if you’re good at it, you can do them simultaneously), and we fulfill our need for face-to-face communication with a site called Facebook. Many of us perform these acts of semi-interaction while spending our days enclosed in cubicles or wrapped within office walls.

Indeed, science magazines and TV shows continue to promote the growth of our virtual realities over our real realities.

To even further isolate ourselves, we drive from our homes to our work spaces to the drive-thru kitchens. Some of us, me included, even start our vehicles under the protection of a garage, because God forbid we talk to our neighbours. Worse, there’s the off chance of a conversation with the garbage-man or postal worker.

Due to the popularity of MP3 players we need no longer worry about chatting with the walker, early morning jogger or any other passerby. The sad fact is my dog gets more one-on-one socialization at the Riverview dog park in a single visit than I get with my fellow human beings in a whole week!

When I gaze upon the occasional construction site I often give serious thought to a change of careers. One where I could work side-by-side with my fellow citizens, where there’s no room for a Blackberry on my belt because it’s already full holding necessary tools like a hammer, a measuring tape and whatever other useful items a carpenter, plumber or landscaper would have on his or her belt. But, the daydream quickly ends when I notice how hot or wet or cold or dry it is outside.

The state of our society aside, we must also consider the environmental and health issues that arise from drive-thrus. I shouldn’t need to mention in the letters the scourge upon our health system that obesity causes. That it will increasingly play a role in every aspect of our financial lives from the amount of sick time taken to the cost on taxpayers for health care to the amount of disability payments made from our government pension plans. One would think we wouldn’t mind getting out of our cars to actually walk into a restaurant rather than sit within our vehicles breathing in the exhaust fumes of the cars around us.

Speaking of exhaust fumes, despite advances in automobile technology over the last 50 years, the last 20 years has seen a decrease in the fuel efficiency of cars rather than an increase. The rising price of gasoline will hopefully see a reverse to that trend but the sad fact is our cars idling in drive-thrus are a health hazard. More and more and bigger and bigger vehicles, built with decreasingly fuel efficient engines cannot be good for our health or for the neighbourhoods these alleys of ease find themselves within.

Before getting started on these letters however, I dropped by my nearest java supplier for a cup of inspiration. Anxious to get going but wanting to avoid hypocrisy, I parked my car and chin held up high — because the view is always better that way when you’re on a pedestal — I strutted inside.

And waited . . . for what seemed like a Dark Ages 10 minutes. I don’t quite know which annoyed me more, seeing the vehicles in the drive-thru actually driving through with relative ease compared to my slow march to the front of the line or the server talking about her two children with a customer while my knuckles whitened and I held back a scream only someone without children can make.

As you can imagine, those letters won’t get written. I would have just e-mailed them anyway, so living with some degree of hypocrisy was in my future. Whether the problem with drive-thrus is people like me who claim we should interact more but would rather tempt diabetes than do so themselves or fast food businesses which devote more and better resources to their drive-thrus than to their counter service is a debate for another day.

The answer is likely a mixture of the two or depends upon whether one sees drive-thrus as a product of our sedentary lifestyles or as one of its multiple causes.

* David Gingras is a Metro Moncton resident and is currently working towards a National Advanced Certificate in Local Authority Administration (NACLAA).


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