Bookshop's Reviews > Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
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's review
Jan 06, 2008

it was ok

I could easily give this book a 5 for its well-researched and informative content, its engaging pacing, its excellent mix of dry facts and gossipy tone. I literally couldn't put the book down since I picked it up from my sister's bookshelf.

I started reading with high hopes. I heard so much about the book and how it changes people's perception on fast food. I do not eat a lot of fast food but I enjoy my occasional burgers from Burger King, crave Chicken McNuggets from time to time and adore KFC with heaps of fries, rice and ketchup.

The book begins with the history of McDonalds which encompasses not only the corporate history but also the history of fast food and its supporting industries. So far so good. As I proceed, I find it hard to accept its two major themes: big corporations are the big bad wolf who feast on little people and the king of the pack is McDonalds.

Although the author writes that he doesn't say McDonald and the fast food corporations are the roots of all American problems, he essentially implies so throughout the book. That is not fair. The reason for finger pointing to McDonald and some unknown Carl Jr and Jack in the Box is not apparent in the book. Brand-wise, I wonder how KFC fare in all these debacle although tacobell, owned by the same company, gets an honorary mention. Consumerism-wise, what about those insatiable American appetites?

Another strong message is that the big corporations sell cheap food, by taking advantage of suppliers and their poor, illiterate workers, not from the goodness of their hearts but for humongous profits. Fair enough. But he goes on to argue that the marketing tactics employed, though necessary, are unethical. I am not comfortable with this statement. Since when have we all lost our cognitive power and freedom of choice? When an advertisement says that drinking insecticide is good for us, won't our instinct warn us otherwise? If the kids insist on eating McDonald to collect the latest figurine from Nemo, where are the parents with conscience who will firmly tell them no when a no is warranted?

I have no problem with presenting selected facts to support a theory or argument. But I have problem with authors who do not explore or conveniently neglect the other side of the equation. One particularly disturbing fact-massaging is his argument that fast food restaurants are favourite crime targets and the crimes are mostly inside jobs. On the same page, he mentions that fast food industries have high labour turnover and can afford only to hire people with questionable background. Now, is it chicken first? Or egg?

The author offers obvious solutions in the epilogue. One of the most irritating ones is proposing that free-roaming cattle rearing is the way to go. He conveniently avoids these questions: How can he reconcile the math of vast overhead to maintain the land, huge labour cost (we want our workers to be paid and insured well), and small customer base (transporting meat to all over the country is bad!) with affordable prices? Aren't these organic, grass-fed beef normally sold in chic upscale supermarkets? Is he suggesting no-child policy to curb the population and to make way for those healthy, happy cows?

The book doesn't stop me from anything. Prior to reading, I already know that these fried foods are not good for my health and moderation is key to all my eating activities. I enjoy reading the book but feel misled by its content. The problem with the fast food nation is not the cheap end-product at high social cost but the lack of common sense and excessive gluttony of its consumers.

I remember someone who wrote an email full of expletive because, after reading this book, he felt McDonalds caused his children's addiction to the Happy Meals. Now I understand why he, like countless fans, was so readily bought: the book's theme is David vs. Goliath, its tone straight from tabloids, its information tasty morsels from the dark side of an otherwise wholesome industry. The book provides ammunition for people who prefer to absolve personal responsibilities. In short, this book is served the way people like it, regardless of its content.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 2008 – Finished Reading
January 6, 2008 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-9 of 9) (9 new)

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April Did you seriously just call fast food a "wholesome industry"? Insta-discredit.

message 2: by Bookshop (last edited Jan 25, 2009 11:57AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bookshop No I didn't.

message 3: by Molly (last edited Feb 18, 2009 06:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Molly You make some valid points, but I think some of your criticisms miss the mark. He leaves out other fast food chains because his focus is on beef (hence, no KFC). McDonalds is the largest fast food chain, the nation’s largest purchaser of beef and also the oldest of the major fast food players. I think he chose to focus on McDonalds in this book because it is representative of the entire industry.
Also I think you may be missing the point behind his suggestion that we should change our agricultural practices and raise cattle in a healthier, more humane way. One important tenet of this idea is that people should be eating a lot less beef. We eat vast amounts more beef than Americans did a generation ago, which is neither healthy nor sustainable. Furthermore, grain-fed beef is enormously inefficient: annually, 157 million metric tons of cereal and vegetable protein is used to produce 28 metric tons of animal protein ( Beef is cheap now because the actual cost of production is so heavily subsidized by the government. The economic playing field is not level: grain is enormously subsidized (with our tax dollars); health and labor laws are not enforced, nor are they as strong as in most other industries thanks to the efforts of lobbyists on behalf of the beef industry; and the devastating environmental impact of factory farming is not paid for by the producers. These things should all be written into the cost of producing beef. If they were, grass-fed beef would be able to compete on a level playing field.
I agree that consumers have to take responsibility for their own choices and certainly no one is forcing anyone to eat McDonalds hamburgers, but this is tied to a lot of other issues (urban poverty and the lack of affordable, nutritious food in inner cities; public health and nutrition awareness; education; etc.) and I think there's plenty of blame to go around. Whatever blame you choose to assign to adults, I think most people would agree that targeting children in fast food ads is not much better than the Joe Camel cartoon show. It exploits those most susceptible to influence and least able to make informed decisions.

Bookshop Hi Molly, thanks for reading my review.

Greg No, reading that there is insecticide in our water won't make people stop drinking it. It happens all the time. Also, millions of people buy bottles of tap water everday for about 1000 times the cost of actual tap water. Why? Advertising. What is the number one selling drug in America? Lipitor. Why? Advertising. What is the best selling (and worst tasting) beer in America? Bud Light. Why? Advertising. I think you greatly underestimate just how effective advertising is in this country.

Bookshop Greg wrote: "No, reading that there is insecticide in our water won't make people stop drinking it. It happens all the time. Also, millions of people buy bottles of tap water everday for about 1000 times the co..."

My reply to that are two words: personal responsibility.

Greg How's that working out so far? Not too well, from the looks of this nation's obesity rates. Sadly,some people do not have the education or access to information that would help them make better decisions. First and foremost, that would be children. The "Happy Meal" is no accident, and I don't know many six year olds who know about this personal responsibility you think is so easy. It would perhaps be simple if their parents took responsibility for their health, but that's not happening, and someone needs to step in and help. I applaud Eric Schlosser for doing that.

message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Maroon I weary of reading inaccurate information and assumptions on grass fed beef in blog posts and reviews like this one. It can be done efficiently and humanely, and since all beef cattle spend a good deal of their lives on pasture already, it could not only done on the pasture used already, but you could actually raise MORE beef on currently used pasturage, if it is done correctly. Eco-ag CAN feed the world, and do it better more humanely, and more sustainably than factory farm CAFOs.

Ryan Williams Your main complaint would seem to be that an exhaustively researched and fact checked book presented facts you didn't happen to like.

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