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Fast Food Nation

Fast food is extremely wide-spread nowadays. The entire world is familiar with such restaurant chains as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and so on. People like fast food because it is easily accessible, and also it tastes and smells good. When one goes along the street wanting to find something to eat quickly and keep going, a fast food restaurant will most likely become the most attractive place for him/her. Undoubtedly, it is the fastest way to have lunch which will also be tasty. However, people rarely think about where this kind of food comes from. In addition, consumption of such food leads to health problems, for example, heart diseases, stomach problems, and of course obesity.

Eric Schlosser, an American investigative journalist, reveals some secrets of the fast food industry in his book Fast Food Nation. He examined the local and global influence of the United States fast food industry. The book was first issued in 2001 and gained a lot of public attention. The book is a work of non-fiction. It covers history and culture of the United States in the post-World War II period and tells real stories about people involved in the development of the fast food industry in the US and in its spreading to other countries.

The following points will be examined and described in the paper in order to analyze the book:

  1. The book structure and the general plot;
  2. Principal ideas of the book;
  3. Influence the book exerted on the American and international society.

Nutrition issues are a matter of great concern of society nowadays, and they especially touch upon the American society where the percentage of obese people is much higher than anywhere else. The US became a parent for a global fast food industry and this is considered to be one of the principal issues of the current nutrition system in the country and globally.

The Book Structure and the General Plot

Eric Schlosser started his research in the late 1990s when Rolling Stone magazine representatives asked him to write an article about the US image seen through fast food industry. Firstly, Schlosser figured he would write something lighthearted and easy. However, when he began the research, he realized that he should go in a completely different direction. Schlosser decided to take a look at the fast food industry from a historical perspective and saw that it started developing rapidly after World War II (Sagon, 2001).

In the introduction, Schlosser provides readers with an image of a top-secret military base located in Colorado. There are numerous contemporary high-tech appliances on the base. Its workers get a delivery of pizza, and the author discusses on how the base would look if it was destroyed and entombed together with pizza boxes, hamburger wrappers, etc. and subsequently found by scientists of the future.

Further, Schlosser reflects on how well-developed the fast food industry has become in the last years and how many chains exist currently in the US and all over the world. For instance, McDonald’s, which operated about one thousand restaurants in 1968, currently has about thirty thousand restaurants all over the world. The curious thing which results from popularity of this restaurant is the fact that 96 percent of American schoolchildren are able to identify Ronald McDonald, who yields in popularity among children only to Santa Claus (Schlosser, 2002).

The main body of the book is divided into two parts. The first one, which is called “The American Way”, deals with the very beginning of the fast food industry development in the context of post-war years in the US. It starts with the story about how Carl N. Karcher and the McDonalds brothers began developing the fast food industry in California. In addition, it goes about a complicated relationship between Walt Disney and Ray Kroc, as well as about profitable ways of advertising products to children.

Subsequently, Schlosser tells about his visit to Colorado and the investigation the ways fast food chains work there. He examines the life and working conditions of typical employees of this sphere. As a result, he learns that fast food restaurants tend to have the highest rate of low-wage workers (Schlosser, 2002).

The second section of the book, called “Meat and Potatoes”, discusses the main mechanisms used by the fast food industry. Schlosser tells about such methods as chemical flavoring of the food in order to make it taste good, production of chickens and cattle, dangers of eating meat of animals that were raised on slaughterhouses and the global influence of the American fast-food industry.

Generally, Schlosser provides readers with a lot of information about how fast food industry developed and found its place in the contemporary society. He mentions the general history of fast food pioneers, as well as some facts about specific chains which are well-known nowadays, such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, and so on (Schlosser, 2002).

Meanwhile, he compares usual farms where livestock live to the ones owned by popular fast food chains and shows how different the animals’ lives are in these places. Moreover, Schlosser describes the people’s work conditions there (2002). He reveals that meatpacking is a dangerous job, because workers can be injured while implementing their tasks by hand, using knives and machines.

Another problem revealed by the author is the quality of the meat produced in such conditions. He states that this meat is definitely not useful for health and moreover, it can be dangerous because it can contain bacteria and diseases, such as E. coli. Furthermore, numerous flavor and color additives can be found in this kind of food. Those issues will be examined and discussed more thoroughly further.

Principal Ideas of the Book

One of the main ideas discussed by the author is the amount of fast food consumed by people nowadays. In his article The Bitter Truth about Fast Food, Schlosser states (2001) that the experience of buying fast food has become so routine, that it is currently taken for granted and is considered to be a social custom in the US and other countries. Such food can be found and bought anywhere nowadays, from restaurants and stadiums to schools, trains, and even hospital cafeterias.

The amount of money spent by Americans on fast food is astonishing – it totaled $110 billion in 2000 (Schlosser, 2001). It is more than the money spent on education, or on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos and music combined. Certainly, not a lot of people think about that when they buy hamburgers, hotdogs or fries. However, it is necessary to think about fast food consumption, because it does not concern the money question only.

Nutrition issues are directly connected with social, economic and technological problems and situations. The fast food industry, in its turn, led to various consequences which are not associated only with nutrition. It has played a central role in the rise of franchising. In addition, it became “a symptom of larger economic trends” (Schlosser, 2001) because it contributed to spread of the Western culture.

Numerous people buy fast food nowadays all over the world. Certainly, it looks, smells and tastes good because it was designed by fast-food chain to have a distinctive taste. However, if people considered the question where it comes from, most likely they would not want to eat it anymore. This aspect is another important idea presented and discussed in the book Fast Food Nation.

Fast food contains a lot of fat, salt, cholesterol, and also “natural” and “artificial” flavors added to that. These flavors are man-made additives that are able to give food its taste. It works in the following way. The first purchase of the product can be driven by a beautiful package or appearance, but all subsequent purchases are usually determined by the taste of the product (Schlosser, 2001). Natural and artificial flavors are widely used in the fast food industry and they create the well-known tastes and smells for consumers.

However, few people are aware what companies manufacture this taste. Logically, managers of fast food chains do not want their customers to know that taste of their products is manufactured somewhere else, rather than in their restaurant kitchens. Therefore, the business of flavor industry and formulas they use to create tastes are highly secretive (Schlosser, 2001).

Scientists say that people need taste to distinguish whether the food they eat is good or bad. Basic tastes include sweet, bitter, salty, sour, astringent and umami. The latter is a special kind of taste which has a rich sense of deliciousness triggered by certain amino acids in definite food, such as shellfish, mushrooms, seaweed, and so on (Schlosser, 2001). It was discovered by Japanese scientists.

The flavor industry is so successful mostly due to the fact that natural and artificial flavors make people like and want to eat certain products. When a person eats something, the chemicals contained in it release gases flow out of the mouth and get to the nostrils. The brain combines these signals from the mouth and assigns them to the flavor in order to decide whether it is something one wants to eat or not (Schlosser, 2001).

Flavor companies also manufacture color additives which are produced to make food look fresh and attractive. These additives are also contained in various fast food products, from drinks and cookies to salad dressings and sandwich buns (Schlosser, 2001). Color is very important for consumers. It may even determine the taste. Thus, color of fruits can tell if it is ripe, and color of meat if it is rotten.

Other aspects discussed by the author have already been mentioned above. They include the conditions of work and of raising cattle and chickens in slaughterhouses and the quality of this meat. Schlosser calls meatpacking “the most dangerous job” (2002). He portrays an image of how people who work in slaughterhouses look at their work. He says that they are mostly young and Latino and they look extremely busy with cutting meat and trying not to fall behind their co-workers (Schlosser, 2002).

The author vividly and thoroughly describes this work process, which includes the usage of various knives and saws. In addition to the danger of being injured by the sharp implements, workers develop back and shoulder problems, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome (Schlosser, 2001). All these problems make the rate of trauma injuries in the meatpacking industry higher than in any other industry in the US.

One of the most dangerous bacteria contained in meat is Escherichia coli, “a virulent and potentially lethal foodborne pathogen” (Schlosser, 2001). It can be found in fast food meat due to the way cattle is raised in slaughterhouses. Animals are far from their natural habitat and therefore, they become more prone to various kinds of illnesses. Moreover, their nutrition often contributes to the spread of diseases. Usually, the food given to them consists not only of ordinary nutrition suitable for the cattle, like grass, but also of livestock wastes and dead cats and dogs purchased from animal shelters (Schlosser, 2002).

A study revealed that around 1 percent of the cattle at feedlots have E. coli in their gut during the winter, and during the summer, this number grows to as much as 50 percent. Moreover, animals are fed with antibiotics which also make the meat not so attractive for consumers.

Schlosser provides readers with numerous examples of studies and researches which revealed problems with the meat quality. They are all presented in the chapter What’s in the Meat. He also tells about cases of food poisoning and about programs which work on avoiding it (Schlosser, 2002). The author is also concerned with the fact that children nowadays eat a lot of fast food, which can be easily bought even in school cafeterias. Moreover, even though there are rules which forbid distribution of meat of too old or too sick cattle to schools, meatpacking industry is trying to oppose it (Schlosser, 2002).

Needless to say, if people all over the world were aware about all the issues Schlosser examined in his book, the fast food industry would not be so successful any longer. This is why this book caused a lot of discussions in this particular field.

Influence the Book Exerted on the American and International Society

The book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser made a huge contribution to a study of the fast food industry and to its connection to obesity, one of the most alarming health problems in the US. Even though it did not fully stop people from eating in McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other fast food chains, it made them think more thoroughly about their health and their future. Some people are looking at fast food with opened eyes now because the book revealed the truth to them.

Reading any book resembling Fast Food Nation, one can feel an incentive to take control on what he/she eats and become responsible for own health. Certainly, certain people started eating a more healthy food after learning some facts from this book.

Ten years after publishing the book, Schlosser says in an interview to Huffington Post (2012) that many problems that he described have been solved and there are positive changes in the minds of people. They care more about such issues as sustainability and organic food now than they did before. In addition, currently there are organizations, which bring healthy food to people with low levels of income and cannot afford it themselves. Schlosser was optimistic when he wrote his book and he still is. He believes that it is able to bring change to the world and help solve some nutrition issues (Huffington Post, 2012).

In all due judgment, such book as Fast Food Nation is able to evoke people from mere consumption of the food they like due to flavor and color additives. Schlosser’s vivid descriptions of what is happening with meat before it gets to restaurant kitchens make think twice before buying a sandwich or a hotdog. People need to be more conscious about what they consume. After all, as the saying goes, we are what we eat. We all need to remember that we are responsible for what we consume and we cannot let anyone decide for us whether this or that product is good for us or not. 

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