Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, is a stark and unrelenting look into the fast food industry that has ingrained itself in not only American culture, but in culture around the world. There is almost no place on earth that the golden arches has not entered. Aside from Antarctica, there is a McDonalds on every continent, and the number of countries that have fast food restaurants is growing on a daily basis. Schlosser describes in detail what happens behind the scenes, before the hamburger and fries come wrapped in environmentally safe paper and are consumed by millions of people daily
There are several stories that stick out in my mind. First is the one about a rancher in Colorado. He had resisted the idea of squeezing as many cows in an enclosed area as possible. Instead, he rotates where the cattle eat, what kinds of grasses they eat, and how often they eat it. His ranch was what cattle raising should be.
This is in contrast to how a majority of cattle are raised today. They stand in paddocks their whole life where they hardly have the ability to move, and they are fed things that cows aren’t designed to eat – corn, wheat, chicken parts, and even the leftovers of already slaughtered cattle. Then they are lead up a gangway, into a building where they are first shocked, then hung up by their hooves and have their necks slit, one after another. It harkens back to The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. After one hundred years, the conditions at the meat packing plants have not improved much. It is still the most dangerous job in America. Almost everyone who works there are injured at one point, be it from mechanical smashers or knives that had come too close to their arm. Hundreds of thousands of cattle are slaughtered every day, and that is to keep up with the demand from places like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s.
It saddened me to read later that the Colorado rancher committed suicide because he could no longer compete with the large cattle-growers and he was going to lose his livelihood.
Another thing that stood out was they way these fast food places treat their workers. Their policy of automation has created a whole group of people that do not have to think to do their job. These people – usually teenagers – are paid minimum wage to push buttons and do all of the jobs that used to be done by hand. It gains government subsides for training people with no job skills, such as the poor, young, or disabled. The ironic thing is that they have admitted that they don’t want to have to train people. They want the job to be as easy and training-free as possible, due to their want for uniformity. Uniformity seems to be the way of things at McDonald’s – uniformity and conformity. If you cannot conform to the mold of a McDonald’s worker, they will simply find people who will, and they don’t have to train them all over again, because the job only requires that you know how to push a button or respond to a light or a beep.
The last thing that stands out is the amount of contamination that can occur because of the way these animals are slaughtered. One hamburger from Burger King can contain meat from a thousand different cows. If only one of those cows were sick, then the person eating it can get sick. Then you multiply by how many packages of meat or hamburger was processed that could possibly have that one sick animal in it, you have an epidemic. One sick animal can contaminate – and cause the recall of – over 400,000 pounds of meat. That’s a lot of meat to have to bring back, and there are countless people who may have already eaten it and gotten sick, or, like the 6-year-old in the book, died.
All of these things – and the whole book in general – has turned me off of fast food forever I think. I’ll never look at McDonald’s in the same way again. The food is full of grease, fat, and bacteria that could kill. The food also has hundreds of chemicals in it to make it taste the way it should, rather than the way it does. Seems to me that if their food tasted the way it should in the first place, they wouldn’t need chemicals to do the job. The employment practices of the fast food chains also leave a lot to be desired. They are a great part of the reason that people need more than one job to survive. Because they have so many minimum wage jobs – even managers only make about $10 to $15 an hour. That had become a norm in the US, where people don’t even make a livable wage.
There were a few things I didn’t like about either the book or Schlosser himself. First, he was very liberal, and it showed throughout the book. He practically blamed both Bush administrations for every problem laid out in the book, then praised Clinton and his administration to try and stem the tide of the fast food giants. Then there was Schlosser himself. During his speaking engagement at the college, the first thing he said was that he wasn’t going to try to tell anyone not to eat fast food or go to McDonalds’s or Taco Bell or any other fast food restaurant. He then spent an hour trying to do just that.
He said that people spend more time looking into buying a house than deciding what goes into our bodies. My first reaction was “Of course we do! A house costs tens of thousands of dollars, and a burger costs 99 cents.” I know what he meant by it, saying that the burger will be with us for the rest of our lives and will affect our health in both the short and long run, but it’s not seen that way. If we have high cholesterol, we cal take a pill. High blood pressure? There’s a pill for that, too. There are even pills to help people lose weight. The mentality is that we can eat what we want, and there will be a way to reverse it.
The bottom line is that I enjoyed the book and I did learn from it. I’m never eating at one of those places again, and not just because the food is terrible. I refuse to support their employment and food acquisition practices. I’m only sorry that it took me 26 years to get to this stage. Hopefully my children won’t support them either.