Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

February 2, 2010

fast food nation Summary: Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser takes readers behind the scenes of some of the nation’s biggest fast food chains to show how the industry has impacted the American way of life. According to Schlosser, the rise of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, et al. led to massive changes in agriculture, city planning and zoning, public health and expanding waistlines, jobs for certain groups, and even crime. Schlosser’s view is that the changes are not good — though he stops short of calling for a boycott of these fast food joints.

The book begins with some background information on how fast food stands took off in popularity after World War II, and recounts how McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. got started. Schlosser managed to interview Carl Karcher himself, which lent these passages a great deal more weight and led to some interesting details.

Schlosser then shifts to a series of different topics, complaining alternately about the low wages offered to fast food workers, the lack of opportunity for advancement, and the industry’s resistance to unionization. He also goes on a mini-rant about how fast food restaurants are attractive targets for robbers and murderers — as though that is somehow the fault of the industry itself.

As the book winds its way to the end, Schlosser also visits some processing plants to see how french fries and meat make their way to our serving trays and drive-thru bags. The visit to the slaughterhouse is retold in a predictably graphic way, but also gives a few new details about the process that the general public may not know.

In conclusion, Schlosser says he hasn’t eaten another hamburger since writing the book and hopes that Americans will reevaluate their dependence on fast food. Indeed, I thought that I would at least be inspired to hit the treadmill or dip station extra hard or eschew Mickey D’s forever. But as I said above, he doesn’t call for an all-out boycott or anything like that and he doesn’t make a particularly convincing case for total avoidance.

Liked:

  • There were a few interesting factoids that I wasn’t familiar with, such as how a single hamburger patty from McDonald’s can contain meat from more than 200 different cows or steers. Amazing!
  • The factual parts of the book seemed well researched, and a lot of the information about the beginnings of McDonald’s and Carl’s Jr. was unknown to me. Schlosser clearly put a lot of time into gathering info, and stayed more or less on track.

Disliked:

  • Although I appreciated Schlosser’s research efforts, some of the conclusions he draws from his facts are downright strange. Was he really blaming fast food restaurants for being so often targeted by robbers and mass murderers?? That’s just beyond crazy.
  • Many of Schlosser’s conclusions were hardly eye-opening. The McDonald’s workforce mostly consists of teens, moms, and the elderly? Wow, I never knew that! It’s mind-numbingly boring work for minimum wage? Could have fooled me! Fast food advertising targets children? Gasp! Slaughterhouses are not fun places for cattle? Gee, you’ve cleared up a major misconception I’ve held for the longest time! Contaminants sometimes make their way into raw meat and then into customers’ hamburgers? Well, unless you grow, raise, harvest, slaughter, and prepare all your food yourself, you never know exactly what’s in it or who has touched it. Hell, there’s no guarantee that the food at the best 5-star restaurant in New York City hasn’t been touched or sneezed on by a less-than-sanitary kitchen worker, so saying the same about McDonald’s food is hardly newsworthy.
  • What was Schlosser’s point with this book? If it was to present an unbiased look at fast food restaurants, he failed. If it was to condemn fast food restaurants, he failed at that too (or lost courage at the last moment). Take a stand, why don’t you!

Rating:

I had Fast Food Nation on my Kindle for a couple of years before actually getting around to reading it. Turns out I wasn’t missing much. I’m not sure why this book received so much hype and acclaim when it was released in 2001. There aren’t any revelations here; just a more in-depth look at fast food restaurants than you typically get from newspapers. Moreover, many of Schlosser’s conclusions are either too outlandish or too obvious to count as merits of the book, which is why I give it just 2 stars out of 5.

2 Responses to “Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser”

  1. It sounds like the author went into his investigation with his biases firmly in hand. When I first stumbled onto your review I thought Fast Food Nation would be a good title to read to gain some knowledge on the impact of the development on Fast Food on public health and other public systems. Having read your review all the way through, I am convinced that I should continue looking for something else to read.

    Completely off topic, I know, but do you like your Kindle? I’ve been thinking about getting one, but I’m concerned about eyestrain with reading from yet another computer screen.

  2. Hi Gargantua,

    The Kindle is simply amazing! There is ZERO eyestrain associated with reading on it, as it uses e-ink technology that renders text almost as it would appear on a printed page. The device is not backlit like a computer screen or a smartphone (iPhone), so you can read for hours and hours without any problems at all. I LOVE it! It has changed my reading life forever!!!

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