Friday, November 6, 2009

Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
by Eric Schlosser
Hardcover, 356 pages, including index, bibliography, notes
(270 pages text)
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001
ISBN-13: 9780395977897
highly recommended

Synopsis from publisher:
Fast food has hastened the malling of our landscape, widened the chasm between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity, and propelled American cultural imperialism abroad. That's a lengthy list of charges, but Eric Scholsser makes them stick with an artful mix of first-rate reportage, wry wit, and careful reasoning. Schlosser's myth-shattering survey stretches from California's subdivisions, where the business was born, to the industrial corridor along the New Jersey Turnpike, where many of fast food's flavors are concocted. Along the way, he unearths a trove of fascinating, unsettling truths -- from the unholy alliance between fast food and Hollywood to the seismic changes the industry has wrought in food production, popular culture, and even real estate.
My thoughts:

If you currently eat a lot of fast food, then reading Fast Food Nation may instigate a dramatic change to your dietary habits. Although the book is about fast food, it really is about the influence and affect the fast food industry has had on many cultural and social aspects of American life (and the increasingly global influence as fast food chains expand to many other countries). If you think about the many industries and businesses whose economies are based on the myriad of fast food businesses and their consumers, it is easy to see how the fast food industry has permeated every aspect of American culture and society. The hold the fast food industry has on various businesses includes farming (potatoes for French fries) ranching (beef and chicken), marketing (toys, endorsements, characters), labor practices (not only theirs, but those in other industries because of their huge contracts/influence), public health (foodborne illnesses and obesity), and the list goes on. Contemporary life is very much influenced by the fast food industry.

Fast Food Nation was originally published in 2001 and even at that time much of the information was readily available and understood by many people, but Schlosser has done an excellent job putting all the information together and making it more accessible and understandable to a wide range of people. I'm old enough that I remember a time when there were not many fast food restaurants or chains around (where we were living) and eating out at one was always a special treat for us. Today I still don't eat fast food very often - it's just not a part of my lifestyle. Even so, it was extremely interesting and disturbing to contemplate how much McDonald's, for example, has influenced the United States' economically, as well as culturally and socially. Schlosser sometimes has a heavy hand in assigning blame to a specific group of people (Republicans) rather than focusing on where the real problem lies. He does mention how some fast food chains have been responsible and currently are taking their role very seriously (In-n-Out Burger and Jack-in-the-Box, which is good for some west coast states). Ultimately, we, as consumers, have a choice. You can eat at the fast food restaurants or not. If you choose to eat fast food, you can look for a chain that has shown more responsibility or not. Truthfully, we, as consumers, dictate whether fast food chains stay around or not. We can demand more accountability.
highly recommended


Over the last three decades, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society. An industry that began with a handful of modest hot dog and hamburger stands in southern California has spread to every corner of the nation, selling a broad range of foods wherever paying customers may be found. Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-throughs, at stadiums, airports, zoos, high schools, elementary schools, and universities, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at K-Marts, Wal-Marts, gas stations, and even at hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, 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, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music - combined. pg. 3

This is a book about fast food, the values it embodies, and the world it has made. Fast food has proven to be a revolutionary force in American life; I am interested in it both as a commodity and as a metaphor. What people eat (or don't eat) has always been determined by a complex interplay of social, economic, and technological forces. The early Roman Republic was fed by its citizen-farmers; the Roman Empire, by its slaves. A nation's diet can be more revealing than its art or literature. On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant. During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture. pg. 3

The basic thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today's retail economy, wiping out small businesses, obliterating regional differences, and spreading identical stores throughout the country like a self-replicating code. pg. 5

Southern California had....given birth to an entirely new lifestyle - and a way of eating. Both revolved around cars. pg. 18

Walt Disney and Ray Kroc were masterful salesmen. They perfected the art of selling things to children. And their success led many others to aim marketing efforts at kids, turning America's youngest consumers into a demographic group that is now avidly studies, analyzed, and targeted by the world's largest corporations. pg. 33-34

The future heralded at Disneyland was one in which every aspect of American life had a corporate sponsor. pg. 39

"But when it gets down to brass tacks," a Brandweek article on fast food notes, "the key to attracting kids is toys, toys, toys." pg. 47

No other industry in the United States has a workforce so dominated by adolescents. About two-thirds of the nation's fast food workers are under the age of twenty. pg. 68

Becoming a franchisee is an odd combination of starting your own business and going to work for someone else. pg. 94

Every day in the United States roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a foodborne disease, 900 are hospitalized, and fourteen die. According to the [CDC] more than a quarter of the American population suffers a bout of food poisoning each year. pg. 195


Lisa said...

I read this pre-blog. I was completely fascinated but I have to say it didn't make any permanent changes in my lifestyle. I do eat fast food, probably too much.

Lori L said...

It isn't going to have any effect on my lifestyle either because at this point there really wasn't any new information (for me) and I don't eat a lot of fast food anyway. It was interesting though.