Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
24/02/2013 Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
"On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant. During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture. Fast food and its consequences have become inescapable, regardless of whether you eat it twice a day, try to avoid it, or have never taken a single bite."
Eric Schlosser's extremely well researched expose of the fast food industry is a real eye-opener. Far from being a one-sided polemic against big business, it is a fair and even handed critique of the way we eat and its consequences.
Schlosser takes the reader through the history of fast food, from its origins in hot dog carts and drive in restaurants, through the MacDonald brothers Speedee Service System and Ray Kroc's nationwide franchising of it, as well as lesser known but important chains such as Carl's Jr.
We learn how partnerships with Disney, toy merchandising, playgrounds at restaurants, sponsorship of school districts and other such tactics were developed to bring ever younger customers into the fold.
Schlosser discusses in detail the employment profile of fast food restaurants - their reliance on young, poorly educated minimum wage workers from some of the most disadvantaged parts of society. While the industry undoubtedly provides mass employment, the book explores the wage politics, attitudes to unionisation and the lack of protection of workers found in most fast food jobs. Schlosser also looks at the pros and cons of the franchise model which makes most chains work effectively.
There is detailed discussion of the ingredients of fast food - why the fries taste so good and how the smell of strawberries is created in a lab, how the beef and chicken can be so cheap, and the inevitable factory farming and production line slaugherhouses which lie behind the price point and uniformity. If you are squeamish about animal welfare, this is a section you will find uncomfortable. The humans in the system don't fare much better - critical injuries, drug use and deaths in slaughterhouses and meat packing houses being rife as a result of trying to keep up the relentless pace.
Schlosser also investigates the rise in food-bourne disease over the last few decades - approximately a quarter of Americans suffer food poisoning every year, with fourteen people dying EVERY DAY. Successive attempts to make the system safer (much of the problem is caused by shortcuts in the production system, unhygenic conditions in the slaughterhouse and improper handling of animal products) have met with political resistance underpinned by corporate lobbying which is shocking even to those who are familiar with such backroom politics - that these issues can cause death - and frequently - especially to young children, and yet is not considered above politicking, is abhorrent. That some of the poorest quality meat with the lowest safety standards is actually ending up in school cafeterias is even worse.
Readers outside the US need not feel smug either - the last section of the book concerns itself with the effects of fast food on other countries and the global obesity epidemic.
Schlosser's style is engaging and passionate but never feels like a rant. You will learn things you didn't know (and many you wish you didn't), and as he says at the end, you may still wish to eat in a fast food restaurant, but you will do so knowing the ripples of consequence that result from your purchase.
I recommend it wholeheatedly. As one Amazon reviewer put it, it's "McHorrifying."
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