Schlosser begins his Epilogue by noting that not everyone in the food production and fast-food industries behaves the way that the companies described earlier in the book have. One rancher in Matheson, Colorado, Dale Lasater, runs his cattle ranch in part as a wildlife preserve, and believes that “organic, free-range” beef might be the future of the industry. Conway’s Red Top restaurant, in Colorado Springs, has “hamburger patties...still formed every day by hand, using fresh, not frozen, ground beef.” And In-N-Out Burger, in California and Nevada, sells no franchises, pays its employees more than minimum wage, and has some of the “highest-quality food” in the fast-food industry.
Schlosser does not want his readers to abandon hope of reform. Indeed, he sees reform as a long, slow process, one that involves a great many people doing their part. But this reform need not be predicated on drastic or revolutionary action on the part of consumers. Schlosser notes, here, that some people already in the 1990s are rejecting the culture of “fast” food and of mass-produced nutrition. There are also businesses that thrive by catering to the quality of their food and the health of their customer bases.
Schlosser argues explicitly what has been implicit throughout the book: that “market forces,” used by fast-food and food-processing companies to justify activities that suit their bottom lines at the expense of consumer health and supplier profits, are purely economic arguments rather than moral ones. Change is possible in the fast-food industry, Schlosser writes. Job training at fast-food restaurants can be more comprehensive and mandatory. Oversight in meatpacking plants can include better food safety testing and better employee risk and health management. And a “single, unified” food safety agency, not beholden to corporate interests, can guarantee that massive E. coli outbreaks don’t threaten large swaths of the population.
Here, Schlosser notes that the answer might not necessarily need to be “more” government, just a better, more efficient form of government. For of course it is wasteful for the government to scramble together a number of different agencies to combat food safety, especially since food safety is such a complex problem in itself. Complex problems like that are solved by one coordinating agency making a series of reforms—and by that agency, whatever it may be, having the power to discipline companies who don’t shape up.
Schlosser ends with a point that, though simple, resonates back throughout the book: purchasing fast food is a choice—one that a great many Americans, and people around the world, make every day. But if large parts of those populations decided to stop buying fast food—to boycott parts of the industry, as a protest to the malfeasance and problems of food production in the US—then that industry would be forced, by shrinking demand, to accede to the wishes of its consumers. It sounds like a far-fetched idea, but Schlosser argues that saying “no” to fast food, and the cultures and economies it produces, is the first step toward making food consumption more ethical, better for the environment—and safer for the people doing the eating.
Schlosser closes the book with an appeal to the consumer. Schlosser has taken pains, throughout Fast Food Nation, not to blame people who eat fast food—indeed, he talks about how delicious fast food can be! But he also notes that consumption patterns represent choices, and consumers can do their best to be informed about how companies operate. Boycotts by consumers are like strikes by unionized workers—they allow individuals to band together, and to wield far greater influence than they might alone.