I read this book knowing I was not going to learn any new and cheery anecdotes about how Ronald McDonald got his start..... instead I read this to solidify the notion that fast food was not a healthy choice. And boy, did this book give you reasons it is not, and I'm not just talking nutritional value here.
I found this book fascinating for the detail was great, well researched, and given to the reader straight. It was an eye opening book. Who knew that due to the meat industry being run just by a few corporations, essentially we are eating the same meat from the same feedlots and slaughter houses whether we buy it at a fast food chain or the local supermarket, and perhaps even the nicer restaurants. I also found some of the content appalling. Cattle are fed cats, dogs, other cows, even old newspaper! If this doesn't outrage you enough, just wait to you get to how these same meat conglomerates treat the low paid, low skilled employees of the slaughterhouses.
This book is insightful and unbelievable, and will make you question how the fast food giants sleep at night.
on March 7, 2002
Muckraker or hero? Schlosser has been called both by reviewers of this book. Personally, I think Schlosser has written a book that long-needed writing and confirms the truths we already knew but didn't want to admit: our comfort is killing us. This book isn't *just* about fast food and the perils of The Golden Starches: it is an indictment of our entire "gimme now, gimme cheap, gimme easy" culture. No one is exculpated: we are all in some fashion part and party of the McDonaldization of America.
Schlosser looks unblinkingly at the meat packing industry; the impact of the fast food industry on our environment, economy and social custom; our gradual and apparently inexorable return to the "Robber Baron" days. Much of what he writes is uncomfortable to read. I know I revisited just about every Big Mac I've ever eaten while reading this book. Having done so, I can tell you that I will never eat another Big Mac, Whopper, Biggie Fry, Chicken Bucket or Taco Grande again. Ever. Neither will my kid, until he can buy his own Super Size Bucket o' Crud with his own money and by his own choice. I hope he makes better choices than that.
As disturbing as the meat packing and food handling details are, the bit that resonates the most with me is the imperialist attitude of these corporate giants towards their workers. I was astonished to learn that these companies get tax breaks in the hundreds of millions of dollars under the aegis of "job training" when their goal is to have full automation in their kitchens. The only "job training" done in most of these places consists of knowing what button to push when a buzzer rings. Even basic literacy isn't a requirement for one of these jobs.
Fabricated food is supplanting whole food in our nation's diet. The values embodied by fabricated food -- easy access, inexpensive, plentiful, homogenized -- are evident in every strip mall on every roadside nationwide. Is this what we really want? Is this what we truly value? What are the long term consequences? In short, what do we trade off in exchange for easier, cheaper, more? If we are more readily identified globally by Ronald McDonald and Mickey Mouse than by our ostensible values of freedom, democracy and individual liberty, what becomes of our credibility?
Hats off to Schlosser for his book. If only it could be required reading for school kids and parents. If only the United States would start treating obesity with the same seriousness it does tobacco addiction, there might be hope for change. Ultimately, though, it comes down to you and me. What are we going to do about it?
on April 17, 2001
The excerpt from this book on food additives which appeared in "The Atlantic" was by itself an incentive to read this book. However, it is far more comprehensive and fascinating. I was "pleased" to find this a thorough, scholarly, and also quite interesting overview of the history and impact of fast food upon American society.
I found myself continually reminded of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle", Ruth Ozeki's "My Year of Meats" and, more pleasantly, David Halberstam's "The Fifties". Schlosser provides a fascinating history of the fast food industry and food notes to relevant agricultural and related labor history and legislation. The irony of the later, however, is overpowering.
Clearly the issues of food safety are the most terrifying aspect of this book. I was left chilled by how particularly critical it is to protect my children from consuming fast food. However, one is left with an incredible sense of outrage, and impotence, about the recidivism of American corporate practices in terms of minimal fair labor practices and its lack of fundamental social conscience regarding consumer safety. It is too reminiscent of Sinclair's seminal work and ironically the impact of Schlosser will probably be the same -- to raise concern about food quality alone rather than the egregious exploitation of those in fast food production and service. It leaves you increasingly cynical about the corporate lack of business ethics, and failure of politicians to act as guardians of the common good.
This book will terrify, enrage, and depress you. It is not sensational; the validity of the basic facts is inescapable. The author has performed a great service to society -- regrettably, it seems unlikely to result in any call to action.
on January 3, 2001
A fascinating, important book for everyone. Fast Food Nation doesn't take easy shots at the fast food and beef industry, it shows the whole story, shifting back and forth betweeen intimate details of real people (a meat packing plant worker, a franchise owner, several cattle ranchers), and the larger, global markets created by the fast food restaurants. The book achieves a kind of epic flow to it, full of interesting and infuriating information. Splendid reading.
If you ever eat in fast food restaurants, you should read this book. It will fill your mind with issues that probably had not occurred to you before.
The fast food industry today is the service equivalent of the harshest environments of industrial America. The industry's size creates behemoths among its suppliers who can be even more aggressive in cost-cutting than are the employers of your neighboring teenagers. This book recounts the many dangers and hidden costs this industry imposes on everyone in our society, and suggests some ways to improve. The best defense, however, is a discerning consumer. Read this book to help become one.
Mr. Schlosser begins with the founding of the modern fast food companies, and traces them all back to Richard and Maurice McDonald's first hamburger parlor on E Street in San Bernardino, California. Carl Karcher (Carl's Jr.), Glenn Bell (Taco Bell), and the founder of Dunkin' Donuts all visited there and designed their stores to take advantage of those ideas about achieving higher throughput and consistency. Naturally, Ray Kroc later came along to refine the practices into the foundations of the modern McDonald's.
With success came market power, and abuses of that power. The book looks at several ills that have resulted. For example, the cost of meat needs to be as low as possible. This has led to dangerous conditions where many people are injured in the slaughter houses. His story of Kenny Dobbins at Montfort will chill you forever. The industry has also succeeded in getting inspection standards reduced so more harmful bacteria are making their way into your meal, and more people are getting sick. The old and the young are most likely to be harmed by the rapid growth of E. coli 0157:H7. This hit home with me, having just suffered a bout of food poisoning after a fast food meal last week. The Federal Government buys meat for school children with lower quality standards for bacterial contamination than even the fast food people apply. Pressure from slaughter houses on ranchers has driven many out of the business. The human price can be high, as one story recounts here.
The food is harmful in other ways. It is full of sugar and fat (that's what makes it taste good). The growth in obesity (what some people call an epidemic in America) closely tracks the expansion of fast food meals (25% of the population will eat at least one weekly). And the trend is getting worse, now that you can have unlimited refills of sugared soft drinks.
Children are especially vulnerable, because advertising is so persuasive to them. As a result, they go to eat the meals in search of toys and games, and other novelties.
Teenagers are often employed in fast food parlors in violation of the child labor laws, costing them sleep, exposing them to late night dangers, and leaving them too tired to focus on school. Those who deliver the food often create accidents and are at risk to be robbed.
The physical appearance and culture of towns is brought to the lowest common denominator by the drive to produce these meals fast and cheaply.
If the local management isn't very good, goofing off employees have been known to put noxious substances into the food. Franchisees often work long hours, costing them a normal life. Carl Karcher reported that he was still heavily in debt after 50 years in the industry. The main sign of progress he told the author was that the road outside used to be dirt, and was now paved.
These ills are being transported around the world now, as fast food is globalized.
Mr. Schlosser has several suggestions for improvement including tougher regulation of food, working conditions, and of advertising to children (he wants it banned). I thought his most realistic suggestion was that the fast food companies themselves lead the way by raising standards. McDonald's has done this in the past (to its credit), and could certainly do so again. After the facts in this book are more widely know, it is highly likely that there will be an interest in eating food from restaurants that provide these meals in more socially productive and humane ways. I know that I would shift my purchasing to reflect such improved standards.
To me, the interesting part of this story is that the problems exposed here are not hidden. This book could have been written at any time in the last 40 years. Why do we turn a blind eye to the problems that fast food creates?
After you finish this interesting and thorough book, I suggest that you consider where else problems exist that we do not pay attention to. For example, where does the sewage from your town go? What are the implications of how it is disposed of? Where does your trash go? What problems does that create? What are the pollution effects of your new SUV? How much more likely is your family to be injured or killed because it could roll over?
Consider all the costs of the products and services you consume, not just the ones you pay for directly to the person who sells to you.
on July 19, 2002
With a fast food restaurant on just about every corner in any town with a population over 5,000 (barely an exaggeration), this is a book that was long overdue. With newspaper articles and television news stories about obesity, child obesity, and hypertension becoming almost a weekly occurrence, some in-depth reporting regarding much of the source of these problems was greatly needed. But who does Schlosser roast and who does he leave alone?
The early chapters are mainly devoted to the history of the fast food restaurant and the men who created and later "perfected" the industry. The "founding fathers" as Schlosser calls them are not looked on with contempt by the author. Rather, I sensed admiration for the McDonald brothers who began using "speedee service" at the first McDonald's restaurant in San Bernadino, California in the early 1950's. The same holds true for other early fast food entrepreneurs including Carl Karchner (Carl's Jr. and Hardee's), J.R. Simplot (the Idaho french fry king) and even Ray Kroc who made McDonald's the behemoth that it is today.
One enlightening section focuses on the flavor industry. Didn't know there was one? Neither did I. According to Schlosser, there are a myriad of plants in the New Jersey area who do nothing but concoct flavors for the vast majority of processed foods and drinks that we drop down our throats. Frequently in the past I had wondered what "natural flavor" on the side of food labels meant. Now I know and I feel somewhat cheated.
The fast food industry as a whole does take a hit from the author for low wages, and poor safety training. The point is made that the industry actually wants a revolving door for teens to go continually through. Teens are willing to accept lower wages when living at home because to them, it's pretty much all disposable income. They also don't expect health insurance or other benefits. Schlosser also puts to bed the myth that "worker training" funds are beneficial to the workers themselves. Too often the money allocated for fast food businesses to train employees is money simply pocketed by the franchise or by corporate. The workers aren't employed for very long and a study was undertaken that determined that the vast majority of the workers hired with the funds would have been hired any way.
Most of the author's contempt is reserved for the meat-packing industry and the federal government which, he says, fails to pass laws that would better regulate packing and slaughterhouses. Basically, the industry is fraught with environmental and food safety violations. In addition to that they are constantly on the prowl for illegal aliens who will work dangerous jobs for little money, but is considered a pay raise by the worker (five bucks an hour for cutting meat? great!) Due to a lack of proper regulations, e-coli is a major problem, as the author aptly demonstrates.
I can't say that I agreed with every thing the author has to say about the fast food industry, but I certainly agreed with the bulk of it. For example, he would like a ban on all advertising by fast food establishments during children's televison programming. That may sound admirable, but at the same time seems a slippery slope that I'm not sure we want to undertake. What would be considered children's programming? Would McDonald's be considered unacceptable but Cracker Barrel deemed okay? I do, however, agree with him that the federal government should enact whatever laws necessary to ensure that meat is handled, stored, shipped, prepared, etc. properly. Protecting the public from food-borne illness is not and should not be a political issue. It's just common sense and the right thing to do.
One will definitely learn a lot here. One doesn't have to agree with everything said to appreciate gaining new knowledge on an important topic. Schlosser even admits to eating fast food himself, although he says he now has given up ground beef. Moderation is key here I think. Perhaps this book would serve best those who have a tendency to make fast food their meal at every meal (believe me, there are some doing just that).
on February 26, 2001
After reading this book I will dramatically reduce my fast food intake - not that it was high to begin with. The best parts of the book, for me, were the history of how McDonald's began and the desciption of the slaughterhouses in Greely CO. I believe the treatment of the workers in these slaughterhouses seemed to be the biggest crime along with how contamination of the meat with E Coli could occur. It was also amazing to read how little the government really does to inpsect these slaughterhouses.
I very much enjoyed this book but I thought that, at times, the author could have gone into more detail or made a better connection to the idea he was trying to bring across. For example, the author met with an independent cattleman. They rode in his truck over his ranch and discussed briefly how his methods were better for the envirnoment. There was also a discussion about how the beef industry could shut out the out-of-favor small cattlemen by simply not buying their cattle. I wanted to know more about the problems of this cattleman. Could he pay his bills? Did he have any run-ins with the big beef industry? ... etc. This rancher actually seemed fairly successful yet later had some tragedy. So how did this all tie in together?
The author also steals his way into a slaughterhouse but, I believe, is a little lean (pun intended) on describing what he actually sees.
This book could have been a little longer. Also, the book was a little light on how the fast food industry affects the environment.
Overall it was a very good read but sometime left you wanting to know a little more.
on April 5, 2001
Reading this exhaustively-researched book is an experience that is enjoyable, disgusting and infuriating all at once. Some of the stuff described in Schlosser's book seems to be so farfetched (can corporations really be that nasty?) that you'll initially dismiss it as being highly improbable. However, one glance at the unbelievably lengthy reference and note appendix and you realize with great sadness that none of it is fiction. To this extent, Schlosser stuffs an incredible amount of information in this book and, throughout, his writing style is easy and flowing. If only the shocking information he gives us was as smooth and easy to digest.
An earlier reviewer dismissed him as being avidly anti-Republican. All of Schlosser's comments are factual (refer again to the note section in which you will find ample documentation). Though the subject matter would lend itself to such abuse, Schlosser doesn't push his personal opinion on the reader: he's there to give us the facts and allows us to make the decisions.
You've probably read in other reviews some hints of the horrors described in the book: worker abuse, dangerous working conditions, tainted food supply, etc. The chapters on the meatpacking industry and the slaughterhouses are truly frightening. And these corporations' ability to evade the law and to control governmental agencies are even worse! Poop-filled meat and school lunches tainted with e.coli are only the beginning...
This book will make you think twice about what you put into your body. Was it written to scare you off fast food? Not specifically, but its main purpose is to have you THINK. And this it does with excellence. A must-read for everyone.
on April 8, 2001
Fast Food Nation deserves the widest possible audience. It should be assigned reading in every high school in the country. Parents of young children should also be encouraged to read it. Fast food chains, with their bright primary colors and happy faces, need to keep the truth about their products and practices well hidden. Otherwise their customers might think twice about coming back. Schlosser not only tells us what's in the food and how it gets produced, but he examines the depressingly one-sided business arrangements that run the gamut in this industry, from the way the chains control their own low-paid, low-skilled, no-benefit-receiving workers, to the downward pressures they exert on meat, potato and chicken producers, who work in dangerous, low-paid, unpleasant jobs with little control over their lives and livelihoods. This is a great book in the tradition of muckraking journalism. If readers take it seriously, hopefully, like Upton Sinclair's 1905 book "The Jungle," it will lead to major reforms.
on May 14, 2001
Schlosser writes a gripping account of the societal effects of the plethora of fast food restaurants. While not vegetarian's book, a health book, or even an animals' rights book, it is rather a grim look at the impact on the nation by fast food chains.
The start of the book covers the beginnings of McDonalds, Carl's Jr, Wendy's. and other now-famous chains. Reading the capitalistic accounts of the owners is truly remarkable in understanding how these people got where they are today. However, there is a dark side to their success, one that Schlosser reveals to the reader and reveals the true nature of the business: profits.
Schlosser covers the non-unionized workers that run the stores. They are at risk to robberies and are underpaid and have no real benefits. They are also given no real job skills, yet the restaurants receive tax breaks for the high rate of turnover on their employees. Schlosser then takes the reader through tours of various slaughterhouses. He has personally interviewed workers who are forced to do rush jobs butchering animals and who have high rates of on the job injuries that are quietly swept under the carpet. Most of the workers in charge of the nation's meat supply are uneducated illegal aliens. Most of the food found in fast food restaurants has been overly processed and may contain fecal matter or other contaminants, according to Schlosser. The overworked and understaffed USDA is often at the mercy of the meat plants. Despite repeat violations, even the USDA continues to purchase meat for school lunches from cited meat plants.
There are many throwbacks in this book from Upton Sinclair's, The Jungle (the book is dedicated to "Red"). From reading the book, one would guess we are only a little better than where we were in 1906. The book doesn't advocate vegetarianism, but does equate the working conditions for the delivery of the cheap burger to those of the sweat shop workers. I found the book extremely compelling and factual, one that made huge amounts of sense to me as I see trend of homogenizing America, and the world.