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 foods, the hygienic problems associated with factory farming, and the failure of government agencies to regulate food businesses effectively.
Schlosser is a journalist, and the book is not intended to vilify fast food itself, nor the people who make it and consume it. Schlosser is, however, critical of certain aspects of this eating culture, reserving most of his condemnation for the large corporations that sacrifice the integrity of their product for the “bottom line,” and for government regulators who turn a blind eye on food-safety processes that are less than stringent. Schlosser notes that economic and political systems—especially those in favor of corporate profit and consolidation, at the expense of small-business owners—have to a large extent determined what Americans eat.
Thus, the book attempts to show what this food is, how it’s produced, and what the consequences of its production and consumption might be. Schlosser concludes that, although the economic forces behind fast food are significant, there are possibilities for reform within this system. One would not need to eliminate fast food entirely in order to regulate factory production of meat and potatoes more effectively or, for example, to encourage school lunches to be more nutritious. The fast-food system could be altered—to better serve consumers, eaters, and small-business owners—without being completely dismantled.
Diet, Nutrition, and Food Safety ThemeTracker
Diet, Nutrition, and Food Safety Quotes in Fast Food Nation
The key to a successful franchise, according to many texts on the subject, can be expressed in one word: “uniformity.” Franchises and chain stores strive to offer exactly the same product or service at numerous locations.
Fast food is now so commonplace that it has acquired an air of inevitability, as though it were somehow unavoidable, a fact of modern life. And yet the dominance of the fast food giants was no more preordained than the march of colonial split-levels, golf courses, and man-made lakes across the deserts of the American West.
When I first met my wife . . . this road here was gravel . . . and now it’s blacktop.
As franchises and chain stores opened across the United States, driving along a retail strip became a shopping experience much like strolling down the aisle of a supermarket. Instead of pulling something off the shelf, you pulled into a driveway. The distinctive architecture of each chain became its packaging . . . .
McDonald’s began to sell J. R. Simplot’s frozen french fries the following year. Customers didn’t notice any difference in taste. And the reduced cost of using a frozen product made french fries one of the most profitable items on the menu—far more profitable than hamburgers.
Since 1980, the tonnage of potatoes grown in Idaho has almost doubled, while the average yield per acre has risen by nearly 30 percent. But the extraordinary profits being made from the sale of french fires have barely trickled down to the farmers.
Many ranchers now fear that the beef industry is deliberately being restructured along the lines of the poultry industry. They do not want to wind up like chicken growers—who in recent years have become virtually powerless, trapped by debt and by onerous contracts written by the large processors.
The suicide rate among ranchers and farmers in the US is now about three times higher than the national average. The issue briefly received attention during the 1980s farm crisis, but has been pretty much ignored ever since. Meanwhile, across rural America, a slow and steady death toll mounts. As the rancher’s traditional way of life is destroyed, so are many of the beliefs that go with it.
Workers often bring their knives home and spend at least forty minutes a day keeping the edges smooth, sharp, and sanded, with no pits. One IBP worker, a small Guatemalan woman in graying hair, spoke with me . . . telling the story of her life . . . the whole time sharpening big knives in her lap as though she were knitting a sweater.
Every day in the United States, nearly 200,000 people are sickened by foodborne disease, 900 are hospitalized, and fourteen die. . . . Most of these cases are never reported to the authorities or properly diagnosed. The widespread outbreaks that are detected . . . represent a small fraction of the number that actually occurs.
The pathogens from infected cattle are spread not only in feedlots, but also at slaughterhouses and hamburger grinders. The slaughterhouse tasks most likely to contaminate meat are the removal of an animal’s hide and the removal of its digestive system . . . if a hide has been inadequately cleaned, chunks of dirt and manure may fall from it onto the meat.
In addition to letting meatpacking executives determine when to recall ground beef, how much needs to be recalled, and who should be told about it, for years the USDA allowed these companies to help write the agency’s own press releases about the recalls.
[At the fast food counter], think about where the food came from, about how and where it was made, about what is set in motion by every single fast food purchase, the ripple effect near and far, think about it. Then place your order. Or turn and walk out the door. It’s not too late. Even in this fast food nation, you can still have it your way.