Fast Food Nation

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Themes and Colors
Diet, Nutrition, and Food Safety Theme Icon
Greed, Corporations, and “The Bottom Line” Theme Icon
Independence vs. the Social Contract Theme Icon
Bureaucracy and Complex Systems Theme Icon
Work and “The Good Life” Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Fast Food Nation, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation is, above all, an expose of the conditions in the fast-food industry. It discusses the following topics: how fast-food corporations—like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Taco Bell—came into being (who founded them and franchised them); how these fast-food companies shaped the production of food products (especially meat and potatoes); and how systems of food production and consumption shape the American consumer. Schlosser describes the nutritional effects of high-fat, low-nutrient fast…

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Schlosser begins the book by tracing the genesis of fast-food companies, especially McDonald’s. Like Disney, another company based in southern California, McDonald’s was invested in a product—hamburgers, rather than cartoons—that could be marketed effectively to children, and created in bulk. Disney, McDonald’s, and countless similar corporations participated in a post-war economic boom, coupled with the explosion of the automobile and the Eisenhower federal interstate highway system. The “suburbanization” of the United States—whereby middle-class families moved…

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Schlosser emphasizes the relationship between one’s personal independence—the freedom it implies—and of social welfare, or the common bond between people. This independence cuts different ways. For individuals, independence can be understood as the ability to shop locally, or to run one’s own business; thus, fast-food corporations make it more difficult, as a consumer, to receive an individually-tailored meal, or dining experience—food across America becomes the same. For small-business owners, the freedom to run a restaurant…

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Schlosser’s examination of the food industry also applies more broadly to the analysis of bureaucracies (especially of the government variety) and of complex systems. Every step of the food production process in America, as it has become streamlined for maximum efficiency, has counter intuitively become more complicated, because food is now manufactured so quickly, and in such volume, that new problems present themselves at newer, faster, larger scales. When one man slaughters one cow, he…

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Throughout the book, Schlosser talks about the natural beauty of the North American continent, especially the West, and of the people who (used to) work the land, raising cattle and farming potatoes, starting small businesses, and helping to feed their communities. These workers have a holistic relationship to what they do—ranchers see the cattle they raise, and men and women running small businesses have a more direct connection to the places they live.

In…

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