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Book Review of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

by Suleman
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           When some people think of fast food, they remember its delicious scent and flavor, and they might not agree that the concepts of “justice” and “equality” are applicable to the comfort food that fast food represents. Fast Food Nation (FFN), written by Eric Schlosser, begs to differ, as it illustrates and criticizes how food is made in America. This paper discusses how the democratic structure affects and is affected by societal ideals and attitudes and socialisation, as well as the improvements (and resistance) surrounding these topics. It also identifies manifestations of liberty, order, freedom and fairness ideals. It further determines the social dilemma that the book grapples with and evaluates Schlosser’s dim view of the impact of fast food on American politics, health, culture, environment and workers. This paper supports the book’s main argument that the collective lens of bigger, faster, and cheaper is not always right, especially in the context of the fast-food industry’s framing of this lens, because it negatively impacts numerous stakeholders.

            Schlosser argues that our cultural values, which focus on bigger, faster, and cheaper production and consumption, have created behemoth fast-food companies that can influence politics. For instance, FFN says that fast food companies earn millions to billions from their local and international branches. Hence, they have the money to support political campaigns. As a result, one form of injustice contributes to another form of injustice. The first form of injustice is the injustice of being big. Big fast food companies have ousted smaller restaurants, in the same way that Wal-Mart has killed mom-and-pop stores. The second form of injustice is political injustice. In 1972, Kroc donated $250,000 to President Nixon’s re-election campaign (Schlosser 37). During this time, the fast-food industry was lobbying for the “McDonald’s Bill,” which would permit employers to pay sixteen and seventeen-year-old workers 20% less than the minimum wage, or $1.28 an hour instead of $1.60 (Schlosser 37). This bill is unjust, because these laws ensure that the government protects business interests over public interests.

In recent years, every cranny and nook of American society has been invaded by the fast food industry. Initially, the quick food industry originated in Southern California with a handful of meek hamburgers and hot dogs and expanded to all parts of the world offering fast food items everywhere consumers are charged. Wide hotels, malls, colleges, high schools, hospitals, primary schools, cruise ships, aeroplanes, hospital cafes, zoos, gas stations, and even Wal-Marts and K-Marts are now doing this type of industry. Eric Schlosser states in his book Fast Food Nation that Americans invest more in fast food than they spend on other items, such as higher education, personal car possession or personal computers (3).

Book Review of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

            Bigger and faster production also relies on technological advancements that cannot bear as much revenues as originally intended without federal government support. FFN argues that the “reverence” for technology not only changed what people eat, but how their food is produced (Schlosser 6). Technology, however, also relies on a dependable transportation system. Fast food companies and agricultural companies lobbied for the federal government to pay for highways that would directly benefit the former. During this time, trolleys were the major transportation system, not cars and buses, and so highways benefited certain companies more than consumers or citizens. The federal government has met with the demands of these capitalists and devoted millions to building highway systems.

            Socialization in America follows the lens of “survival of the fittest” and made the political system a system for the fittest too (Schlosser 37). Ray Kroc used this language when he responded to a reporter’s analysis of the fast-food industry in 1972: “This is not [an industry]. This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog…You’re talking about the American way of the survival of the fittest” (Schlosser 37). The political system follows the same realist ethics in its policymaking. Some examples are the wars that America engaged in, so that it can establish and protect its international political and economic hegemony. The way people relate to fellow human beings has followed this competitive, zero-sum thinking.

            Resistance to the fast-food industry, however, aims to change the system and this resistance commonly hails from concerned activist organizations. Jim Hightower, a farm activist, argued as early as the 1970s that “bigger is not better” (Schlosser 5). Bigger means that large companies are ejecting small mom-and-pop restaurants out of the business. Bigger also means that companies are pulling political strings that make it easier for them to practice unjust labor laws and unsafe food practices. Parents and non-government organizations also question marketing to children and demand healthier food options.

            FFN depicts core concepts of freedom, order, equality and justice. Fast food imposes order through its concept of uniformity. Fast food companies applied assembly line principles to making food. In addition, they favor hiring teenage workers who they can exploit by paying them lower wages and no benefits. Technological progress also saw widespread application in the industrialized kitchen. Small kitchens were designed to “manufacture” standardized food (Schlosser 69). With this kind of system, companies are no longer bothered by the need to retain highly-skilled workers (Schlosser 70). Thus, the fast-food industry changed the social order, because by changing how food is made, it has changed how employees are treated.

            In addition, FFN depicts the loss of freedom after the “industrialization of the kitchen” (6). Since fast food companies have become the biggest employers in the nation, workers will find themselves “float from job to job” (Schlosser 6). They cannot find other jobs, because they have low skills and these fast food jobs do not improve their skills also. In Taco Bell, almost everything is made outside the restaurant and either arrives frozen or dehydrated. This makes the cooking process very simple. A Taco Bell employee says: “Everything’s add water” (Schlosser 69). When jobs require no thinking and skills, employees are left low-skilled and hopelessly tied to their jobs.

            Schlosser stresses the injustice of the fast-food system to workers. The fundamental principle behind the injustice is how workers are viewed. Schlosser applies the term “throughput,” which the business historian Alfred D. Chandler coined (68). Chandler argues that  a high level of throughput is essential to the mass production system and fast food owners applied this principle by combining technology and low wages (Schlosser 68). Thus, employers are seen as mere means of production, in Marxian language, and not as human beings anymore. In addition, Schlosser notes that though the restaurant industry is the nation’s largest employer, it also pays “some of the lowest wages” (6). This is because the fast-food industry is designed to reap high profits by squeezing labor wages too.

            The primary social dilemma in the book is that the fast-food industry has created an American culture that no longer questions its products and systems. Schlosser firmly believes that as long as Americans lay back and eat cheap fast food without knowing how they were made, America will suffer from social injustice. The poor might be getting by, thanks to inexpensive fast food and earning from low-wage work for fast food companies, but these solutions, however, are short-term fixes with long-term consequences. FFN pushes Americans to be critical of the fast food’s industry long-term consequences on their politics, health, culture, environment and treatment of workers.

            FFN also deals with social dilemma and one of the social dilemmas that I want to focus on is marketing to children. FFN describes how Kroc copied Disney’s children marketing strategies. Kroc stresses: “A child who loves our TV commercials and brings her grandparents to a McDonald’s gives us two more customers” (Schlosser 41). I believe that companies should not advertise to children. Gunter,  Oates, and Blades explore the issues that advertisement to children generate. Some of the issues include influencing children who are not yet prepared to understand the intentions and content of advertising (Gunter, Oates, and Blades  9). I believe that young children have not yet reached the intellectual and emotional maturity required to properly analyze and respond to advertisements directed to them. It would be “wrong” to manipulate children to make or influence purchasing decisions, and it is even worse to market unhealthy food to them. I find it unethical and distasteful, in particular, that food marketers use the “nudge factor” or “pester power” to improve sales, where they aim for children to “nag their parents and nag them well” (Schlosser 43).

            This paper proceeds to evaluating the book’s diverse views on different issues. I agree in whole with Schlosser’s dim view of the impact of fast food on our politics, health, and environment. America might tout itself as an economic liberal with a “small government” mindset. In reality, agricultural and fast food industries receive generous government subsidies and also influence employment policies through lobbying (Schlosser 8). This connection between fast food and politics is wrong, because politics would no longer promote the public interest, but focus on the interests of capitalist fast-food owners instead. Furthermore, fast food has truly made many Americans fatter and sicker through its flavorful, but fatty, salty/sweet fast food. Finally, fast food is a huge threat to the environment, because of its high-rate production of non-biodegradable wastes.

            I also partially agree that fast food industry has negatively affected the treatment of workers. On the one hand, fast food companies pay some of the lowest wages in the nation. Fast food work is also monotonous and repetitive. On the other hand, fast food industries offer millions of jobs to the unemployed. This is better than having no job at all. Not all fast-food restaurants also pay low or offer no or low benefits. These restaurants want to differentiate themselves from other companies through their fair labor conditions and regulations.

            I also agree in part with Schlosser’s  stark view of the impact of fast food on our culture. FFN says that fast food has become a “fact of modern life” (7) and so it has become a metaphor for modern American culture. Fast food embodies the cultural frame of America: bigger and faster production and consumption is better, because it makes more money in the short-run. Fast food also stands for the competitiveness and individualism of American culture. I cannot, however, discount the fast-food system’s innovations, which is part of the American culture. For instance, McDonald’s Speedee Service System enabled the working class to “finally afford to feed their kids restaurant food” (Schlosser 20). From the employers’ point of view, this is a great benefit. They work long hours and need to outsource cooking to the restaurant business. Nevertheless, I do agree that this system should not sacrifice the quality of food. If the government can subsidize fatty and sugary fast food, it can also subsidize healthy fast food options, such as salads and other sandwiches. Also, even  Schlosser agrees that the fast-food industry did not come from the rich, but from the lower-class entrepreneurs, such as Kroc and Sanders, who worked hard to become the wealthy pioneers of the fast-food industry. Fast foods, hence, also stand for the great American work ethics and the possibilities of the American dream.

             Fast Food Nation defies business literature that sings praises about fast food companies and their efficiencies. FFN opens the minds and hearts of readers to the grave injustices within the fast-food industry and the injustices that this industry directly and indirectly produces. I agree with Schlosser that the fast-food industry has negatively affected consumers, workers, small businesspeople, politics, and the environment, but I also believe that this industry promotes positive work ethics in terms of creative entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, I admit that Schlosser is right. Business innovations should never overlook the core concepts of justice and fairness. Business innovations should be ethical, social innovations too.

Thesis Statement

Today, the whole industry of delivering fast food is being too routine and totally unusual. Those in America that own these corporations are already taking things for granted, much like waiting in red light traffic or brushing your teeth. As a rectangular, thin, frozen, handheld, and re-heated apple pie, this company is becoming a social tradition in America.

Eric Schlosser’s book ‘Quick Food Country’ is about the rise of America’s fast food business, the ideals that the organisation embodies, and how it has transformed the planet. The American fast food company is proving to be a radical power in the life of the country. The dynamic interplay of global, social and technical powers influences what people consume, Eric Schlosser argues (3). In the early Roman Republic, people used to feed farmers and slaves. More than one-quarter of American adults actually frequent fast food restaurants. Eric Schlosser further argues that not only has the fast food industry transformed the American diet, but also the environment, workforce, infrastructure, and community of the region. And if you consume them twice a day, have not taken them, or want to stop them, the implications of the fast food industry are currently inescapable (4).

The fundamental shifts in culture among Americans play a crucial role in driving the remarkable spread and success of the fast food sector. Jobs in the United States were strong in 1973 and gradually fell in the ensuing twenty-five years (4). The number of women who joined the workforce increased during this period, inspired by the feminist outlook. Only a third of women with small children employed outside their homes in 1975. More than two-thirds of moms of small children are reportedly under-employed. Sociologists Carmen Sirianni and Cameron Lynne Macdonald noted that the increased rate of women entering the workforce has increased the demand of the duties that traditional women used to perform such as cooking, childcare, and cleaning.  Some years ago, a large amount of the money used to buy food was used to prepare family meals at home (4).  Nowadays, more than half of the money spend on food in America is spent at fast food restaurants.

A good example of fast food restaurants in America is the McDonald’s Corporation. In the year 1968, the Corporation operated only a thousand restaurants, but currently McDonald’s Corporation has more than twenty-eight thousand restaurants (49).  Studies show that one out of eight employees in America has at some time worked with the McDonald. The Corporation hires an approximate of 1,000,000 workers annually more than any other public or private organization in America (4). It is the American’s largest purchaser of pork, beef, and potatoes. It is the second biggest purchaser or chicken. The exponential development of the fast food sector presents multiple risks to other autonomous companies in the country, according to Jim Hightower. Many of what he cautioned against, though, has existed. The accelerated advancement of the fast food sector has inspired other businesses to follow similar strategies. The underlying thinking behind the fast food industry is now becoming the supermarket economic operating structure of today, wiping out all small companies and distributing similar fast food stores around the country.

Currently, fast food industry is ubiquitous, and an unavoidable air has been gained as though it were the inevitable (7). The immense buying power of fast food stores and their desire for standardised goods have profoundly encouraged profound improvements in the way people slaughter and grow livestock and process beef production. These reforms also transformed the meatpacking process, which was once a highly paying profession and highly qualified in the most hazardous and unsafe American job done by weak armies of immigrants whose accidents are mostly unrecorded and uncompensated.

In addition, the same meat industry practises that cause employee accidents promote the incorporation of dangerous pathogens into the hamburger meat of the United States, such as E. Coli 0157:H7, a baby diet (8). In comparison, the proposals to prohibit the sale of contaminated meat end in vain owing to the lobbyists of the meat sector as well as their Congressional supporters. Federal governments, though, have the authority to recall a stuffed toy or a broken toaster, but they also lack the power to cause thousands of tonnes of tainted lethal beef to be recalled.

Eric Schlosser indicates that all the socioeconomic consequences now haunting the well-being of the United States are primarily the fault of the fast food industry. In certain instances, such as the sprawling and malling of the West, the fast food sector acts as a symptom and a trigger for broader economic changes. The fast food industry plays a critical role in numerous situations, such as obesity and franchising (9). Eric Schlosser aims to shed light on the activities of key companies and on a distinctive US way of seeing the globe by tracing all the different impacts triggered by fast food businesses.

The elitists have often attacked the flavour of the food toward the industry of fast food and considered this company as the key source of American cultural shifts. The aesthetics of fast food are of less interest to Eric Schlosser as he aims to reflect on the consequences that fast food brings to the life of both staff and customers. Eric Schlosser focuses mainly on the influence of fast food on youth, as they are the primary users of fast food (44). Quick food is heavily marketed to kids and is processed by older people. This industry does not only feed the children, but also feeds them off. Eric Schlosser asserts that the main reason why many people are attracted to buy fast is its good taste, its inexpensiveness and convenience.

In the entire United States, most parents are working hard to ban fast food business in schools (82). The sale of vegetable and fruits from home gardens is deteriorating due to fast food business. Ideally, most college students in the United States dream to be farmers or chefs instead of lawyers and doctors. The fast food network has made cooking as a type of mass entertainment as well as transforming the individuals who cook during celebrity events. The fast food sold by large fast food corporations such as McDonald, Burger King, and KFC are the type of products that the current generation wants to most hence affect other businesses. Even the US National Restaurant Association is now acknowledging this change.

Conclusion

To sum up, every cranny and nook in American society has been invaded by the fast food industry. Millions of people around the world to purchase and consume fast food with the majority not giving the food and the type of business much thought.  Most consumers of fast food rarely consider the source of this food, its manufacturing process, and the side effects the fast food business causes to other businesses. As the saying states, ‘we are what we eat’ consumers should try to consider what lies behind these fast foods and the side effects of the business.

Works Cited
  • Gunter, Barrie, Oates, Caroline, and Mark Blades. “Issues about Television Advertising to Children.” Advertising to Children on TV: Content, Impact, and Regulation. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005.  1-13. Print.
  • Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Harper Perennial, 2001. Print.
  • Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Boston: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. Print.

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