After our ancient old post When will there be a McDonald’s on Mount Everest? started generating traffic this week (for some reason), we thought of a terrific book: Fast Food Nation.
Eric Schlosser’s bestseller from 2001 remains a landmark piece of investigative journalism. It started to turn public opinion against fast food.
Fast Food Nation
Yes, a quck note—the book was also adapted into a comedy-drama film in 2006. Which we haven’t seen. However, we have read the book! And it’s still fascinating.
So, to the obvious. America is, of course, famous for many things—and fast food is right up there.
Americans love their burgers and fries. Businesses such as McDonald’s built on that national obsession, transforming a handful of restaurants into an international empire raking in hunreds of millions annually.
Think of Ray Kroc. His work in the mid-1950s laid the foundations for household names such as le Big Mac.
Meanwhile we have other brands such as KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Subway, Dunkin’, and Taco Bell.
They present a happy, smiley world of perfection; bright advertising, grinning kids, full bellies.
But the reality about eating this food is a tad different. The industry just as famously contributes to the western obesity epidemic, whilst simultaneously contributing enormously to the climate change crisis.
And then there’s the animal activist stance and the suffering animals have to go through.
Fast Food Nation documents all of the above, but it does so in impressively impartial fashion. Schlosser documents what he comes across—he’s not there to judge.
And what he finds is alarming, bizarre, and always fascinating.
Schlosser interviewed food specialists able to recreate the smell of frying burgers in a lab. Luminaries in the industry making a fortune off frying fries and flipping meat patties.
Also documented are horrifying stories of food poisoning. Two parents who took their son for a burger, only to have to rush him to hospital and watch as he gradually lost his mind whilst screaming in agony.
But this is no muckraking novel. It’s not here to expose corruption.
The first section of the work deals with the history of the industry and how it came to such prominence. The latter half explores the mechanisms of the industry.
It’s about fast facts, told in riveting fashion and to much acclaim—the book was a bestseller and set about an anti-fast food trend.
Documentaries such as Supersize Me (2004) followed the book. The film was a big success and Morgan Spurlock’s fame is due to it.
However, the industry certainly didn’t die off. It adapted—promoting a healthier image and updating stores to be less like kids playgrounds.
Of course, these days you can try to be healthier. There’s an anti-fast food industry booming and you can slake your lust for patties with the likes of the vegan Beyond Burger.
And the likes of McDonald’s, Greggs, and Burger King have followed suit.
So returning to Fast Food Nation as a read, almost two decades after its publication, we find a book that reveals an industry searing with a sense of purpose.
There’s money to be made and the world of fast food isn’t going anywhere yet. Even though it must continue to evolve. Or go the way of Colgate’s beef lasagne.
This week George Monbiot’s controversial documentary Apocalypse Cow aired on Channel 4 in the UK.
It claims mass farming and the meat industry are devastating for the climate crisis.
Monbiot has impressed us with his ability to write a great deal of sense across his various articles for The Guardian. And this documentary certainly infuriated the right-wing press. With predictable results:
"Don't believe misanthrope George Monbiot's anti-meat propaganda" - The Telegraph
Monbiot has also pissed off the farming community, who immediately started actively heckling and booing Monbiot during a post-show discussion.
But the reality is intensive farming is enormously damaging and fuels the climate crisis enormously.
We include news of his show here as a reminder there’s a rising veganism movement. The fast food industry has cashed in on that to earn extra cash.
Yet the bigger issue is very much how this will likely get nasty. As with the tobacco industry, when your precious millions are threatened by whistleblowers then the knives come out.
Fast food wars are on the way, in our opinion. Do you want a coke with that?
We have all these fast food franchises in NZ too, and McDonalds bought the local one – ‘Georgie Pie’, which sold – er – pies. I tend to take anything these franchises say, do or sell with grains of salt (as it were – actually I suspect it comes with grains of Preservative E211, Preservative E212, Flavour Enhancer 621, Antioxicdant E300, etc, or something, but that’s fast food for you). What I find intriguing is the amount people seem to eat of them instead of spending a few minutes making their own food. For instance, I can produce a home-cooked meal with healthy from-scratch ingredients in about the same time as it would take to get to a fast food joint and buy a stack of glutto-burgers or whatever else they sell. (Actually getting people other than me to eat the resulting rice-boil-glop-with-cheese-splatted-on-a-plate is a challenge, but hey…)
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You can’t beat some good old preservatives to get you through the day. Back in my third year of uni, we lived opposite a McDonald’s. All the other guys in the houseshare ate every single meal there. Fun.
But you’re right, it’s so easy to make cheaper and healthier (and tastier) meals even faster. I think it’s ingrained in society now. “Fast food = the fastest!”
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I love your writing on “Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
“. Your post is very much helpful and informative. Keep up the good work and present us your best.