Fast Food Nation

February 10, 2009
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The last time that you drove up to a fast food restaurant, shouted your order out the window of your car and devoured your burger with one hand as you steered with the other, you probably didn't even stop to think about everything that went into that glorious quarter-pounder with bacon and cheese. Just read Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, and you will be thinking about everything all right ' from the genetically modified, hormone-fed cows, to the unsanitary conditions on the kill floors of the meat packing plants, to the underpaid, overworked fast food employee who could care less about keeping your food off the kitchen floors. These are just some of the 'Oh my God, EW!' moments to be had while reading Schlosser's 288-page non-fiction investigative report. If his goal was to shock and disgust, then Schlosser is a success. However, if he was trying to provide the two unbiased sides of a complex business, and let the reader come to his own conclusions, then he was vastly ineffective. There was no argument to be had in Fast Food Nation ' it was a completely one-sided view of the most extreme and negative aspects of the fast food industry.
That is not to say that it wasn't highly informative and extremely well written; simply that the endless supply of facts grew tiresome. One can only read so much on the topic of entrepreneurial corruption behind the scenes at McDonalds, or the outrageous behavior of teenage employees at Taco Bell. And in some instances, the facts didn't quite add up. Schlosser's statements on 'hundreds dying' (207) in the past 8 years of a particular strain of E. Coli outbreaks seemed hyperbolical, and as a New York Times critic points out, 'he extrapolated his figures from an annual total in a report on food-related illness' (Walker). One of Schlosser's notes in the back of the book even mentions that a particular gentleman who got sick from a contaminated hamburger patty from a grocery store was included in his statistic.
So the case that Schlosser presents against the fast food corporations is not as strong as it seems? Not so much. In a chapter about why fast food tastes so good, the entire half of one page is dedicated to listing the 70 or so unpronounceable ingredients of artificial strawberry flavor found in a Burger King strawberry milk shake. One of them in carminic acid which is made from the 'desiccated bodies of Dactylopius coccus, a small insect that feeds on red cactus berries, which then accumulates in their unhatched larvae' (129). Yes, you read that correctly; after these bugs dry up, they are ground into pigment and mixed into your milkshake. Yum!
One can tell that Schlosser does not take like entirely too seriously. After all, he is acclaimed for his work in the controversial non-fiction piece that is Reefer Madness, a book about the benefits legalizing of marijuana. He writes with a distinctive sort of intellectual wit, one that a particular critic cites as 'unapologetically leftist' (Roe). In the chapter about fast food employees, Schlosser describes 16-year old Elisa, making minimum wage, who had 'wanted to work at McDonalds since she was a toddler'' but quickly met the dark side of the Golden Arches as 'one elderly woman threw a hamburger at her because there was mustard on it' (81). Schlosser continues by stating 'Elisa hopes to find her next job at Wal-Mart'' because that's the company famous for great employee treatment, right?
It is true that Fast Food Nation is 'long on analysis and short on solutions' (Roe). Though Schlosser's fact-filled excerpts seem too much like long-winded tirades, the truth that the he uncovers is in fact intriguing, and definitely worth reading. You will absolutely cringe in disgust and vow to never ever eat a hamburger again, but let's face it ' this is America, THE 'fast food nation' ' you probably will.

Works Cited
Roe, Andrew. "Mac, Jack, Carl and the Colonel Get Fried With the Facts." San Fransisco Chronicle 28 Jan. 2001. 9 Feb. 2009 .
Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York City: Harper Perennial, 2001.
Walker, Rob. "No Accounting for Mouthfeel." New York Times 21 Jan. 2001. 9 Feb. 2009 .

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