“Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal” exposes the realities of the American fast food industry by shedding light into the dire realities of this sector. American cuisine has gradually transformed into roadside eateries with the emergence of hotdog stands, burger cafes and a plethora of eateries offering a wide range of fast food. The other side of the reality points out to the ill effects of the fast food industry on America’s environment caused by the exploitation of ranch lands and precious farms. Besides environmental concerns, the workforce employed in the fast food industry is majorly teenage students who work late nights in restaurants by abandoning their homework or immigrants who are exploited and compelled to work for lower wages. While these are a few adverse effects of the American fast food industry as stated by Eric Schlosser, his criticism is not revolutionary, but rather an eye-opener to advocating reform.
The author of this book, Eric Schlosser, is a renowned journalist and author and sheds light on subjects revolving around marginal people of society, which are often neglected by the media. Some of his investigations include interactions with Californian migrant farmers and workers in the slaughterhouses of Colorado and Texas, accompanying the “New York Police Department Bomb Squad”, and visiting prisoners and victims across the country to understand the realities of violent crimes among others. Schlosser’s work is regularly seen in publications, such as Financial Times, Fortune and Nation among others. “Fast Food Nation” is Schlosser’s first publication and some of the recent publications include Reefer Madness, Chew on This, Command and Control and the Great Imprisonment among others.
In this book, Schlosser gives an account of the biographies of the founding father who laid the foundation for the American fast food industry. While Schlosser positively claims that the sector has given rise to a multitude of inexpensive food options that are not only convenient for customers but also taste great, he urges the need for implementing moral responsibilities across the industry to ensure sustainability. The majority of the founding fathers were self-made businessmen who made significant attempts to fulfill the American Dream and eventually, they paved the way for “an entirely new lifestyle and a new way of eating”. Schlosser presents important statistics about the amount of fast food consumption in America, which rapidly grew from $6 billion in 1970 to $110 billion in 2000 within a time span of mere thirty years. The primary reason for such rapid growth is rapid technological and cultural change, such as the increasing use of automobiles and changing pace of American life. The author further quotes the example of Mcdonald’s stating that the company employs over one million workers in the United States alone. He also quotes the examples of Pizza Hut and Carl’s Jr as important contributors of the fast food industry.
Through the use of statistics, vignettes, and journalistic prose, Schlosser exposes the hidden realities of the fast food industry, such as the use of chemicals to enhance the flavors of burgers, milkshakes, and sandwiches to name a few. Another harmful practice is the use of beef tallow for frying potatoes to increase their crispiness and attractiveness. The author also reveals how the employment practices in the fast food sector lead to deskilling work practices, union-busting, lack of corporate training, and violation of laws to name a few. Schlosser researched that 84 percent of the slaughter across the US arrives from four meet giants of the country, which include National Beef, IBP, ConAgra and Excel. The book further depicts the atrocities of the meatpacking industry, including its health and social impact on the workers. In order to confront their gruesome work, the majority of workers in the slaughterhouses use methamphetamine to stay charged. Most importantly, the level of injuries caused by large knives demands immediate medical assistance beyond first aid, which is seldom available at slaughterhouses and thereby leading to higher death rates.
Schlosser further investigated how the centralization of meat production gives rise to millions of pathogens causing serious infections and diseases. For instance, E.coli bacteria, which is widely spread through food contamination is the primary cause of kidney diseases in children. Similarly, Clostridium perfringens is found in about 53.3 percent of beef samples, while Staphylococcus aureus is found in 30 percent of the samples followed by Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella in 11.7 percent and 7 percent of the samples respectively. Today, America is suffering from one of the biggest epidemics, obesity, which is the highest among the world’s developed nations. The spread of fast food culture across the globe is further impacting the obesity rates of other countries, such as China, Japan, and Germany, which had adopted a similar culture.
Besides health impacts, Schlosser also gives an account of how the American fast food industry changed the landscape of the country through taller restaurant signs along the highways to grab the attention of drivers. McDonald’s has progressed to the extent that it uses commercial satellite images to bid for cheap lands along the highways. Besides merely detailing the ill deeds of the fast food industry, the author also proposes effective solutions and necessary changes to be implemented in the upstream and downstream supply chain. This could be possible only through the fair treatment of workers at slaughterhouses, raising disease-free cattle in an environment-friendly way, and increasing awareness among customers about the health consequences of consuming fast food.
According to Schlosser, the farmers supplying crops to the restaurants must receive fair compensation to live a decent standard of life without the constant fear of heavy debts and infringement of industrial agribusiness. Similarly, workers in fast food restaurants must receive fair wages, while younger workers should prioritize education as their primary goal. Hygiene, sanitation and medical attention should be prioritized to ensure the safety of workers in slaughterhouses. Besides implementing ban on advertisements targeting children, the fast food industry should value land and livestock as important assets rather than commodities. Although these proposals are worth implementing, a major drawback of this book is that the author does not specify possible approaches through which they could be implemented in the best possible way.
The primary target audience of “Fast Food Nation” is American consumers who are falling prey to the unhealthy food served by fast food restaurants. Schlosser urges consumers to refrain from buying fast food as it is the easiest and most meaningful way to trigger a change in the fast food culture. Furthermore, the author also targets impoverished Americans who have no option but to work for lower wages and in the unhygienic and unsafe work environment in the slaughterhouses that serve meat to the fast food industry. Most importantly, the book is a message to every individual who cares about the environment, social justice and the fundamental characteristics of a good meal.
To conclude, “Fast Food Nation” is an important contribution that analyzes the American fast food industry from a microscopic perspective through the use of statistical data, vignettes, observations and factual evidence. Schlosser conveys an important message to the audience as to how the fast food industry is destroying individuals, families, workers and communities in several ways. Schlosser concludes the book by stating that it is the responsibility of consumers and fast food restaurants to initiate change in the industry and ensure the social, moral and communal wellbeing of all stakeholders involved in the business.