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Fat for Life

Monique Mikhail
Date Published: 
July 14, 2002

Fast Food Nation
By Eric Schlosser
Houghfton Mifflin Company, 2001

In the past few months, the safety of every aspect of our lives has been subject to scrutiny. Our food supply is no exception. With obesity on the rise in the U.S. and abroad, the daily bankruptcy of family farmers globally, and the concentration of power over our food supply to fewer and fewer agribusiness giants, one cliche has begun to ring true: you are what you eat.

In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser gives an in-depth review of fast food in the United States from its inception to the present, spreading light on many of the issues it has spawned.

Fast food was born in southern California during the population boom in the early 1900’s, largely revolving around the new mechanism for transportation: cars. This led to the creation of the first McDonald’s, borrowing the assembly line idea and applying it to the restaurant business for the first time. Entrepreneurs from across the country visited the store, building imitation restaurants all over the States.

Today’s children, the most lucrative customers, are being heavily targeted by the fast food industry. People’s eating habits are formed young – a child’s loyalty secures a customer for life. Television and Internet advertising, marketing deals with Disney and toy manufacturers, playgrounds, and cartoon mascots are all mechanisms the industry has used to hook the young.

The fast food revolution has also changed the face of employment in the U.S. To minimize costs, fast food chains rely on the minimum-wage unskilled labor of teenagers and immigrants. Job security, union participation, and healthcare are antiquated luxuries unavailable to much of the American workforce.

Dangerous jobs and food

The changes to agriculture wrought by fast food have turned meatpacking into one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. The cause of injuries is slaughterlines that operate at ever-increasing speeds. This, combined with increasing limits on the authority of USDA inspectors, causes more bacteria-infested meat to reach consumers. Now the industry has proposed using irradiation to zap the meat at the end of the line. However, irradiation only covers up the problem, allowing them to sell dirty meat with less liability.

Fast food companies such as McDonalds have come to typify globalization with the concentrated power of multinationals dictating entire systems of agriculture and changing cultural eating habits. The taste for fat has created an obesity crisis here in the United States, with more than half of adults and a quarter of children obese or seriously overweight.

People are starting to speak out against these fast food giants and the byproducts of unhealthy food, workforce exploitation, and factory farm pollution that follows in the wake of their search for ever-increasing profits.

Every month, more than 90 percent of children in the United States eat at McDonald’s. We need to remove our reliance upon this unhealthy and unsustainable way of life. Schlosser places responsibility on each person to weigh the choice of every consumer dollar and opt out of the Fast Food Nation.