I don’t badmouth fast food from any high horse. If I’m hungry, I sometimes stop at a drive-thru and get that burger and ask for some salt to go on the fries. But I know my pants keep getting pushed down on my waistline as my gut grows. Suspenders may be necessary some day. I know these decisions to get a combo meal have something to do with that.

For all its ills, fast food is a modern economic wonder. Think of the meat, the bread, the mustard and ketchup, the salt, the potatoes — all of the things that come from different places and are often frozen, then trucked great distances. At a fast food restaurant, you can purchase a meal with these items at a very low cost. It’s quick and easy. It’s something we take for granted, but such an easy meal would have been hard to imagine 100 years ago.

We recognize that food consumption is a matter of personal responsibility. Do I want to be healthy or not? I have to choose discipline or dangerous dining delights.

If I choose to be healthy, I need to pick the right things. I need to vary my diet and get enough of the four basic food groups. Pretty much everyone understands this, whether they live it or not. You are what you eat. What grade do we learn that?

We talk a lot about the food we eat. We also talk a lot about the news we consume. The two things aren’t connected, but I think there are real parallels to draw.

If you notice, like our food industry, our news industry is always evolving to accommodate speed. There were newspapers, then radios, then TV, then the Web, which includes increasingly fast and abbreviated forms of communication, like Twitter.

Competition drives media to be faster than the next guy, just as fast food restaurants want to get your meal on your tray quicker than the neighboring burger joint. That’s because their speed means that less is required of you. And if less time, expense and energy are required, then you’re likely to go back. Neither the fast food restaurant nor most news outlets are very concerned whether you’re getting a well-balanced diet. No, they just want you to buy what they’re serving. Whether you’re healthy about what you consume is totally your deal. It’s your personal responsibility.

It’s important to recognize that just as speed in food consumption does not equal personal health, speed in news consumption is the same way. If you treat news like it’s fast food, you’ll be hooked on the McDonalds of news, not the nicer sit-down dinners that take more time but have greater reward. Quick hitter stories often don’t include much context. But there are plenty of magazines and books that get outside of deadline pressures and focus more on bigger picture fact-finding and analysis.

No doubt, it’s a much more difficult task to sit down with a book or lengthy magazine article than it is to browse Google News. But I think it’s important to read news pieces that require more effort than just clicking and scanning headlines. I find that when I do this, I feel a little less stressed, even when the subject isn’t particularly uplifting. If I can read good journalism, prepared with care by someone who is thoughtful about the trade, not just driven by winning the speed game, it’s almost like I’ve had a good meal.

I also feel it’s important to treat news like the four balanced food groups. Just as a reporter should seek different sources, so should a news consumer. If you’re only going to one place to get your news, it’s like you’re just eating from one food group, not getting a balanced meal.

Well, now I have to eat. And these jeans are feeling pretty tight. To drive thru, or not to drive thru. Yes, always the question.

Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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