Book Review – Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

Fast Food Nation

“Future historians, I hope, will consider the American fast food industry as a relic of the twentieth century – a set of attitudes, systems, and beliefs that emerged from postwar southern California, that embodied its limitless faith in technology, that quickly spread across the globe, flourished briefly, and then receded, once its true costs became clear and its thinking became obsolete” (288).

 

In his non-fiction novel Fast Food Nation, author and investigative journalist Eric Schlosser traces the history of America’s favorite meal, uncovering its dirty secrets in the process. The book serves as a critique of the fast food industry and, in Schlosser’s mind, comes at the heels of a new social movement. People now practice conscious consumerism, which makes them more mindful about what they eat and put in their bodies.

Schlosser begins by describing the rise of the fast food industry, motivated by a combination of budding entrepreneurs and new technology. Carl Karcher, the McDonald brothers, and countless others – these men illustrated the true American spirit of ingenuity. They thought outside of the box, capitalized on technological advancements of the time, and took risks. With a little luck, they struck it rich and built fast food restaurant empires. For example, Karcher strategically built his Carl’s ­Jr. restaurants close to freeway exits, following the interstate highway system as it was being built. The McDonald brothers tailored Henry Ford’s assembly line methods to making burgers, increasing their efficiency and reducing the need for skilled workers in the kitchens. These men chose the perfect time to create their fortunes. With the rise of the automobile and the introduction of women to the workforce, the nation experienced a cultural shift – and fast food met the new needs of this changing society.

But before readers admire these American innovators for too long, Fast Food Nation goes on to describe the expansion of the system, the concern for “uniformity,” and the problems that stemmed from this growth. The chain restaurants strived for consistency; their founders wanted families to have the same dining experience at every location. In order to make this mission possible, companies changed how their food is made. As a result, manufacturers now prepare ingredients at a few select factories, freeze them, and ship them out to the various restaurants. Employees simply need to reheat the food, assemble the meals, and serve it to customers. The author claims that this streamlined process raises health and safety concerns, as it increases the chances of contamination. Schlosser recounts the story of one Colorado man, Lee Harding, who ate frozen hamburgers and became sick from E. Coli; those frozen burgers were responsible for making at least ten people sick across the country. With streamlined food factories, disease outbreaks are no longer localized; one contamination poses a health threat for the entire US (and even beyond, in our increasingly globalized economy).

However, Lee Harding recovered eventually from his E. Coli stint; not-so-fortunate six-year-old Lauren Rudolph died from a contaminated Jack-in-the-Box hamburger. The younger generation remains at the heart of Schlosser’s narrative. In his introduction he writes, “Most of all, I am concerned about [fast food’s] impact on our nation’s children” (9). The fast food industry not only endangers kids physically (E. Coli, obesity, diabetes, etc.), but also psychologically. Schlosser discusses the shift towards family-friendly restaurants and treating children as a huge potential marketing base. “Kid kustomers” encourage brand loyalty (nostalgia) and have consumer power through their ability to nag their parents. Schlosser highlights the marketing tactics of McDonalds especially, from their mascot Ronald McDonald to Happy Meal toys to McDonalds play areas (which, interestingly enough, are modeled after Disneyland and Walt Disney’s attempt to enamor children). Furthermore, teenagers oftentimes work in fast food restaurants, in bleak conditions for terrible pay. The fast food industry influences the growth and development of the younger generation in several aspects.

Overall, Schlosser’s book is a great eye-opening read and comparable to Upton Sinclar’s The Jungle in the way it critiques our nation’s food practices. It also intrigued me to read about how the fast food industry extends beyond what we eat into employment practices, technological concerns, and even politics – fast food truly has become a part of our American culture. I recommend it for anyone interested in learning about how the US gained a reputation for fast food and/or what goes on behind those friendly (or maybe creepy) Ronald McDonald smiles. Warning: Book may make readers never want to eat fast food ever again and crave home-cooked meals.

 

Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2005.

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Garden Visit: 3/8/2013

I visited the garden early afternoon today. It rained a lot last night and this morning, so I didn’t have to do any more watering today – the soil was still damp. In my friend’s words, “Mother Nature is watering the plants for you!”

I did harvest a bunch of chard though. The leaves were nice and crisp.

Fresh chard, all ready for harvesting!

Fresh chard, all ready for harvesting!

The beds look a bit empty after we pulled out the cabbage and lettuce. Maybe we can plant some new things on Tuesday?

More room?

More room?

Also, the carrots, quinoa, and fruits (pomelo?) are doing well!

Carrots!

Carrots!

Budding quinoa

Budding quinoa

Fruit tree

Fruit tree

Final note: lettuce seeds! Another Tuesday project?

Lettuce seeds

Lettuce seeds

 


Dr. Vandana Shiva at UCLA

David King mentioned this woman during his guest lecture this past Tuesday. Lo behold the flyer I saw in my email this morning! (I’m sure those of you in the IoES mailing list also received this email.)

Dr. Vandana Shiva at UCLA

Here’s more information from the email for anyone who’s interested in attending Dr. Shiva’s talk.

Annual International Women’s Day Lecture featuring Vandana Shiva, philosopher, environmental activist, and ecofeminist – March 8, 6PM, UCLA

You are cordially invited to an event celebrating International Women’s Day featuring a lecture by Dr. Vandana Shiva, world-renowned philosopher, environmental activist, ecofeminist, and academic researcher on agricultural and women’s empowerment issues. Dr. Shiva’s talk for International Woman’s Day will be a CSW event as well as the keynote address of a conference titled “Global Ecologies: Nature/Narrative/Neoliberalism,” which is being organized by Elizabeth DeLoughrey, UCLA;  Jill Didur, Concordia University, Canada; and Anthony Carrigan, Keele University, UK, and will take place at UCLA on March 8 and 9, 2013.

DATE: March 8

TIME: 6PM

PLACE: Broad 2160 E

FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. 

TICKET REQUIRED: http://csw_vshiva.eventbrite.com

PRESENTED BY: Office of Faculty Diversity and Development, UCLA Center for the Study of Women, and the organizers of Global Ecologies

COSPONSORed BY: University of California Humanities Research Initiative, Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, and the Canadian Studies Program, the Divisions of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Department of Gender Studies, International Institute, and the Department of English

MORE INFO: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/events/vandana-shiva

GLOBAL ECOLOGIES: http://www.csw.ucla.edu/events/global-ecologies-1


Garden Visit: Saturday, February 9, 2013

I went up to visit the garden late this afternoon. I expected the soil to be fairly damp since it rained recently, but I guess today’s sun dried it up a bit. I did some light watering to keep our plants nice and fresh!

I removed several burrs from all of the planters, along with twigs and pinecones. There were so many burrs, it eventually turned into the “See how far Zoe can throw a burr” game.

Burrs. Burrs everywhere.

Burrs. Burrs everywhere.

I also noticed the fungi that my fellow classmates mentioned in an earlier post. The fungi seem to have invaded the space where our class first started trying to grow quinoa. The white mushrooms are now spreading to the rest of the box – I noticed one underneath a cabbage plant. I agree with Kyle – we should work on that planter our next workday.

In another planter, there is one row of sad-looking plants – not sure what kind of plant it was since I couldn’t find the popsicle stick. Some of the plants had dead leaves, while others had dried-out and brown stems. Maybe the plant variety didn’t like the winter weather?

One sad plant.

One sad plant.

On a happier note, other planters are thriving! The onions are growing all over their space, and the new batch of quinoa has already sprouted. Look at this cute citrus I found on the tree!

Fresh fruit!

Fresh fruit!


Garden Visit: Saturday, January 26th

I visited the garden at Sunset Rec late this afternoon. Although it was a fairly sunny day today, the plants were still nicely watered from the past few days of rain. Also, the fog rolled in late in the afternoon, keeping the soil damp. No watering needed.

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Quinoa crop

Per special request of Professor McKnight, I looked at the quinoa. There was one tiny shoot of green, but the bed looked empty for the most part. According to the Professor, qunioa are a low-water crop, so the recent rain might hinder the plant’s growth.

The rest of the garden seems to be in pretty good shape for the most part. I was really excited to see the onions growing in my group’s bed (left). Another group’s bok choy crop has also started sprouting (middle)! The cabbage and lettuce also seem to be doing well (right).

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However, the rain seems to have mangled a few plants and broken some popsicle sticks. Maybe that will be a class project on Tuesday?