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Fast Food Nation Essay

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Fast Food Nation Essay

"A nation's diet can be more revealing than its art or literature." (p.3) Eric Schlossers book Fast Food Nation is not only an expose of the fast food industry but also shows how the fast food industry has shaped and defined society in America and other nations as the fast food culture spreads globally. He connects the social order of society to the kind of food it eats and the way it eats that food, and relates fast food to other social processes and institutions. His facts are based on years of research and study, and are presented in and easy to follow narrative. Schlosser is so thorough and convincing in his argument, it's impossible to read this book and not feel disenchanted by the unethical practices of fast food companies, shocked at its effect on our society, and empowered to do something about it. Fast Food Nation takes a look at what we don't see behind the fast food business, and questions a high cultural cost verses a low dollar value meal.

There are ethical concerns in about every business, but none seem to be as intense as the ones found in the meatpacking and fast food industry. "In the days when labor unions were strong workers could complain about excessive line speeds and injury rates without fear of getting fired. Today only one third of IBP's workers belong to a union." (p.174) Schlosser clearly describes the plight of these employees, pointing out that the majority of them are undocumented immigrants. They are employed "at will" meaning they can be fired at any time, for any reason. They depend on these jobs to support their families. A clear example of this can be seen here in Iowa. Small towns such as Perry are seeing a tremendous amount of undocumented immigrants, lured by the processing plants in the town. The needs of this industry shape a number of social institutions and also have a direct effect on local communities by bringing in people who require more social services than would otherwise be the norm. It's interesting to note that labor unions were created to give a voice to those who have none. With only one third of employees supported by a union, I wish Schlosser had expanded on why these other employees are not union members.

Schlosser describes the environment of the meat packing plants serving fast food companies in a startling straightforward narrative of his visit through a meat packing plant. He describes a brutal, and sometimes unsanitary environment. The rights of animals are a very broad and complex subject, but Schlosser touches on this as he describes the slaughterhouse floor. He describes animals in various states of disembowelment. Sometimes the animals were dead or stunned; sometimes they were thrashing about wildly in the last throws of death. The slaughter room floor was described as being covered with blood and feces. Employees worked at a furious pace to meet the day's quota. What bothered me most was the fact that this meat is not only prepared for fast food companies but also contracted out to serve our children's schools.

The quality of the meat that is fed to children in school and at the fast food restaurants is, in some cases, horrendous. "The animals used to make about one quarter of the nations ground beef - worn out dairy cattle - are the animals most likely to be diseased and riddled with antibiotic residue." (p.204) Sadly much of it makes its way through the USDA to school cafeterias as part of the National School Lunch Program. Children are not the only age group that eats this tainted food, but they are more greatly harmed by it. E. coli is now the leading pathogen causing kidney failure among children in the US.

The E. coli problem begins in the feedlots. The situation we see for these cattle is disgusting. Cattle are forced to eat out of manure filled pits that are likely to carry E. coli (which can live for 90 days). To add to that, cattle are often fed remains of other animals such as sheep and even other cattle. "A single animal infected with E-coli can contaminate 32,000 pounds of ground beef." (p.204) The obvious answer to this problem is free-range ranching. Unfortunately, the process of free-range or organic farming involves more time and money; both of which the fast food corporations as well as the consumers are not willing to give up. Schlosser drives this point home with an interview and visit to a free-range cattle ranch in Texas. He describes this ranch as "practicing a form of range management inspired by the grazing patterns of elk and buffalo herds, animals who had lived for millennia on this short grass prairie."(p.134)

The fast food industry both feeds and prays off the young. As pioneers in developing marketing strategies to target children, the fast-food chains have even infiltrated the nation's schools through lunchroom franchises and special advertising packages that answer public education's need for funds. "Hoping that nostalgic childhood memories of a brand will lead to a lifetime of purchases, companies now plan "cradle-to-grave" marketing strategies." (p.43) Mc Donald's corporation is a perfect example of child marketing with its Ronald McDonald spokesman and free programs to schools stressing drug free environments. I find this a bit ironic considering that the obesity is only second to smoking as the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Mc Donald's runs the most advertisements aimed at children



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