I recently finished reading Fast Food Nation – The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser.
The purpose of this book, about the fast food industry, is best summarized by the author within the introduction: “I do not mean to suggest that fast food is solely responsible for every social problem now haunting the United States. In some cases (such as the malling and sprawling of the West) the fast food industry has been a catalyst and a symptom of larger economic trends. In other cases (such as the rise of franchising and the spread of obesity) fast food has played a more central role. By tracing the diverse influences of fast food I hope to shed light not only on the workings of an important industry, but also on a distinctively American way of viewing the world.”
This book recounts the history behind the uprising of fast food to become a dominant force in our modern society. However, what most of us do not know is : “what lies behind the shiny, happy surface of every fast food transaction”. Eric goes on to investigate every aspect of the fast food industry: people, cattle, vegetables, health etc. The storytelling techniques that he uses throughout the book bring this expose to life. The stories are descriptive, personal and touching.
A very educative and enlightening read, and a rude (much needed) awakening about the food industry in general and the fast food industry in particular.
Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:
“The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power. The great challenge now facing countries throughout the world is how to find a proper balance between the efficiency and the amorality of the market.”
“Today’s fast food industry is the culmination of those larger social and economic trends. The low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost – and should. the profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society. The annual cost of obesity alone is now twice as large as the fast food industry’s total revenues.”
“The right pressure applied to the fast food industry in the right way could produce change faster than any act of Congress. The United Students Against Sweatshops and other activist groups have brought widespread attention to the child labor, low wages, and hazardous working conditions in Asian factories that make sneakers for Nike.”
“Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first steps toward meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit. The usefulness of the market, its effectiveness as a tool, cuts both ways.”
“Whatever replaces the fast food industry should be regional, diverse, authentic, unpredictable, sustainable, profitable – and humble. It should know its limits. People can be fed without being fattened or deceived. This new century may bring an impatience with conformity, a refusal to be kept in the dark, less greed, more compassion, less speed, more common sense, a sense of humor about bran essences and loyalties, a view of food as more than just fuel. Things don’t have to be the way they are. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I remain optimistic.”