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 contrast, large companies, the suburbanization of America (especially the West), and the desire to push less-healthy food at a profit causes people’s quality of life—and the quality of the food they consume—to decrease. Fast food, then, is just one symptom of a world that is at odds with Schlosser’s ideal vision for America, in which companies are not “people” but are instead composed of individuals, who feel they have a choice in what they eat, what they do, and how they live their lives.
Schlosser further argues that his vision, though it sounds romantic or utopian, is in fact not so difficult to put into practice. Schlosser pushes for reforms that would make the food industry more accountable, rather than massive revolutionary changes that would entirely dismantle the global food-production network. Schlosser believes that workers should be trained to perform a skill, and should be paid fairly for their work. He is opposed to governments that give in unnecessarily to the interests of wealthy corporate interests, especially when they run counter to the interests of the “regular people” buying the conglomerates’ products. Schlosser also believes that large parts of the country, in particular in the West, present a natural beauty that can be swallowed up by cars and Golden Arches crowding already over-developed roadsides.
For Schlosser, American food development since World War Two has brought on immense technological advances, but created a world in which workers no longer feel immediately connected to a “good life,” an integrated life of food and community. Schlosser’s book, published in 2001, perceived many of the climatic and food-based concerns that have become widespread issues of political conversation a decade later.
Work and “The Good Life” ThemeTracker
Work and “The Good Life” 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.
The southern California drive-in restaurants of the early 1940s tended to be gaudy and round, topped with pylons, towers, and flashing signs. They were “Circular meccas of neon,” in the words of drive-in historian Michael Witzel, designed to be easily spotted from the road.
Richard McDonald . . . though untrained as an architect . . . came up with a design [for McDonald’s stores] that was simple, memorable, and archetypal. On two sides of the roof he put golden arches, lit by neon at night, that from a distance formed the letter M.
When I first met my wife . . . this road here was gravel . . . and now it’s blacktop.
This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog. I’ll kill ‘em, and I’m going to kill ‘em before they kill me. You’re talking about the American way of survival of the fittest.
Despite all the talk in Colorado about aerospace, biotech, computer software, telecommunications, and other industries of the future, the largest private employer in the state today is the restaurant industry . . . [it] has grown faster than the population.
Every Saturday Elisa Zamot gets up at 5:15 in the morning. It’s a struggle, and her head feels groggy as she steps into the shower. Her little sisters, Cookie and Sabrina, are fast asleep in their beds. . . .
The fast food industry pays the minimum wage to a higher proportion of its workers than any other American industry. Consequently, a low minimum wage has long been a crucial part of the fast food industry’s business plan.
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.
Toward sunset we spotted a herd of antelope and roared after them. That damn minivan bounced over the prairie like a horse at full gallop, Hank wild behind the wheel . . . we had a Chrysler engine, power steering, and disk brakes, but the antelope had a much superior grace, making sharp and unexpected turns, bounding effortlessly . . . .
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.
Greeley became a company town, dominated by the Monfort family and ruled with a compassionate paternalism. Ken Monfort was a familiar presence at the slaughterhouse. Workers felt comfortable approaching him with suggestions and complaints.
Far from being a liability, a high turnover rate in the meatpacking industry—as in the fast food industry—also helps maintain a workforce that is harder to unionize and much easier to control.
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.
[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.