Fast Food Nation
Eric Schlosser is the author who has written about the fast food industry and he presents many of his findings in the book “Fast Food Nation”. However, his book is not merely an expose of the fast food industry but is even more a consideration of how the fast food industry has shaped and defined American society in America and for other nations as America exports its fast food culture to others. Schlosser describes a great deal of American culture to the fast food mentality, and he finds that globalization is taking the fast food culture around the world at a rapid rate. Schlosser addresses a number of specific issues related to food production and distribution. He connects the social order of a society to the kind of food it eats and the way it eats that food, with American society very much defined by the fast food culture that has developed. Schlosser tends to represent the theory stressing the importance of interdependence among all behavior patterns and institutions within a social system, as can be seen from how he connects fast food to other social processes and institutions.
The icon that represents fast food culture for most people is McDonald’s, though the fast food culture developed long before the creation of that restaurant chain. Schlosser considers the impact of such fast-food chains but also considers the primacy of the hamburger in the American diet and some of the dangers it poses. McDonald’s reliance on hamburger is a questionable item for a steady diet in a more health conscious age, and interferes with local customs and food in different parts of the world. Schlosser addresses this issue from several perspectives, beginning with a consideration of how safe the meat really is, not only on the basis of nutritional value but also on the basis of additives, preservatives, diseases, and even potential radioactivity. Some beef is considered questionable, and much of it makes its way through the USDA to school cafeterias as part of the National School Lunch Program. This is a very damaging charge as the most questionable beef is sent directly to the most vulnerable population, suggesting that protecting the industry is more important to the government than protecting the consumer. The hamburger is connected to a huge industry, which in turn has a vital role in the overall American economy. More than this, the image of the hamburger represents America to many people around the world, and other icons carrying the idea of America is seen in the logos of companies like McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and similar companies.
A related food item is the potato, for french fries are apart of in hamburger meals. Schlosser makes it clear to the reader that many of the foods he or she eats have been altered, with artificial flavors added even to natural foods like potatoes. French fries are not simply carved out of potatoes and then cooked–they are also laced with food additives of various sorts, including artificial flavoring, to assure that the flavor is uniform and that it comes through after the processing and cooking. Some additives are also used to maintain the color of the product, so that it appears as the color the consumer associates with a given food even if that would not be the natural color if the food were merely cooked and served. Obviously, all this raises questions about how safe the various additives may be and whether this has been as thoroughly investigated as it should have been. Schlosser points out the process involved but does not take a strong stand against such practices. The way fast food is prepared has made much of this secondary industry necessary, and supports the connection between fast food and the social order made by Schlosser.
The work environment is also addressed by Schlosser, and much of what he reports is troubling. The dangerous situation in slaughterhouses has long been known. Schlosser finds that the dangers have not diminished a great deal in the processes of raising, slaughtering, processing and distributing meat products in America in spite of inspections and OSHA regulations and other efforts. Pressure on some companies to increase revenues and profits has also meant companies breaking the law and taking chances with the lives of employees and even the public. Also, many of the workers are illegal immigrants, favored because they are willing to take menial jobs for low wages to raise, pick, transport, and process food. The needs of this industry shape a number of social institutions and also have a direct effect on local communities by bringing in people who require more social services than would otherwise be the norm.
Throughout, Schlosser shows not only the dangers inherent in the fast food industry itself but also ways in which this industry has altered American society and may alter society around the world. The underlying force involved is profit rather than food value, and this is raising questions/concerns about the values we are exporting.
Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Perennial, 2002.