Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser. Perennial of HarperCollins Publishers, 2002. 383 pp., $13.95.
³As American as a small, rectangular, hand-held, frozen, and reheated apple pie.² (p. 3)
Far from being a run of the mill expose on calories and fat grams in fast food, Fast Food Nation is a hard-hitting critique of the industrialization of America¹s and, later, the world¹s food supply. The consequences of this industrialization have far-reaching effects on working people around the world. Fast food chains are at the pinnacle of a giant food-industrial complex that controls the nation¹s food supply.
Schlosser begins with some thumb nail sketches of fast food¹s ³founding fathers.² None of today¹s fast food giants were started by large corporations. They were all started by people of very modest means. Harland Sanders is a good example. He ³left school at the age of twelve, worked as a farm hand, a mule tender, and a railway fireman. At various times he worked as a lawyer without having a law degree, delivered babies as a part-time obstetrician without having a medical degree, sold insurance door to door, sold Michelin tires, and operated a gas station . . . . and at the age of sixty-five became a traveling salesman once again, offering restaurant owners the secret recipe¹ for his fried chicken. The first Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant opened in 1952 . . . . Lacking money to promote the new chain, Sanders dressed up like a Kentucky colonel² (p. 23).
But despite the modest beginnings of Harland Sanders, William Rosenberg (Dunkin¹ Donuts), Dave Thomas (Wendy¹s), Thomas S. Monaghan (Domino¹s) and others, they have created giant empires that brutally exploit millions of underpaid workers across the globe.
Next, Eric Schlosser describes how McDonald¹s and others market to children. Many of these companies have ³¹cradle-to-grave¹ advertising strategies.² Apparently, ³¹brand loyalty¹ may begin as early as age two. Indeed, market research has found that children often recognize a brand logo before they can recognize their own name² (p. 43). Under the heading ³mcteachers and coke dudes,² Schlosser describes the cradle-to-grave strategy that fast food chains use to market to children.
This strategy reaches new highs (or lows) all the time. Not content to market ³to children through playgrounds, toys, cartoons, movies, videos, charities, and amusement parks, through contests, sweepstakes, games, and clubs, via television, radio, magazines, and the Internet, fast food chains are gaining access to the last advertising free outposts of American life² ( p. 51) public schools. In 1993, District 11 in Colorado Springs became the first school district in the U.S. to have ads for Burger King inside their schools and on their school buses. However, the school district netted little from this, gaining only $1 per student.
In his next chapter, entitled ³Behind the Counter,² Schlosser describes the life of a young woman of sixteen by the name of Elisa, who gets up at 5:15 in the morning to get out the door by 5:30. She and the manager arrive at work, and for the next hour or two, they get the place ready. The two of them turn on the ovens and grills and get the food and supplies, cups, wrappers, styrofoam containers, and condiments, for the morning shift. They get frozen bacon, frozen pancakes, and frozen cinnamon rolls from the freezer. Plus, they bring out frozen hash browns, frozen biscuits, and frozen McMuffins. Then they get packages of orange juice mix and scrambled egg mix. The restaurant opens at seven and for the next couple of hours Elisa and the manager work alone, taking all the orders. Later, as more customers arrive, so do more employees. Elisa works the counter from breakfast through lunch. She then walks home after standing for seven hours at the cash register. Totally wiped out, her feet hurting, she plops in front of the tv and gets up the next morning at 5:15.
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