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Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
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Fast Food Nation (2001)

by Eric Schlosser

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Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle.

I’ve pretty much given up fast food over the years, with a very sharp decline in visits to such restaurants in about the last three years. This was due to my chronic gastric problems and the gradual realization that they were linked to preservatives and additives in food—fast food doesn’t sit well with the moves I’ve been making toward eating quality, preferably organic, food. Discovering that American bread was one of the culprits in my case also made it difficult to eat hamburgers, and since I’ve now been told by my holistic doctor that I need to avoid grains and dairy altogether, I’m pretty much done.

And a good thing, too. Because after reading Fast Food Nation, I don’t think I’ll ever eat a fast food hamburger again. Schlosser’s book is as much about the cultural and economic effects of fast food as about the food itself, but the long chapter on food poisoning (introduced into the beef chain by the conditions under which the animals are kept (which also raises many ethical issues) is pretty much enough to turn you vegetarian.

Schlosser describes the development of the fast food industry from the growing popularity of hot dog carts in the newly mobile California of the 1930s and 1940s, through drive-in restaurants, to the moment in 1948 when the McDonald brothers decided to eliminate carhops and silverware and sell hamburgers created on an assembly-line basis, giving working-class families their first shot at affordable restaurant food. The beginnings of the world’s largest restaurant chains were, it seems, marvels of innovation and inventiveness, and over the next 40 years entrepreneurs applied the new ways of thinking to other easy-to-eat foods such as pizzas and fried chicken. One of the great innovations was marketing these products to children, who would then carry their love for these trusted brands into adulthood. I feel like I should cue the Jaws music here, because we all know where this is going—supersized people sipping from 40oz buckets of flavored, diluted corn syrup as they waddle around Wal-Mart . . . .

Schlosser goes on from his recounting of what, after all, were some pretty amazing examples of how to grow a business to get into what fast food has done for American industry. Among other things, it’s consolidated food processing to the point where most of our meat comes from a very few processing plants, created a huge workforce of mostly teenaged employees, resisted unionization so effectively that most employees barely earn enough to eat (and resort to robbing their own workplaces to supplement their income) and industrialized the production of food to the point where we’re eating a frightening combination of low-quality carbohydrates and proteins masked in chemical flavors. What’s more, this commercialization of eating is supported by public money—and has driven the traditional kind of farmer off the land.

And then things get truly gross. Schlosser describes conditions in meat processing plants (one of the things I learned was that while chickens, that can be grown to uniform size, are processed by machine, cattle have to be slaughtered and butchered by hand by people up to their ankles in blood and shit) that raised the hair on my head. These jobs, mostly held by immigrants (not all legal) are some of the most dangerous you’ll ever read about, and cleaning up the plant at night is just as risky as swinging a knife by day as the cattle rattle by at speeds of up to 400 per hour. Having shown how the meat is processed, he then goes on to describe what happens when you eat a hamburger with shit in it as a result of these processing methods, and that’s the point, dear reader, where you might toss your cookies. I have a strong stomach, but that chapter was hard to take.

And finally, Schlosser describes how America’s fast food corporations are exporting all of the above issues, including obesity, to countries around the world. Fortunately, the world does appear to be a bit more resistant to American corporations than are Americans themselves, and there are stories of triumph.

This book was published in 2001, so the examples tend to be from the 90s—but Schlosser notes in his recent afterword that not much has changed since. He does, however, cover some stories of hope—the growing interest in quality, organic, locally-sourced food and particularly in combating childhood obesity is providing farmers who resist the corporate lure with a way to survive. But I think we all know that the corporate greed that’s at the root of everything Schlosser describes is still there, and that Americans, en masse, don’t seem to be able to resist buying food that they know is bad for them. That’s a pretty dangerous combination. ( )
1 vote JaneSteen | Apr 19, 2015 |
about time I read this book. I read it because the students on my boat are obsessed with fast food, and I've always known that it was bad for you - yet they keep going and going and going back for more. Unfortunately the MacDonalds here has free wifi, and is one of the only places I've found that has adopted that business idea. Bummer! Great book, I'm doing a book report soon. Have you seen the movies: They!, Soylent Green, or Rollerball ('75)? Sorta in the same vein and worth a watch. ( )
  Mrdrewk | Dec 2, 2014 |
I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but I decided to finally read this book having had it sit on the shelf for a few years. I'm glad I read it, but as someone who regularly eats in the US I am not sure if I should be glad or freaked out. The book is an interesting study in how industrialization without proper quality controls can have some pretty terrible side effects. I'm glad to live in a jurisdiction where we actively test for food quality and safety.

The book is a good read, and I'd recommend it to people without weak stomaches.

http://www.stillhq.com/book/Eric_Schlosser/Fast_Food_Nation.html ( )
  mikal | Nov 16, 2014 |
Summary: In 2001, Fast Food Nation was published to critical acclaim and became an international bestseller. Eric Schlosser’s exposé revealed how the fast food industry has altered the landscape of America, widened the gap between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity, and transformed food production throughout the world. The book changed the way millions of people think about what they eat and helped to launch today’s food movement.

In a new afterword for this edition, Schlosser discusses the growing interest in local and organic food, the continued exploitation of poor workers by the food industry, and the need to ensure that every American has access to good, healthy, affordable food. Fast Food Nation is as relevant today as it was a decade ago. The book inspires readers to look beneath the surface of our food system, consider its impact on society and, most of all, think for themselves.

Thoughts: I'm going to be blunt about it: I don't read nonfiction much unless the subject interests me. This subject is not my top choice for most interesting. I honestly only picked FFN up because it was required for school reading.
With all that out of the way, I was stuck for the first few pages trying to get into it. The pages took forever for me to turn, because I couldn't imagine the story in my head as well.
Eric Schlosser, you are amazing. You took a subject that is HUGE in America today and you made it fascinating and horrific. I very much enjoyed this book.
Schlosser, from page one, related really cool things to the fast food industry. He forced this book to be as interesting as it could be. I got to read about Las Vegas and super secret Air Force bases. I got to read really sad quotes and stories and I seriously almost cried when reading about Kenny Dobbins. There were parts that made me laugh. And you can be sure that there were parts that angered me. Ask anyone who knows me: during this book, I ranted daily about our fast food industry.
The ending was perhaps the best part. That last paragraph is so awesome to me. And the new afterward is great to read.
I feel so inspired by FFN. Like I never want to eat at a fast food place again (this was a problem during the long road trip to and from camping). I've actually boycotted McD's for almost two years now. I don't miss it. I'd like to do the same with other "restaurants".

Rating: 4.5 stars
I really did enjoy this book, but I had to take off 0.5 stars because of my lack of interest in the subject and the fact that I couldn't get into it for a few pages. I can definitely tell you, though, this book is worth the read. I absolutely can say without a doubt that I am glad I experienced it. ( )
  ashleyjellison | Jul 28, 2014 |
Something occurred to me while finishing this book. While I was reading Fast Food Nation, I was also finishing the seventh Harry Potter. Everyone who had already read HP told me how good it is, how they cried, etc. And yes, HP was endearing. But FFN was to an even greater extent I feel.

While most readers engage themselves in fiction, nonfiction is highly ignored—and I’m guilty of this maybe more than anyone else. But reading FFN gave me all of the same strong emotions that reading fiction does. I am angered at the villain (in this case large corporations that will do anything for money, including lie to their clients), and I feel emotionally attached to the victims—the rancher, the meatpacker, the fast food franchisee, and the consumer of this meat. But then the realization hits me—this is real.

These huge corporations are really recruiting poor, unskilled laborers, often immigrants to perform very dangerous jobs, refusing them decent wages, insurance, or worse yet, workers compensation when they hurt themselves. While it is true that the evidence is anecdotal, it is perhaps the only evidence that will ever be available, since these companies have a long unpunished history of lying. Lying to their workers, lying to the government, and lying to their customers.

At first I was simply horrified by the human aspect. How terribly these companies treat their workers. It is extremely despicable, but even I cannot capture all of the terrors. You’ll have to read the book to understand.

But after the human aspect, FFN took a twist toward The Jungle. Sinclair would be truly pleased. The fact that these companies are so powerful, they don’t have to test their meats for salmonella or e. coli is awesome: unless you’re one of the millions of unsuspecting meat eaters in the world. It’s truly sickening how much power these companies have. The government has the power to recall all kinds of defective merchandise, but not potentially lethal meat.

Obviously this book has a very liberal bias. But so do I, so I don’t mind much. It took a LONG time to read, but is worth it I feel.
( )
1 vote csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (next | show all)
''Fast Food Nation'' provides the reader with a vivid sense of how fast food has permeated contemporary life and a fascinating (and sometimes grisly) account of the process whereby cattle and potatoes are transformed into the burgers and fries served up by local fast food franchises.
 
This is a fine piece of muckraking, alarming without being alarmist.
 
It is a serious piece of investigative journalism into an industry that has helped concentrate corporate ownership of American agribusiness, while engaging in labor practices that are often shameful.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Eric Schlosserprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
楡井 浩一Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
A savage servility slides by on grease. - Robert Lowell
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for Red
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Over the last three decades, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American Society.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060838582, Paperback)

On any given day, one out of four Americans opts for a quick and cheap meal at a fast-food restaurant, without giving either its speed or its thriftiness a second thought. Fast food is so ubiquitous that it now seems as American, and harmless, as apple pie. But the industry's drive for consolidation, homogenization, and speed has radically transformed America's diet, landscape, economy, and workforce, often in insidiously destructive ways. Eric Schlosser, an award-winning journalist, opens his ambitious and ultimately devastating exposé with an introduction to the iconoclasts and high school dropouts, such as Harlan Sanders and the McDonald brothers, who first applied the principles of a factory assembly line to a commercial kitchen. Quickly, however, he moves behind the counter with the overworked and underpaid teenage workers, onto the factory farms where the potatoes and beef are grown, and into the slaughterhouses run by giant meatpacking corporations. Schlosser wants you to know why those French fries taste so good (with a visit to the world's largest flavor company) and "what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns." Eater beware: forget your concerns about cholesterol, there is--literally--feces in your meat.

Schlosser's investigation reaches its frightening peak in the meatpacking plants as he reveals the almost complete lack of federal oversight of a seemingly lawless industry. His searing portrayal of the industry is disturbingly similar to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, written in 1906: nightmare working conditions, union busting, and unsanitary practices that introduce E. coli and other pathogens into restaurants, public schools, and homes. Almost as disturbing is his description of how the industry "both feeds and feeds off the young," insinuating itself into all aspects of children's lives, even the pages of their school books, while leaving them prone to obesity and disease. Fortunately, Schlosser offers some eminently practical remedies. "Eating in the United States should no longer be a form of high-risk behavior," he writes. Where to begin? Ask yourself, is the true cost of having it "your way" really worth it? --Lesley Reed

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:33 -0400)

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Presents an examination of the fast food industry, tracing its history and discussing how it arose in postwar America, as well as the impact it has had on economy, food production, and popular culture.

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