Review – Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

 

Fast Food Nation

By Eric Schlosser

SummaryNew York Times Bestseller, With a New Afterword

“Schlosser has a flair for dazzling scene-setting and an arsenal of startling facts . . . Fast Food Nation points the way but, to resurrect an old fast food slogan, the choice is yours.”—Los Angeles Times
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.
“As disturbing as it is irresistible . . . Exhaustively researched, frighteningly convincing . . . channeling the spirits of Upton Sinclair and Rachel Carson.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Schlosser shows how the fast food industry conquered both appetite and landscape.”—The New Yorker
Eric Schlosser is a contributing editor for the Atlantic and the author of Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness, and Chew on This(with Charles Wilson).
 

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

I picked this book up for the Investigative Journalism category of the Eclectic Reader Challenge because it seemed like an interesting topic. Nonfiction isn’t really my thing and neither is investigative journalism, but the book was easy to read and full of interesting facts and shocking information.

Fast Food Nation is NOT Supersize Me. While it does talk about the evils of the fast food industry, it largely ignores the health issues and mainly focuses on how fast food changed the nation and the way we process food and what the lack of training and assembly line type of jobs have done to the American way of life. It was definitely an interesting perspective, but if you’re looking for something that focuses on the health issues, this book isn’t it. In some ways, it’s like The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, as it explored the horrors of the meat packing industry and the outbreaks of things like E Coli due to poor working conditions. 

While I enjoyed reading the book and I certainly learned a lot, I feel like books like these are way more biased than they seem. The author mentioned at the end that he did not set out to send a certain message, but I think that’s clearly not true based on the way he interpreted and presented information and the fact that he took nearly every opportunity to vilify the Republican Party in this whole book. (One could argue that perhaps the party IS responsible for some of the issues, but I think this book could have been done with a little less finger pointing politically.) He knew what he was trying to say and he definitely pushed it. This book is sensational in the sense that if you’re not paying attention, you’ll be sucked in and forget that you’re only getting half the story. I am by no means defending the awfulness of the industry, but it’s not correct to blame all wrongdoing on fast food and I watched the author emphasize some points while ignoring others in order to send the message that fit the view he was trying to create. Which is fine, I expect that, but I think it’s easy to get sucked in with books like this and ignore the large picture.

Fast Food Nation may make you stop eating fast food or stop eating meat altogether because there are some major issues with the industry. However, it will only make you do that if you were completely ignorant that the McDonald’s hamburger you were eating was bad for you.. Or you’re sensitive to journalism of this sort. I was shocked by the quality of the meat packing industry, but only a bit, as I think you have to have your head in the sand if you thought it was the Mecca of cleanliness and fairness. While it should be and that is something to be outraged about, it isn’t like we didn’t know about these issues to begin with. After all, the whole Organic and Grass Fed movement is upon us and I think it’s obvious that it stemmed from a lack of good conditions in the meat industry. Why else would people be so insistent upon free range and grass fed? We all know there’s a problem and I’m glad that there are steps being taken to fix it.

I had some issues with the book because it ignored some things while focusing on other aspects in order to align with the conclusion. In one paragraph, it talked about the horrors of the fast food industry and the way it treated employees, while also giving credit that it does at least teach young people about working and to show up for work and not be late, which are good things. In the same paragraph, it then made the fast food companies seem like awful slave laborers for firing employees for things like showing up late. I don’t think fast food companies are good companies to work for necessarily, but there are lessons that can be learned and I’ve had various family members work in the industry. Perhaps at some point in the earlier years, there was not an emphasis on quality control or training, but I feel like that’s largely what my family dealt with on a day to day basis working in a fast food restaurant, where order and cleanliness and efficiency in all matters were pushed. I don’t know if the author was only getting his information about franchises, which operate under different guidelines than corporate stores, or just from a handful of stores, or if he chose to only look at part of the picture. A high turnover rate does keep pay low, benefits low, and prevents the company from having to do things like pay for vacation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they fire employees to keep a high turnover rate, especially if you’re going to admit employees were fired for being consistently late. Granted, there were other issues that the author did talk about, but I feel like it’s dishonest to gloss over something that ISN’T unfair because it doesn’t help you prove your point. It doesn’t excuse fast food companies, but sometimes I think the book vilified them more than necessary in certain areas.

In one paragraph, the book talked about how as more fast food restaurants are opened, the population gets heavier, but then also stated that there are various other factors to take into consideration and the link hasn’t yet been fully confirmed as a cause of the weight gain, but then the next sentence was sort of like “But I mean, it is the cause.” And while that may very well be true, it makes you question the integrity of the author for creating the picture that certain things are causing issues x and y when perhaps that’s not necessarily the case, as the world isn’t in a controlled evironment and he’s only looking at one portion of it. I’m not saying fast food isn’t bad (it is) or that it isn’t partially to blame for a lot of the problems in society (it certainly causes some issues!), I just don’t think saying “We have these problems and they correlate to the rapid growth of this industry” means that the problems are CAUSED by the rapid growth of the industry. Correlation does not equal causation and I think this book overlooks a lot of societal changes in other areas of our lives that affected the world and the nation at the same time. 

Some of the conclusions the author draws are very valid. But I watched him draw conclusions that were definitely reaching and I watched him ignore some data in favor of other data to prove a point and that makes me question the full picture. I think books like these can pander to an audience ready to blame one thing for all of their problems and the world just isn’t that simple. I think this book is important, but if one can point out flaws in logic, it’s easy to dismiss the entire book, even though a large part of the book shouldn’t be ignored. There is SO MUCH incredible information, but people will either swallow it all or point out the issue and dismiss the whole thing and neither of those views solves anything. 

Despite my issues with portions of the book, it’s a good read and I recommend it. Fast food, the technological developments, the space race, the crazy unchecked growth in the 90s, etc all had major impacts on society and the way we get our food. It’s worth knowing what goes into making our food. It’s also nice to know there are companies out there striving to stay fresh and create food safety guidelines, even if those companies don’t get a lot of room in the book. We definitely need to pay attention to how we get our food and the public should be more involved in the political processes. It’s important to realize there is no easy solution, after all, the same people packing food for McDonalds are packing food for the companies stocking our grocery stores, so quitting fast food isn’t necessarily the solution, but perhaps it’s a start. 

I’m writing this review after eating an Egg McMuffin and drinking a Coke. Some things really are difficult to change.

I think it’s obvious over the last 10-15 years that fast food companies DO cater to the public. If we make fruit and salad important in society, look who suddenly sells salad, who lists their calorie counts, and who changes their sizes to better align with the public’s views? We can make some changes by making issues like this important. The 80s and 90s were crazy times in advertising and I think we are learning our lessons and recovering from the unchecked influences that time period had. I really enjoyed the book and the various things it made me think about and explore. It’s definitely a must read.

Star 4

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