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Fast Food Nation (introduction)

September 19, 2007

I finished Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser on Friday night, and I immediately began thinking about my review. I knew that I couldn’t praise it high enough; the engaging writing style, the important information, the humane objectivity to be found in this book is, quite simply, amazing. This book shows why non-fiction is so important. It raises essential issues, deftly introduces the evidence, and allows the reader to evaluate everything in bright light. How, then, to review it? I suddenly realised that this book needs more than a review: it needs an audience. The topics discussed in this book are very important to me (and it was even more fun to read about Colorado Springs, as a newcomer to the town!), so I’ve decided to follow Dewey’s model. She discusses a non-fiction book chapter-by-chapter, providing notes and her personal reaction (currently, she’s working through Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney Martin).

I’ve decided to make Tuesdays my Fast Food Nation day; the book has ten chapters, an introduction, an epilogue, and an afterword, so this feature will go into December. I’m hoping to make the posts a center for thoughtful discussion about the issue, but if that doesn’t happen at least I know I’m getting the word out. :) And with that, I’ll be discussing the Introduction this week.

Introduction: Notes

+The workers of the top-secret Air Force base Cheyenne Mountain have Domino’s delivered.

+”In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2001, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more 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.” (3)

+”On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast-food restaurant.” (3)

+”Adjusted for inflation, the hourly wage for the average U.S. worker peaked in 1973 and then steadily declined for the next twenty-five years.” (4)

+”An estimated one out of every eight workers in the United States has at some point been employed by McDonald’s. The company annually hires about one million people, more than any other American organization, public or private. McDonald’s is the nation’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes-and the second largest purchaser of chicken. The McDonald’s Corporation is the largest owner of retail property in the world.” (4)

+”The typical American now consumes approximately three hamburgers and four orders of french fries every week.” (6)

+”The current methods for preparing fast food are less likely to be found in cookbooks than in trade journals such as Food Technologist and Food Engineering. Aside from salad greens and tomatoes, most fast food is delivered to the restaurant already frozen, canned, dehydrated, or freeze-dried.” (6-7)

+”I do not mean to suggest that fast food is solely responsible for every social problem now haunting the United States. In some cases (such as the malling and sprawling of the West), the fast food industry has been a catalyst and a symptom of larger economic trends. In other cases (such as the rise of franchising and the psread of obesity) fast food as played a more central role. By tracing the diverse influences of fast food I hope to shed light not only on the workings of an important industry, but also on a distinctively American way of viewing the world.” (9)

+”Fast food is heavily marketed to children and prepared by people who are barely older than children. This is an industry that both feeds and feeds off the young.” (9)

+”During the two years I spend researching this book, I ate an enormous amount of fast food. Most of it tasted pretty food. That is one of the main reasons people buy fast food; it has been carefully designed to taste food. It’s also inexpensive and convenient. But the value meals, two-for-one deals, and free refills of soda hive a distorted sense of how much fast food actually costs. The real price never appears on the menu.” (9)

+”Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not-so-subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely consider where the food came from, how it was made, what it is doing to the community around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap the paper, and dig in. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten. I’ve written this book out of a belief that people should know what lies behind the shiny, happy surface of every fast food transaction.” (10)

Introduction: Thoughts

I was surprised at the opening, a description of Cheyenne Mountain Air Force base. I’m actually going on a tour of that soon! But I quickly became more serious. For me, the most striking points Schlosser brought up were the sheer popularity of fast food and its appeal to children. The size of McDonald’s was pretty staggering as well! When we were little, my sister and I played soccer. My dad coached my sister’s team, and they needed funding. So, in return for money, her team was named the Mickey Dee’s. At the time, it seemed pretty harmless. My favourite two passages are the last two quotes I listed. I like that Schlosser doesn’t try to pretend; he freely admits that fast food tastes good. I personally don’t like a lot of fast food, but I love Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwiches. Oh-I should probably give a brief background of my own eating history, so that y’all know where I’m coming from. I became a vegetarian at 16, and at 19 I took an eight-month hiatus. Two of those months were spent in the States, getting my system readjusted to meat, and then I went to Russia (I stayed with families, in a very non-vegetarian friendly culture, hence why I started eating meat). On getting back in December (of 2005), I became a veggie again cold-turkey. Then, in April of this year I started eating meat again in preparation for the Peace Corps. I’m probably going to West Africa, and it would be culturally difficult for me to be a veggie there. So, I’m currently a reluctant meat-eater. My dad hunts once a year, so we always have elk in our freezer. In fact, he’s getting back tomorrow with this year’s meat. Thus, most of the red meat I eat tends to be game. In restaurants, I tend to default to the vegetarian stuff (I love tofu! and bean burgers!), but sometimes I’ll eat chicken. We don’t eat out all that often, but we tend to go to chains like Chili’s and Olive Garden. As far as fast food, sometimes I’ll go to Wendy’s (and get a Spicy Chicken sandwich) and more frequently I’ll go to La Casita (a four-restaurant Mexican chain in Colorado Springs), where I get two or three bean and cheese tacos. I probably go to La Casita once a week, Wendy’s every two or three months, and out to eat at other restaurants twice a month. Whew-ok that wasn’t so brief. But I thought it was important for y’all to know where I was coming from! That’s probably enough for this week. :)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Tara permalink
    September 19, 2007 1:42 pm

    Hi – this is on my TBR stack, but wanted to tell you that I think you might enjoy The Omnivore’s Dilemma if you haven’t read it already. Have you seen Supersize Me or read the book? Since I did, I have not eaten McDonalds or pretty much any fast food (except 1-2 times when traveling by car) and my almost 6 years old has never had a chicken nugget of any sort and doesn’t eat french fries. I look forward to more of your thoughts on this!

  2. Dark Orpheus permalink
    September 19, 2007 3:18 pm

    I was reading Fast Food Nation at work last year and it was fun how my colleagues were telling me they avoided the book so that they can continue to get fast food at peace. Sometimes we are aware of the cost involved, but it’s also human nature to look away.

    I enjoyed the book though — and what was ironic was that I have not eaten at MacDonalds for a very long time (I’m vegetarian for about 4 years) Fast Food Nation reaffirms my decision as a prudent one. Most of all, it reminds me that whatever choices we make have to be an informed one, especially with something as important as our diet.

  3. Orange Blossom Goddess (aka Heather) permalink
    September 19, 2007 5:29 pm

    This is a great book that I’ve read more than once and I recommend it to everyone. I really like this way of in depth reviewing a non-fiction book and may attempt to do this in the future.


  4. MyUtopia permalink
    September 19, 2007 7:46 pm

    I haven’t read the book but I saw the movie and didn’t like it at l..

  5. Christopher permalink
    September 19, 2007 9:20 pm

    This is an important book simply because of the continued ethical issues that fast food corporations overlook in search for profit:

    1. The obesity epidemic,
    2. The use of illegal immigrants to do slaughterhouse work at sub-standard wages, and then, when they get their arm chopped off, they get screwed on benefits,
    3. The inhumane use of animals in order to make this “food,”
    4. The unabashed courting of small children, who will recognize Ronald McDonald before that of world leaders or religious figures,
    5. The slaughterhouse’s refusal (with the help of the beef lobby) to adopt stricter sanitary measures to ensure the meat does not get contaminated.

    I second the idea of watching the movie Supersize Me. I am a vegetarian by choice for two reasons, the harmful chemicals pumped into animals and the mistreatment of animals, which amounts to nothing more than speciesism.

    I salute those who have stuck with their vegetarianism and I think you should be able to find vegetarian options in West Africa, but I am sure (or at least hopeful) that you will not find a McDonalds so maybe what meat you do eat will be raised in a more sanitary and ethical manner than here in the U.S.

    I also think it is ironic that at the heart of the Industrial-Military complex in Colorado Springs you find a thriving economy of fast food. Of course both are killers and are remorseless for their line of work, so maybe it is not as ironic as it should be.

  6. Eva permalink
    September 20, 2007 12:23 am

    Tara, Omnivore’s Dilemma is on my list, for sure. I have seen Supersize Me, although I haven’t read the book. I found it really interesting; especially when it discussed school lunches. That’s awesome that your kid hasn’t eaten chicken nuggets; my baby niece had some before I read this book, but now I’m really hoping to convince my sister and parents not to give her anymore.

    Dark Orpheus, that’s funny about your colleagues-it does seem like human nature! I agree that our choices should be informed; staying uninformed just to enjoy a burger seems somewhat short-sighted. I know people who’ve seen Supersize Me and still eat fast food, and at least they made an actual decision!

    Heather, you definitely should do an indepth non-fic review! I really enjoy reading Dewey’s, since I learn a lot about the topic.

    Myutopia, the movie isn’t based on this book. It definitely has some similar themes, but this book is more comprehensive and I think it came out earlier. Of course, you still might not like this book! But it felt a lot less biased than the movie. :)

    Christopher, the book definitely addresses all of these issues, so they’ll be appearing on my blog. As far as vegetarian options in West Africa, the fact is I’ll be living in a tiny village in the middle of the African bush. The meat they eat tends to be goat or chicken that they’ve raised themselves. It would be incredibly rude of me to turn down any food offered to me, and since the goal of the Peace Corps is for volunteers to integrate with the community, I don’t really want to be the Ugly American insisted on my own viewpoint.

  7. verbivore permalink
    September 20, 2007 11:10 am

    I am so glad that you’re going to be posting aout the book this way. I’ve been wanting to read this for a while now so I’m curious to see your reaction before I pick it up.

    I haven’t eaten fast food for about 8 years and although I don’t eat a lot of meat, I a not a vegetarian. I’m lucky though in Switzerland because the rules are extremely strict about meat and other food products. One of the results is that McDonalds here is NOT a cheap meal and if I am not mistaken they only use local beef. Culturally, fast food isn’t the standard here – a lot of swiss just don’t get the concept (most people still go home to their families at noon, for example and eat a full meal with their kids)

  8. Eva permalink
    September 20, 2007 1:20 pm

    Verbivore, I’m glad you’ll be along for the ride! How interesting about Switzerland. I love the idea of a family lunch every day…are you Swiss?

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