Book Review: Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation written by Eric Schlosser delves into the depths of the birth and life of the Fast Food Industry and the effects it has on our world.  It explores how at the birth of fast food it was the perfect moment in history when technology and necessity were both at the right levels to serve as the catalyst necessary for fast food to take off.

In specific examples, Schlosser talks about McDonalds and Carls Jr, two fast food restaurants that started out at the beginning of fast food.  Both companies used new and exciting business models, which had never been thought of to be used for food before.  Carls Jr took advantage of the Interstate system and built restaurants all along it as to be able to feed hungry motorists as they traveled wherever it was they were going.  McDonalds took advantage of the assembly line model created by Henry Ford.  Just as it was in the car industry, in the food industry it allowed for streamlined food production without the skills previously necessary to cook the food.  No longer was a qualified chef or cook needed, now anyone could do it with little experience or instruction.

Another big impact, which it had on the overall food system, was that of the production of the ingredients necessary for the food, which was made.  No longer was food delivered fresh everyday to be cooked the day of but rather it was delivered in large amounts and frozen to be preserved.  This way ensured there would be enough supply to meet demand and if there were less demand one-day food wouldn’t go bad.  However this put a larger strain on producers of the meat and bread necessary to meet these high quantity demands.  Quality was deemed less important than quantity and it was all about meeting demand.  Everything became centralized in big producing cattle ranches and factories rather than smaller family owned enterprises.  The fast food industry also contributed to the spread of agribusiness with its large demands for food.

As for the marketing scheme, these restaurants made sure to appeal to the whole family.  No longer was eating just to refuel; now it was to have a good time as well.  Campaigns were held to market towards children with specific meals and prizes that came with those meals.  Also all restaurants were made to look the same in order to create a uniform dining experience wherever a person ate.

I found the book to be interesting but at the same time a little scathing of the industry as a whole.  As our population grows and we need to feed more people it will be necessary for us to use farming and food production techniques, which meet demand.  I don’t believe we are doing this as responsibility as we could be doing it but unless we mandate some sort of control on human population growth, it will be a necessity no matter what.  I do agree that quality over quantity has been emphasized in fast food restaurants but this book was written about a decade ago now and a lot has changed since then.  There have been plenty of fast food scandals, which have led to improved quality, and oversight and many of these restaurants have to compete with higher quality food from somewhat fast food restaurants.  This has forced them to reevaluate their menus and practices leading to improvement in quality and options available to the guest.

The further globalization of our restaurants I find to be a good thing as it is comforting and relieving to have them abroad.  In Paris there is pretty much no free Wi-Fi anywhere, except at McDonalds.  It’s nice because international data plans are extremely expensive and one way to communicate is through the Internet on the go and with the many McDonalds around it is easy to do so with their free Wi-Fi.  Overall I believe that the industry is changing for the better because the public demands it and those who don’t adapt will fall to wayside.

Overall the book was interesting and in many respects eye opening though a lot of it seemed like common sense.  Maybe I have just read too many business models, which use fast food restaurants as the example.  That should be pretty telling about business in America.

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