Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fast Food Nation

I had to read this book for my Nutrition class assignment a few years back and I will never look at a lot of food items the same way again. This book talks about not just food itself, it depicts the transformation of entire society together with evolution and transformation of the food market in this country. Eric Schlosser's research really draws you a Big Picture and is quite sociological.

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001) is a book by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser that examines the local and global influence of the United States fast food industry.
First serialized by Rolling Stone in 1999, the book was adapted into a film of the same name, directed by Richard Linklater.

Schlosser opens the book with the ironic delivery of a Domino's Pizza to the top secret military base, Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. He describes various high-tech capabilities of the base and its extensive defensive system, speculating that if the worst were to happen and the entire base were entombed in the mountain, anthropologists of the future would discover random fast food wrappers scattered amongst military hardware.

Both, suggests Schlosser, would give important clues about the nature of American society. America is becoming an obese country and needs to act upon the fast-food chains. The book continues with an account of the evolution of fast food and how it coincided with the advent of the automobile. He explains the transformation from countless independent restaurants into a few uniform franchises. This shift led to a production-line kitchen prototype, standardization, self-service, and a fundamental change in marketing demographics: from teenager to family-oriented.

Regarding the topic of child-targeted marketing, Schlosser explains how the McDonald's Corporation modeled their marketing tactics on The Walt Disney Company, which inspired the creation of advertising icons such as Ronald McDonald and his sidekicks. Marketing executives theorized this shift to market toward children would result not only in attracting children, but their parents and grandparents as well. More importantly, the tactic would instill brand loyalty that would persist through adulthood via nostalgic associations to McDonald's. Schlosser also discuss the tactic's ills: the exploitation of children's naïveté and trusting nature.

In marketing toward children, Schlosser suggests, corporations have infiltrated schools through sponsorship and quid pro quo. He sees that reductions in corporate taxation have come at the expense of school funding, thereby presenting many corporations with the opportunity for sponsorship with those same schools. According to his sources, 80% of the sponsored textbooks contain material that is biased in favor of the sponsors, and 30% of high schools offer fast foods in their cafeterias. Anecdotes are given suggesting that students that disregarded sponsorships could be punished, such as the case with high school student Mike Cameron. He was suspended from school for an incident on "Coke day"; while his fellow students wore red or white T-shirts and posed collectively as the word COKE while aerial photographs were taken, Cameron instead wore Pepsi-blue.

In his examination of the meat packing industry, Schlosser finds that it is now dominated by casual, easily exploited immigrant labor and that levels of injury are among the highest of any occupation in the United States. Schlosser discusses his findings on meat packing companies IBP, Inc. and on Kenny Dobbins. Schlosser also recounts the steps of meat processing and reveals several hazardous practices unknown to many consumers, for example, the practice of rendering dead pigs and horses and chicken manure into cattle feed.

Schlosser notes that practices like these were responsible for the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, aka Mad Cow Disease, p. 202-3), as well as introducing into the food supply harmful bacteria, such as E. coli O157:H7 (ch. 9, What's In The Meat). In the later section of the book, the fast food industry's role in globalization is discussed, linking increased obesity in China and Japan with the arrival of fast food. A summary of the McLibel case is included.

In later editions, Schlosser provided an additional section that included reviews of his book, counters to critics that emerged since its first edition, and then discusses the effect that the threat of BSE had on Federal Government policy towards cattle farming. He concludes that, given the swift, decisive and effective action that took place as a result of this interest and intervention, many of the problems documented in the book are solvable, given enough political will.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fast_Food_Nation

Extract from the book:

What We Eat
OVER THE LAST THREE DECADES, fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society. An industry that began with a handful of modest hot dog and hamburger stands in southern California has spread to every corner of the nation, selling a broad range of foods wherever paying customers may be found. Fast food is now served at restaurants and drive-throughs, at stadiums, airports, zoos, high schools, elementary schools, and universities, on cruise ships, trains, and airplanes, at K-Marts, Wal-Marts, gas stations, and even at hospital cafeterias. In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music - combined.
Pull open the glass door, feel the rush of cool air, walk in, get on line, study the backlit color photographs above the counter, place your order, hand over a few dollars, watch teenagers in uniforms pushing various buttons, and moments later take hold of a plastic tray full of food wrapped in colored paper and cardboard. The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or stopping for a red light. It has become a social custom as American as a small, rectangular, hand-held, frozen, and reheated apple pie.
This is a book about fast food, the values it embodies, and the world it has made. Fast food has proven to be a revolutionary force in American life; I am interested in it both as a commodity and as a metaphor. What people eat (or don’t eat) has always been determined by a complex interplay of social, economic, and technological forces. The early Roman Republic was fed by its citizen-farmers; the Roman Empire, by its slaves. A nation’s diet can be more revealing than its art or literature. On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant. During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture. Fast food and its consequences have become inescapable, regardless of whether you eat it twice a day, try to avoid it, or have never taken a single bite.

E. Schlosser (2000), Fast Food Nation.

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