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Economy

How Fast Food Cornered the Urban Market

Small business loans backed by the federal government helped the Golden Arches and its rivals conquer the city.
The "Rock & Roll" McDonald's in Chicago. Another McDonald's in the Southside was one of the first African American owned franchises.
The "Rock & Roll" McDonald's in Chicago. Another McDonald's in the Southside was one of the first African American owned franchises.Jaysin Trevino/flickr

The story of fast food in America has been well documented; Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation and Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me explored the public health consequences of our addiction to cheap, convenient calories. The sheer girth of America’s national obesity epidemic often creates the impression that fast food, for good or ill, is an equal-opportunity American experience.

It’s not: Obesity rates skew towards people of color, particularly children, who tend to live in urban areas. That disparity speaks to a more structural challenge—one produced by policies that ushered fast food into the urban market.

That’s the theory driving Supersizing Urban America by Chin Jou, a professor of American history at the University of Sydney. The book digs into how the federal government helped fast food franchises expand into cities by backing small business loans in the late 1960s.