It's always fair to pick on chains. They make America worse.
I think this offhand comment justifies a considered response.
Picking on chains is always a popular pursuit on boards like this. And that's fine; after all, the big bad chain food industry (and let's be careful to focus on FORMULA chain restaurants, not groups like Great American or Jose Andres') really couldn't care less what we chowhounds/foodies say or think--we're like a fly that might occasionally buzz around an elephant. The elephant seldom is even aware the fly is there, and cares less.
But we compare the quality of formula chain food with that of our favorite few places, and conveniently ignore the fact that the food in most independent places, IMO at least, is somewhere between mediocre and just plain bad. On the whole, in my view the quality of independents is not a pretty picture. Formula places on the other hand, while they seldom rise to great heights (think In-n-Out?) at least turn out decent food on average, thus appealing to the average palate, though not us of course.
Warning: "Mathematical" digression--ignore if you're mathephobic: In probability terms, if you lay out a density function (bell curve) of quality, I am saying the curve for independent places would be wide with a mean at a fairly ordinary quality level. If you superimpose the quality function for formula places on that, it would be much more narrow but with a mean at, maybe, the 1 sigma or maybe 70% level of the independent curve. Sure there are independent places that are better, but also a lot of them that are considerably worse. The places we focus on are at the 2 sigma level at least.
What if formula chains had never developed? Would America be "better off?" I don't think so. The current average quality of non-chains is not so hot, and the ones that exist now are presumably being operated by the most-suited individuals. If independents had to pick up all the market slack currently covered by chains, the average quality of independents would surely be worse on average than it is now as even less-competent individuals come in. If nothing else, formula chains, through their formulas, help their staff people turn out a consistent product, which they wouldn't be able to do on their own.
It's a competitve, Darwinian, world out there and things evolve for a reason. Many people liked formula places better than the alternative they had, and they evolved. Nothing succeeds like success.
As to the health argument, I lay that one at the feet of the customers, not the industry. The industry will provide what the market wants, and like it or not what they want is salt, fat, and sugar. There have been attempts to develop healthy food formula chains and they haven't succeeded. And the choices at independent restaurants in general are typically just as fat and sugar laden anyway.
I'm getting hungry for some Bojangles chicken.