Fast Food Nation

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Fast Food Nation  

Paperback cover.
Author Eric Schlosser
Country United States
Language English
Subject(s) Fast food
Genre(s) Non-fiction
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date January 17, 2001
Pages 288 pp
ISBN 0-395-97789-4

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001) is a book by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser that examines the local and global influence of the United States fast food industry. First serialized by Rolling Stone in 1999, the book has drawn comparisons to Upton Sinclair's classic "muckraking" novel The Jungle. Schlosser writes as a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and has received a number of journalistic honors, including a National Magazine Award for an Atlantic article about marijuana and the war on drugs. Fast Food Nation, sub-titled The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, is his first book.


[edit] Contents

[edit] Growth of the fast food industry

Schlosser describes the growth of the fast food industry as being driven by fundamental changes in United States society. Since the 1970s there has been a steady decline in the hourly wage (adjusted for inflation) of the average United States worker. Additionally more and more United States mothers were working outside the home. In 1975, about 1/3 of United States mothers with young children held jobs. That ratio has risen to 2/3 at the beginning of the 21st century. A generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food in the US was spent to prepare meals at home. Today, about half of that same money is spent in restaurants - mainly fast food restaurants. In 1968, McDonald's had 1,000 restaurants - today it has about 30,000, and 2,000 new ones are opening each year.

McDonald's Corporation:

Schlosser provides the following information in his book:

- an estimated one in every ten workers in the US has, at some point worked at a McDonald's restaurant.

- it is the nation's largest purchaser of beef, pork and potatoes and second largest of chicken (KFC is number one);

- it has replaced Coca Cola as the world's most famous brand, but serves it in its establishments;

- it operates more playgrounds - designed to attract children and their parents to its restaurants - than any other private entity in the US;

- the Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross.

- Ronald McDonald is more widely recognized by American children than Jesus, and second only to Santa claus.

Schlosser quotes the farm activist Jim Hightower who, in the early 1970s, warned of "the McDonaldization of America": He viewed the emerging fast food industry as a threat to independent business, as a step toward a food economy dominated by giant corporations, and as a homogenizing influence on American life. In Eat Your Heart Out (1975), he argued that "bigger is not better". Schlosser says that much of what Hightower feared has become a reality. He believes that the centralized purchasing decisions of the large restaurant chains e.g. McDonald's, KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut now have an unprecedented degree of power over the nation's food supply, as well as "wiping out small businesses, obliterating regional differences, and spreading identical stores throughout the country like a self-replicating code."[1]

[edit] US slaughterhouses

Slaughterhouses are discussed at length in the chapters, 'Cogs in the great machine' and 'The most dangerous job'.

Schlosser describes a visit to a slaughterhouse in Lexington, Nebraska. According to one resident, there are three odors that pervade the town, "burning hair and blood, that greasy smell, and the odor of rotten eggs." Schlosser describes how hydrogen sulfide is the gas responsible for the rotten egg smell. It rises from the slaughterhouse wastewater lagoons, causes respiratory problems and headaches , and at high levels can cause permanent damage to the nervous system (in Jan. 2002 the Justice Department sued IBP, Inc. for violation of the Clean Air Act at its Dakota City plant).

On another occasion he visits a slaughterhouse 'somewhere in the High Plains' which is one of the nation's largest. He is shown around by someone with access to the plant who is upset by its working conditions. About 5,000 head of cattle are slaughtered there every day. Schlosser describes in graphic terms the different jobs involved in turning a steer into packaged meat, of which one of the most graphic are the "sticker" and the "knocker." The sticker severs the carotid artery of a steer every ten seconds. The knocker stuns cattle on arrival to the slaughterhouse by shooting them in the head with a captive bolt stunner:

The animals keep strolling up, oblivious to what comes next, and he stands over them and shoots. For eight-and-a-half hours, he just shoots. As I stand there, he misses a few times and shoots the same animal twice. As soon as the steer falls, a worker grabs one of its hind legs, shackles it to a chain, and the chain lifts the huge animal into the air. I watch the knocker knock cattle for a couple of minutes. The animals are powerful and imposing one moment and then gone in an instant, suspended from a rail, ready for carving. A steer slips from its chain, falls to the ground, and gets its head caught in one end of a conveyor belt. The production line stops as workers struggle to free the steer, stunned but alive, from the machinery. I've seen enough.[2]

As an investigative journalist, Schlosser also interviews some of the migrant workers who make up the majority workforce of these slaughterhouses. In this regard, Schlosser links the rising trend in migrant workers from developing countries (and by extension the social issues this creates) with the expansion of the US fast food industry.

One IBP Lexington worker describes her journey from Guatemala in search of work. Others talk about the relentless pressure resulting from the speed of the work. The faster the cattle are packaged, the greater the profitability of the slaughterhouse (the three meatpacking giants - IBP, Inc., ConAgra and Excel - try to maximize their profits by maximizing the volume of production at each plant), but also the greater the likelihood of injuries to the workers. Whereas the old Chicago meatpacking plants slaughtered about 50 cattle an hour, the modern plants slaughter up to 400 an hour. As injured workers are a drain on profits, many of these injuries go unreported - injured workers who cooperate are shifted to an easier job to have time to recover, or they are sent back to their home country to recuperate and later return to work in the US. Injured workers report being given the most unpleasant jobs and their hourly wages are cut. As one former IBP worker explains, "They're trying to deter you, period, from going to the doctor."[3]

[edit] Marketing Fast Food to Kids

In the chapter entitled 'Your Trusted Friends', Schlosser takes a critical look at what he claims is a deliberate targeting of children by fast food and soft drinks companies. He describes an explosion in advertising to children that occurred in the 1980s. Schlosser describes how many working parents felt guilty about spending less time with their kids, and started to spend more money on them. One marketing expert has called the 1980s "the decade of the child consumer." The majority of advertising directed at children today aims to achieve the immediate goal of a purchase. As one marketer explained in Selling to Kids, "It's not just getting kids to whine, it's giving them a specific reason to ask for a product." The sociologist Vance Packard described children as "surrogate salesmen" who had to persuade other people, usually their parents, to buy what they wanted. The aim of children's advertising, as Schlosser points out, is straight forward: get kids to nag their parents for consumer goods.

This competition for young customers has led fast food chains to form marketing partnerships with toy companies, sports leagues and Hollywood studios. McDonald's has staged promotions with the NBA and the Olympics. Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC signed a three year deal with the NCAA. Burger King, Nickelodeon, McDonald's and the Fox Kids Network have formed partnerships that mix advertisements for fast food with children's entertainment. Burger King has sold chicken nuggets shaped like Teletubbies.

Soft drinks companies

Schlosser also provides information about the three largest US soft drinks companies, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Cadbury-Schweppes. These companies spend large sums including on school funding programs to increase the amount of their products consumed by American children. Americans drink soft drinks at an annual rate of about 56 gallons per person (approx. 600 twelve ounce cans of soda). Coca-Cola has set its goal of raising this consumption of its products by at least 25%. As the adult market is stagnant, selling more soft drinks to children has become the easiest way to meet sales projections." Influencing elementary school students is very important to soft drinks marketers," an article in the Jan. 1999 issue of Beverage Industry explained, "because children are still establishing their tastes and habits ... eight year olds are considered ideal customers as they have about sixty-five years of purchasing in front of them. "Entering the schools makes perfect sense," the trade journal concludes."

"Liquid Candy" report

Schlosser quotes a 1999 study by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest. It describes how US children are affected by the beverage industry. Some of the main points that Schlosser includes are:

  • In 1978, the typical teenage boy in the US drank about seven ounces of soft drinks daily. Today he drinks nearly three times that amount, deriving 9% of his daily calorific intake from soft drinks.
  • Soft drinks consumption amongst teenage girls has doubled within the same period, reaching an average of 12oz. a day.
  • A significant number of boys are now drinking five or more cans of soft drinks a day - each can contains the equivalent of about 10 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Soft drinks like Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew and Dr Pepper provide empty calories and have replaced far more nutritious beverages in the American diet. Excessive soft drinks consumption in childhood can lead to calcium deficiency and a great likelihood of bone fractures.
  • 20 years ago, US teenage boys drank twice as much milk as soft drinks; now they drink twice as many soft drinks as milk.
  • About one-fifth of the US's 1 and 2 year olds now drink soft drinks. Michael Jacobson, the report's author, describes the marketing practice of licensing manufacturers' logos to Munchkin Bottling Inc., a major manufacturer of baby bottles. A 1997 study, published in the Journal of Dentistry for Children, found that many infants were being fed soft drinks in those bottles.[4]

The fast food chains run advertisements on Channel One, the commercial television network whose programming is shown in classrooms in almost every school, to eight million US middle, junior and high school students. Schlosser further points out that the chains promote their products by selling school lunches, accepting a lower profit margin in order to create brand loyalty.

For example:

  • At least twenty school districts in the US have their own Subway franchises; an additional fifteen hundred districts have Subway contracts; and nine operate Subway sandwich carts.
  • Taco Bell sells products in about 4,500 school cafeterias. Pizza Hut, Domino's Pizza and McDonald's are now selling food in US schools. The American School Food Service estimates that about 30% of the public high schools in the US offer branded fast food.
  • Elementary schools in Fort Collins, Colorado now serve food from Pizza Hut, McDonald's and Subway on special lunch days. "We try to be more like the fast food places where these kids are hanging out" a Colorado school administrator told the Denver Post. "We want kids to think school lunch is a cool thing, the cafeteria a cool place, that we're with it."[5]

Global expansion

Schlosser states that, just as in the United States, the fast food companies have targeted their worldwide advertising and promotion at a group of consumers with fewest attachments to tradition: young children.

His research reveals that:

  • In Australia, where the number of fast food restaurants roughly tripled during the 1990s, a survey found that half of the nation's 9 and 10 year olds thought that Ronald McDonald knew what kids should eat.
  • At a primary school in Beijing, it was found that all of the children recognised the image of Ronald McDonald, saying that '... he understood children's hearts'. Coca-Cola is now the favorite drink amongst Chinese children, and McDonald's serves their favorite food.
  • Germany is now one of McDonald's most profitable overseas markets, with more than a thousand restaurants. "The Golden Arches have become so commonplace in Germany that they seem almost invisible," Schlosser notes. McDonald's Deutschland has put restaurants in new Wal-Mart stores because the latter expects the kiddie factor to create an upsurge in customers.[6]

[edit] Fast food and obesity

The relationship between a nation's fast food consumption and its rate of obesity has not been definitively established through any long-term epidemiological study. However, Schlosser points out that it seems wherever America's fast food chains go, waistlines inevitably start expanding.[7]

Schlosser points out that the United States has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation. More than half of all American adults and about one-quarter of all American children are now obese or overweight. Those proportions have soared during the last few decades, along with the consumption of fast food, with the rate of obesity among US children twice as high as in the late 1970s.

An obese person is someone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher. Today about 44 million American adults are obese and an additional 6 million are super-obese i.e. they weigh about a hundred pounds more than they should. Schlosser comments that "No other nation in history has gotten so fat so fast". In simple terms, when people eat more and move less, they get fat. In the US, people have become increasingly sedentary and consume more restaurant meals, including fast food. As people eat more food outside the home, they consume more calories, less fiber and more fat.[8]

[edit] Reception

Loyola College in Maryland Economics professor Thomas DiLorenzo has criticized Fast Food Nation for denying individual responsibility. He further criticizes Schlosser's claims on the grounds that they are already well-known and compares them to the well-known fact that cigarettes are bad for one's health. DiLorenzo also claims that Schlosser ignores the fact that fast food restaurants are introducing healthier options and calls the book an "one of the most boring uninformed attacks on the free market in the food industry."[9]

[edit] Editions

[edit] References

  1. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, pp. 4-5, Penguin Books, 2002
  2. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 171, Penguin Books, 2002
  3. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, pp. 174-175, Penguin Books, 2002
  4. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 54, Penguin Books, 2002
  5. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 56, Penguin Books, 2002
  6. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, pp. 232-233, Penguin Books, 2002
  7. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, p. 242, Penguin Books, 2002
  8. ^ Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, pp. 240-241, Penguin Books, 2002
  9. ^ The Free Market

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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