book by Eric Schlosser
, columnist for Atlantic Monthly
about the history
and socioeconomic effects
of the fast food industry
He paints his story against the backdrop of the American West, talking about how the rhetoric of fast food is of independent businessman and ideals of freedom and self -reliance, whereas the industry is highly dependent on Federal money, from SBA loans to franchisees to agribusiness concerns about tax breaks and lax regulation.
He makes the point that assembly line methods of fast food production actually worked their way into large-scale agribusiness. The scariest picture is that of the beef factories, which due to the irregular size of cattle cannot be automated to the same extent as poultry and potato manufacturing, and are horrible places, filled with illiterate, migrant workers, working long hours at low pay in job conditions reminiscent of the early 20th century slaughterhouses that Upton Sinclair wrote of in The Jungle. How things like E. coli infection and salmonella could be prevented at an incremental cost, and how when the modern American slaughterhouse prepares meat for EU consumption, the lines are slowed down, and workers are actually safer because they can concentrate on their work better, and the higher standards the EU puts on their meat mean the work is done more carefully.
The book also laments the anti-union stance of the fast food chains, and how they rely on a steady stream of disposable workers to keep costs low, while simulaneously taking job training tax breaks from the Federal government. The real cost of fast food is not measured at the time of purchase, he argues, but in the cost to the workers, and the consumers--with Americans and particulary American children more obese than any society anywhere in world history.
At the same time, the book is not anti-fast food, or anti-capitalistic, per se. It goes on to mention chains like In 'N Out Burger who produce high-quality, honest food at comparable prices to the other chains by putting value in their workers and their food supply instead of trying to extract every last bit of profit by cutting corners whereever possible. The author admits to enjoying the fast food he's eaten, and is not, say a radical vegetarian or the type of person people usually think would write such a book.
All in all, it's a fascinating read. I really think people should understand where their food comes from, and if you eat at a fast food restaurant, you owe it to yourself to read the book, and make your own decisions on if you can support the industry in its present form. You may see nothing wrong with what's described in this book, but I did.