Fast Food Nation
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The story of the fast food industry and its effect on the world is well told in the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Schlosser makes the claim that, what started out as a special treat for the kids eventually ended up defining a way of life. During a brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped transform not only the American diet, but also our countryside, economy, workforce, and popular culture. The book thoroughly describes how important the two factors of money and power are in todays society. The book clearly establishes the broader thesis that as consumers, we should know what we eat even if it makes us uncomfortable by the knowledge.
On any given day in the United States about one quarter of the adult population dines at a fast food restaurant. The whole experience of buying fast food in America has become routine and taken for granted. Fast food has become without a doubt, an impulse buy for customers. Consumers dont plan on stopping at a fast food restaurant until they see the familiar sign of the golden arches. The thought never crosses their mind of what they are actually eating. Fast food is fast, convenient, relatively cheap, and tastes good. The key to franchises and chain stores is uniformity. Schlosser writes that “customers are drawn to familiar brands by an instinct to avoid the unknown.” (p.5)
McDonalds is now responsible for a large proportion of the countries new jobs. Fast food employees are deceived by the business just as much as the people who consume fast food. One out of every eight workers in the United States has by some point in time been employed by McDonalds alone. (p.4) With the increased intake of fast food, has come the increased intake of profit for franchise owners. This in turn allows them to hire more employees and add to the work force. A typical fast food employee is an adolescent who is under the age of twenty. He or she will lack full time employment, receive no benefits, learn few job skills, and float from job to job on a regular basis. The typical fast food worker quits or is fired every three to four months. Schlosser tells the story of an adolescent Taco Bell employee who regularly worked seventy to eighty hours a week but was only paid for forty. The restaurants manager manipulated the employers time card in order to receive a productivity bonus. Stemming from robbery attempts, in one year more restaurant workers were murdered in the United States than police officers. McDonalds is one of the most anti-union companies in the world. Currently, not even one of its 15,000 restaurants is represented by a union. (p.78)
The fast food chains enormous purchasing power has altered the way in how cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed. These changes have made meatpacking into the most dangerous job in the United States, performed by poor deprived immigrants whose injuries often go unreported and uncompensated. The lack of federal and state power regarding worker safety protection and meat inspection has been very troublesome. A high turnover rate in the meatpacking industry helps maintain a workforce that is hard to unionize and easy to control. The industry is driven by low pay and horrendous working conditions. Many meatpackers use methamphetamine to feel charged and self-confident to confront their daily jobs.
Regarding dangers to consumers, Schlosser puts his focus on E. coli and salmonella infection. The problems of meat contamination stems from the problems of what cattle are fed, overcrowded feedlots, poor sanitation at slaughterhouses, extreme line speeds, poorly trained workers, and the lack of government oversight. Every day in the United States approximately 200,000 people are sickened by a food born disease, 900 are hospitalized, and 14 die. (p.95) A single fast food hamburger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of cattle. Mad cow disease could become an even more serious issue as time progresses. It could be a small outbreak or could evolve into a deadly modern plague. Schlosser writes that “anyone who brings raw ground beef into his or her kitchen today must regard it as a potential biohazard, one that may carry an extremely dangerous microbe, infectious at an extremely low dose.” (p.221) By law, the USDA cant demand a recall of contaminated products and once a company decides to pull contaminated meat from the market, it is under no legal obligation to inform the public, even if consumers may continue to be at risk.
The book also tackles the issues of family farms and the fast food industrys little known practices that keep consumers hooked and coming back for more. Schlosser writes about the New Jersey Turnpike, which is the heart of Americas flavor industry. Chemicals are added to flavor the burgers, fries, and milk shakes to add to their charm. These employers have more to do with the taste of the foods we enjoy than those behind the counter at a fast food joint. Family farms are now being replaced by gigantic corporate farms with absentee owners. When cattle prices start to rise, the large meatpackers can flood the market with their own supplies to drive prices down, in turn cutting out the small man.
Today about 44 million Americans are obese and it all stems from the fast food industry. More than half of all American adults and one quarter of the children are overweight. Approximately 300,000 Americans die each year as a direct result of being overweight, only smoking causes more deaths. The fast food industry has now grown more competitive in the United States, so the major chains are now looking overseas for future growth. When a McDonalds opened at Kuwait, the line of cars waiting at the drive through window extended for seven miles. (p.230) Because of this, obesity is now spanning the globe as other countries have adopted the American fast food culture.
Fast Food Nation is comprehensively researched and dreadfully convincing. Most of the research comes from abundant first hand accounts and interviews that Schlosser conducted while traveling throughout the country. Schlossers writing style is very interesting as he mixed personal stories with a landslide of facts and observations. He uses numerous sources including newspapers, journals, books, news reports, articles, and personal accounts. During the two years that he researched the book, he ate a lot of fast food and visited places that affect the fast food industry from the ground up. Schlosser documents all of his claims that he makes in the book. Fast Food Nation was one of the most well researched books that I have ever read.
Overall, the book has more strengths than it does weaknesses. Given the popularity of fast food by Americans and people across the world, this was information that needed to be spread to consumers everywhere. Schlosser does