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, or a farm, or any food-related business is severely impeded by the large agricultural business (agri-business) corporations, by the fast-food companies, and by related conglomerates that manage America’s (and the world’s) relationship to food.
Meanwhile, large-business CEOs and board members argue that their corporations are built on principles of individual hard-work and sacrifice; that, for example, Ray Kroc (first large-scale manager of McDonald’s) and Walt Disney were “do-it-yourself-ers,” who managed to make their money without government interference of excessive regulation. But, of course, this isn’t the whole of the story: a great many agribusinesses and small companies that became large food conglomerates began with government-sponsored small-business loans, or with other federal programs designed to bolster the economy of post-war America. Thus, even “individual” prosperity is a result of social processes. For Schlosser, the “social contract” between food consumers and food producers used to be more immediate: farmers grew food, and some businesses helped to distribute that food to restaurants and grocery stores. But now that process is “intermediated” by many other businesses, mostly large corporations, who claim to be beholden not to consumer but to “stockholders,” or those who might profit from the business.
Thus the old social contract, in which individuals work for the betterment both of themselves and for society on the whole, is warped in the food economy when ranches, potato fields, restaurants, and other food distribution companies are owned by large corporations, and when competition between companies is stifled by monopolies within industries. For Schlosser, then, change in the food economy, both in America and around the world, requires a reexamination of what is “individual” and what is “social” about food production and consumption. Schlosser believes that large companies can still mass-produce food without necessarily damaging the economy or forcing people to eat un-nutritious items produced exclusively by machines.
Independence vs. the Social Contract ThemeTracker
Independence vs. the Social Contract Quotes in Fast Food Nation
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.
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 . . . .
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 . . . .
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.
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.
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.
As the fast food industry has grown more competitive in the United States, the major chains have looked to overseas markets for their future growth. The McDonald’s Corporation recently used a new phrase to describe its hopes for foreign conquest: “global realization.”
As people eat more meals outside the home, they consume more calories, less fiber, and more fat. Commodity prices have fallen so low that the fast food industry has greatly increased its portion sizes, without reducing profits, in order to attract customers. The size of a burger has become one of its main selling points.
Today’s fast food industry is the culmination of larger social and economic trends. The low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost—and should. The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society. The annual cost of obesity alone is now twice as large as the fast food industry’s total revenues.
[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.