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Fast Food Nation (Schlosser)

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
Eric Schlosser, 2001
HarperCollins
416 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780060838584


Summary
Fast Food Nation—the groundbreaking work of investigation and cultural history that has changed the way America thinks about the way it eats—and spent nearly four months on the New York Times bestseller list.

Are we what we eat? To a degree both engrossing and alarming, the story of fast food is the story of postwar America. Though created by a handful of mavericks, the fast food industry has triggered the homogenization of our society. Fast food has hastened the malling of our landscape, widened the chasm between rich and poor, fueled an epidemic of obesity, and propelling the juggernaut of American cultural imperialism abroad. That's a lengthy list of charges, but Eric Schlosser makes them stick with an artful mix of first-rate reportage, wry wit, and careful reasoning.

Schlosser's myth-shattering survey stretches from the California 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, even real estate.

He also uncovers the fast food chains' efforts to reel in the youngest, most susceptible consumers even while they hone their institutionalized exploitation of teenagers and minorities. Schlosser then turns a critical eye toward the hot topic of globalization—a phenomenon launched by fast food. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—August 17, 1959
Where—New York City, New York, USA
Raised—Los Angeles, California
Education—B.A., Princeton University; M.A., Oxford
   University
Awards—National Magazine Award; Sidney Hillman
   Foundation Award for Reporting
Currently—lives in California


Eric Schlosser has been investigating the fast food industry for years. In 1998, his two-part article on the subject in Rolling Stone generated more mail than any other item the magazine had run in years. In addition to writing for Rolling Stone, Schlosser has contributed to The New Yorker and has been a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly since 1996. He won a National Magazine Award for "Reefer Madness" and "Marijuana and the Law" and has received a Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for Reporting. His work has been nominated for several other National Magazine Awards and for the Loeb Award for business journalism. (From the publisher.)

More
Schlosser was born in New York, New York; he spent his childhood there and in Los Angeles, California. His father, Herbert Schlosser, a former Wall Street lawyer who turned to broadcasting later in his career, eventually became the President of NBC in 1974.

Schlosser studied American History at Princeton University and earned a graduate degree in British Imperial History from Oxford.

Schlosser lives in California and is married to Shauna Redford, daughter of Robert Redford. They have two children. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
Eric Schlosser's compelling new book, Fast Food Nation, will not only make you think twice before eating your next hamburger, but it will also make you think about the fallout that the fast food industry has had on America's social and cultural landscape: how it has affected everything from ranching and farming to diets and health, from marketing and labor practices to larger economic trends... Fast Food Nation provides the reader with a vivid sense of how fast food has permeated contemporary life and a fascinating (and sometimes grisly) account of the process whereby cattle and potatoes are transformed into the burgers and fries served up by local fast food franchises.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


Schlosser is a serious and diligent reporter.... An avalanche of facts and observations.... Pretty compelling.... A fine piece of muckraking, alarming without being alarmist. At the very least, Schlosser makes it hard to go on eating fast food in blissful ignorance.
Rob Walker - New York Times Book Review


Fast Food Nation should be another wake-up call, a super-size serving of common sense.
Atlanta Journal Constitution


Fast Food Nation presents these sometimes startling discoveries in a manner that manages to be both careful and fast-paced. Schlosser is a talented storyteller, and his reportorial skills are considerable.
Hartford Courant


Schlosser's incisive history of the development of American fast food indicts the industry for some shocking crimes against humanity, including systematically destroying the American diet and landscape, and undermining our values and our economy. The first part of the book details the postwar ascendance of fast food from Southern California, assessing the impact on people in the West in general. The second half looks at the product itself: where it is manufactured (in a handful of enormous factories), what goes into it (chemicals, feces) and who is responsible (monopolistic corporate executives). In harrowing detail, the book explains the process of beef slaughter and confirms almost every urban myth about what in fact "lurks between those sesame seed buns." Given the estimate that the typical American eats three hamburgers and four orders of french fries each week, and one in eight will work for McDonald's in the course of their lives, few are exempt from the insidious impact of fast food. Throughout, Schlosser fires these and a dozen other hair-raising statistical bullets into the heart of the matter. While cataloguing assorted evils with the tenacity and sharp eye of the best investigative journalist, he uncovers a cynical, dismissive attitude to food safety in the fast food industry and widespread circumvention of the government's efforts at regulation enacted after Upton Sinclair's similarly scathing novel exposed the meat-packing industry 100 years ago. By systematically dismantling the industry's various aspects, Schlosser establishes a seminal argument for true wrongs at the core of modern America.
Publishers Weekly


It is not unusual, from time to time, to read expos s about the unhealthy quality of mass-produced American food. What makes this book special is its indictment of the enormous U.S. fast-food industry. The author, an award-winning contributor to Atlantic Monthly, contends that chains like McDonald's are significant contributors to global ill-health; ugly, homogeneous landscapes; an undertrained and unpromotable work force; and a widespread corporate conformity that discourages the very individualism that propelled these companies to their initial success. While excellently researched, Fast Food Nation is not at all dull but is peppered with acerbic commentary and telling interviews. Of critical importance is the end: just as the reader despairs of a solution, Schlosser outlines a set of remedies, along with steps to get them accomplished. Highly recommended. —Wendy Miller, Lexington P.L., KY
Library Journal


National Magazine Award-winning journalist Schlosser spent three years studying the history of fast food, the business practices of its major chains and the nexus of agribusiness and chemical concerns behind it. Schlosser makes a powerful argument against an industry that exploits its workers, destroys the environment and creates an obese society in the relentless pursuit of profit. We learn about the chemical factories in New Jersey that manufacture fast foods' realistic and delicious flavors, and tour the filthy, Dickensian hell-hole of a modern meatpacking plant, where each year one in every three of its migrant workers can expect to suffer a serious injury. Most troubling, Schlosser argues that the influence of the meatpacking lobby on Congress largely prevents federal agencies from regulating the industry that Upton Sinclair first exposed nearly a century ago in The Jungle. This is in many ways a disturbing book, about much more than the already well-known public health implications of addictive, fattening and potentially disease-carrying foods. Beyond revealing what is actually in those burgers and fries, it shows why their cheap prices do not reflect their true human costs. —Eric Wargo
Book Magazine



Discussion Questions 
1. Schlosser discusses the eagerness of fast food companies to avoid hiring skilled workers and to rely instead upon highly unskilled workers. In fact, some chains openly embrace "zero training" as their ultimate goal. Since these companies are providing a steady paycheck, is it really the obligation of fast food chains to take an interest in their workers and to teach them job skills? Also, since many of the workers are recently arrived immigrants, doesn't employment at fast food restaurants offer them a toehold in the American economy and an opportunity to move onto a better job?

2. Over the last several decades, fast food companies have aggressively targeted children in their marketing efforts. Should advertisers be permitted to target children who lack the sophistication to make informed decisions and are essentially being lured into eating high fat, high calorie food through toys and cute corporate mascots? Is it possible that fast food companies—like tobacco companies—are recruiting increasingly younger consumers in order to insure a steady customer base as their older constituents die from heart disease, diabetes, and other obesity-related disorders?

3. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was the first book to sound the clarion call about the appalling abuses inherent in mass-produced beef. In the decades since its publication, the state of meatpacking has received scant attention. Were you shocked that Fast Food Nation documents some of the same unsafe conditions and practices that Sinclair revealed nearly 100 years ago? Were you under the impression that the unsafe conditions in meatpacking had largely been eliminated and that the United States' beef and poultry industry set the standard for other countries? Does the author's contention that not enough has changed in the meat industry challenge the progressive belief in American capitalism—that it will lift all boats and make constant improvements in working and living conditions?

4. Fast food chains, despite the myriad problems documented by the author, have an undeniable appeal-they are convenient and offer inexpensive and tasty food. Even if you are disturbed by the practices of these corporations, could you realistically swear off your food, given its ubiquity and mainstream appeal? If you are driving home from work, tired and hungry, and your two choices are a familiar fast food restaurant or an unknown Mom-and-pop, which would you choose? What kinds of implications does this choice have?

5. If one accepts the author's assertions that the beef processors and fast food corporations are engaging in patterns of unethical conduct, what can the consumer do to modify their behavior? Can the conduct of an individual have an impact on a company's practices? Why is a company most likely to change its conduct? To generate public goodwill? To respond to its employees' concerns? To address diminishing profits?

6. Since few people would confuse fast food with health food, who bears the greater responsibility for the alarming rate of obesity in children in the United States: the fast food chains that market "supersize" meals to children, or parents who are not educating their children about the benefits of a balanced diet? Can well-intentioned parents maintain control over the eating habits of their children in an era when school districts are contracting to bring fast food into the school cafeteria?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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