Fast Food Nation. By Eric Schlosser. HarperCollins Publishings. 2002, 288 p. $13.95.
"Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-thrus, at stadiums, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at K-Marts, Wal-Marts, gas stations, and even hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2001, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music - combined. (Schlosser pg. 3)"
Fast Food Nation takes an objective, unclouded look at our nation's most prized tradition the fast food industry. Fast Food Nation also takes a hard look at how fast food has been transformed from individually owned hot dog and hamburger stands to multinational corporations, and it also talks about how technological revolutions have changed that face into globally recognized icons.
Eric Schlosser uses a series of stories told from various view points to outline his ever pervasive theme that something needs to be done to change the fast food industry. In some of the stories that are used, there is an overwhelming sense of uncaring that seems to come from companies when it comes to food safety or pretty much anything that takes more than a minimalistic effort on the part of corporations. Fast Food Nation calls for a total overhaul from the way Americans do business, all the way down to the way we eat.
Specifically, Fast Food Nation talks about the use of advertising to children, chemical additives, food adulteration, worker safety issues, law suits, unions, and most importantly diseases.
One of the book's most important points is the fact that the USDA has no real power over anything slaughterhouses, ranchers, meatpackers, renderers, or distributors do. The meat industry enjoys being the only industry in America that does not have to answer to government regulations, especially when it comes to recalling meat for whatever reason. Whether there is glass in the hamburger, E. coli or Salmonella the USDA cannot force a company to recall its meat and therefore has to wait for a company to make the decision to issue a recall.
Fast Food Nation also addressed the issues of E. coli O157:H7 and briefly mentions bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as BSE or Mad Cow). It states how researchers have known since the early eighties about the dangers of both E. coli and Creutzfeldt-Jakob, or the human form of BSE (also known as vCJD), and still did nothing to stop common practices that spread both of these diseases.
In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser also draws an outline of a world where "- a person can now go from cradle to grave without spending a nickel at an independently owned business. (Schlosser pg. 5)". I don’t think that Schlosser is necessarily against just the beef industry, just the fast food industry, or even just advertising; his entire point is that as companies have gotten too big, and too controlling over everyday life. The fact that soft drink companies are now advertising in school, and the fact that schools allow companies to advertise there, reflects on the real problem our nation faces… misplaced priorities. "In Kansas City they were getting 67 cents a kid before… and now they are getting $27 [a person]. (De Rose, from Schlosser pg. 53)". So, the real problem is not that they are advertising in schools, but the fact that the schools feel as though they need to sell their students to advertisers to get money.
In the end of the book Eric Schlosser mentions what European countries are doing in response to these consumer issues, and also mentions his opinion about what Americans should do in the future about our way of life. "The claim that mad cow disease has never been detected in the United States is accurate, as of this writing. The USDA, however, has not tried very hard to find it. 'If you don't look, you won't find,' say Dr. Perluigi Gambetti,..." (Researcher from Case Western Researve University, Schlosser pg. 287)". We aren't trying to find BSE, so what kind of safety measures do we have? Hiding our head in the sand isn't going to keep our meat safe.
When I read Fast Food Nation I found it very interesting, but I have to admit that I also found it rather horrifying. About a year ago, I did a research paper for English class, and I chose to research why Americans should be more globally conscious and choose to boycott the Beef industry. At that time, I used parts of Fast Food Nation to support the claims I made, but also, I didn’t have enough time to read the book. I am glad that I had to go back and read it, because of the controversial nature of the book, and because it gives the reader insight in the tactics used by corporations to leave consumers in the dark.