The story of the fast food industry and its effect on the world is well told in the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Schlosser makes the claim that, what started out as a special treat for the kids eventually ended up defining a way of life. During a brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped transform not only the American diet, but also our countryside, economy, workforce, and popular culture. The book thoroughly describes how important the two factors of money and power are in today's society. The book clearly establishes the broader thesis that as consumers, we should know what we eat even if it makes us uncomfortable by the knowledge.
On any given day in the United States about one quarter of the adult population dines at a fast food restaurant. The whole experience of buying fast food in America has become routine and taken for granted. Fast food has become without a doubt, an impulse buy for customers. Consumers don't plan on stopping at a fast food restaurant until they see the familiar sign of the golden arches. The thought never crosses their mind of what they are actually eating. Fast food is fast, convenient, relatively cheap, and tastes good. The key to franchises and chain stores is uniformity. Schlosser writes that "customers are drawn to familiar brands by an instinct to avoid the unknown." (p.5)
McDonald's is now responsible for a large proportion of the countries new jobs. Fast food employees are deceived by the business just as much as the people who consume fast food. One out of every eight workers in the United States has by some point in time been employed by McDonald's alone. (p.4) With the increased intake of fast food, has come the increased intake of profit for franchise owners. This in turn allows them to hire more employees and add to the work force. A typical fast food employee is an adolescent who is under the age of twenty. He or she will lack full time employment, receive no benefits, learn few job skills, and float from job to job on a regular basis. The typical fast food worker quits or is fired every three to four months. Schlosser tells the story of an adolescent Taco Bell employee who regularly worked seventy to eighty hours a week but was only paid for forty. The restaurants manager manipulated the employer's time card in order to receive a productivity bonus. Stemming from robbery attempts, in one year more restaurant workers were murdered in the United States than police officers. McDonald's is one of the most anti-union companies in the world. Currently, not even one of its 15,000 restaurants is represented by a union. (p.78)
The fast food chains enormous purchasing power has altered the way in how cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed. These changes have made meatpacking into the most dangerous job in the United States, performed by poor deprived immigrants whose injuries often go unreported and uncompensated. The lack of federal and state power regarding worker safety protection and meat inspection has been very troublesome. A high turnover rate in the meatpacking industry helps maintain a workforce that is hard to unionize and easy to control. The industry is driven by low pay and horrendous working conditions. Many meatpackers use methamphetamine to feel charged and self-confident to confront their daily jobs.
Regarding dangers to consumers, Schlosser puts his focus on E. coli and salmonella infection. The problems of meat contamination stems from the problems of what cattle are fed, overcrowded feedlots, poor sanitation at slaughterhouses, extreme line speeds, poorly trained workers, and the lack of government oversight. Every day in the United States approximately 200,000 people are sickened by a food born disease, 900 are hospitalized, and 14 die. (p.95) A single fast food hamburger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of cattle. Mad cow disease could become an even more serious issue as time progresses. It could be a small...
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