Fast Food Nation

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Fast Food Nation Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Eric Schlosser
Eric Schlosser grew up in Los Angeles, in relatively well-to-do circumstances; his father, Herbert Schlosser, was for a time the president of the National Broadcasting Corporation. Schlosser attended Princeton as an undergraduate and Oxford as a graduate student. After his studies, Schlosser wrote and reported for The Atlantic Monthly. His other books include Reefer Madness, about marijuana use and its cultural implications, and Command and Control, about the accidents that can ensue when government personnel handle nuclear bombs. All his books have been critically praised, and Fast Food Nation was named “One of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Nonfiction Books.”
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Historical Context of Fast Food Nation
Schlosser wrote Fast Food Nation at the close of the 1990s, a time of great upheaval in America—although the results of that upheaval were not to impact large portions of the American public until the first decade of the 21st century. Bill Clinton’s presidency was one of, largely, economic growth, of the signing of the NAFTA treaty with Mexico and Canada, encouraging free trade in North America, and of relative peace, with only small US-led skirmishes in the Middle East and Africa. But the phantom of deregulation, which was raised by Reagan and the first President Bush in the 1980s and 1990s, and which continued in large part under Clinton’s Administration, contributed to an atmosphere of loose oversight and “bubble economies,” especially in the real estate, finance, and tech sectors. The successive collapses of the first tech bubble, in 1999, of the real estate bubble in 2007, and the financial bubble in 2008, led to a serious and sustained economic decline across the globe. This, coupled with major changes in America’s relationship to other countries (notably China, Russia, and many nations of the Middle East), has only underscored the corporate influence and worldwide economic interconnectedness Schlosser first traced at the close of the 20th century.
Other Books Related to Fast Food Nation
Fast Food Nation takes up, in some sense, the path-breaking writings of Upton Sinclair, whose 1906 novel The Jungle first detailed—exquisitely and, to some, repugnantly—the terrible conditions of Chicago meatpacking plants. Sinclair’s work, as Schlosser notes in his book, went on to spur Theodore Roosevelt and the Congress to enact regulation in support of hygienic meatpacking practices, and of worker safety in those plants. Schlosser’s writing on food might be categorized with Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which describes eating practices around the world based on the “natural history of four meals” announced in its subtitle. Indeed, if one scans the other 99 books included on Time Magazine’s “100 Best non-fiction books,” of which Fast Food Nation is one, one finds other, kindred texts. Schlosser’s social consciousness might be traced in Robert Caro’s description of Robert Moses, New York’s master planner, in The Power Broker; his condemnation of certain corporate practices echoes some of Naomi Klein’s more strident anti-corporate language in No Logo. But Schlosser’s work is really its own, melding food writing, social criticism, and a history of corporatization and suburbanization in America. His work is broad-ranging, well-researched, and engagingly-written.
Key Facts about Fast Food Nation
  • Full Title: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
  • When Written: The end of the 1990s
  • Where Written: New York City, with significant reporting in Colorado
  • When Published: 2001
  • Literary Period: Contemporary non-fiction
  • Genre: non-fiction; food writing; social criticism
  • Setting: primarily in and around the cities of Colorado’s Front Range
  • Climax: After visiting a meatpacking plant, Schlosser walks outside and sees the distant beauty of the night sky. Through a window in the plant, he notes the “pink” carcasses of the cattle moving along a conveyor belt.
  • Antagonist: No single antagonist, although Iowa Beef Processors (IBP) and ConAgra, two enormous agribusinesses, are the subjects of consistent critique
  • Point of View: third-person, reported
Extra Credit for Fast Food Nation

Super Size Me. Schlosser is not alone in his critique of the fast-food industry. One of the most famous documentaries on the subject of fast food is Morgan Spurlock’s 2004 movie Super Size Me, in which Spurlock eats entirely at McDonald’s for one month. Spurlock’s film discusses many of the same broad topics as Schlosser’s book—if, perhaps, doing so in a much more personal, and perhaps self-jeopardizing, way.