Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser is a non-fiction tome which goes into a variety of aspects about how our modern fast food is created and marketed.
This is definitely not a light read. It is nearly 400 pages of dense material, with a block of that being references and further reading. It goes into a variety of aspects about the fast food we eat - from the cattle slaughter houses to the way potatoes are grown to how marketing convinces us to buy more.
Fast Food Nation also investigates what our modern world is like. Nearly a quarter of all adults are eating fast food on a given day. Kids watch 30,000 commercials each year. Teen boys tripled their soda intake from 1978 to 1999. A fifth of all kids aged 1-2 are drinking soda already. Something is clearly wrong here.
There are times where Schlosser comes down a bit heavily on the side of "this is all evil". I do agree for example that teens should put energy into schoolwork. At the same time, I think it's a GOOD thing that teens build work experience in an atmosphere that doesn't make high demands on them. Most teens do in fact need "starter jobs" where they are trained on the very basics about how to act in a workplace and how to read instructions. I know many teens who worked at McDonalds (or other similar stores), got a great launch, and went on to great careers.
It wasn't that long ago that all kids worked from the moment they were capable of working. Building that sense of responsibility was critical for their becoming a mature adult. I think restaurants provide a great stepping stone for young adults to build those skills.
Fast Food Nation gives us insight into the mindset of the successful restaurant owners. Much of it comes down to working through failure. Where others might give up, and resign themselves to failure, those who succeed keep going. They know that failures are part of life and that we learn from them. This is a lesson all of us can draw from.
Schlosser hammers on the "food isn't perfectly clean in fast food restaurants" - but it's misleading to think that this is somehow different from other places. I worked with quality control people for many years at biotechs and many of them had worked with food inspection groups. None of them would eat out anywhere :). They had seen in nearly every restaurant they visited a variety of issues. And really, when you think about it, most homes are far from sterile too. Most home cooks think they're "OK" and don't realize the wealth of bacterial and other issues they cause through less-than-perfect techniques. They leave out food too long before refrigerating it. They don't cook it properly. They use less than sterile cooking equipment. So this isn't just about fast food. It's simply about our modern world.
And one could also say, are we being realistic in expecting every single thing to be sterile? So many studies now show that if anything our desire to sterilize everything is causing our kids to be more susceptible to a variety of illnesses. They aren't building up their tolerances to normal germs while they grow up. We are trying to raise them in a plastic bubble and as a result the bodies become weak. So there is always a balance.
So there's some interesting information in here. Certainly people working in slaughterhouses should have safe work environments. Surely cows and chickens should be raised in humane conditions. On the other hand, we DO have cage-free chicken eggs in our stores - and most people walk right past them because they aren't willing to pay the extra money. When I pick up my case, there are swarms of people around me reaching for the cheaper options. So people vote with their wallet. They know about the options. They would rather spend money on a cool latte drink or their cable bill than to care about the food they ingest. That's not the manufacturers' faults. It's our own faults.
So yes, workplaces should be safe. The food we eat should be tested and safe. And at the same time, we consumers need to take responsibility for what we buy. Every time we spend money, we are making a decision about the kind of world we wish to inhabit.
Buy Fast Food Nation from Amazon.com