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Book: Fast Food Nation

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(originally posted January 27, 2004)
In my post on Jennifer Government, I started off by saying "I seem to have a habit when I read books of reading two books in a row that are very similar in their themes." Well, I guess I can revise that to three books in a row in this case, and it's not a pleasant similarity.

I'm only two chapters into the book, but I stumbled upon an unpleasantness that makes Barry's Jennifer Government vision for the future seem all too real. In Barry's book, all schools are run by corporations like McDonald's or Pepsi, and the syllabus is entirely centered around preaching the values that the sponsor has to offer. Sounds pretty far-fetched, at least several orders of magnitude beyond the soda machine that my high school had. How wrong I was about the current state of the US educational system.

Fast Food Nation offers these examples of corporations using high school as advertising banners:
- A student was suspended for wearing a Pepsi shirt during "Coke in Education Day" at the school
- An agreement was made to open a Pepsi GeneratioNext Resource Center at an elementary school in Derby, Kansas
- Thousands of schools use corporated-sponsored teaching texts. Proctor & Gamble's Decision Earth teaches that clear cutting is good for the environment. Exxon's teaching materials inform kids that fossil fuels have caused few environmental problems and that alternate fuel sources are too expensive. The American Coal Foundation suggests that carbon dioxide might actually help, rather than hurt the planet.
- Fast food chains advertise on Channel One, which is broadcasted to eight million students daily.

Who knows what other sadly depressing insights this book will have in store for me...

Update: further along in the book now. Kenny with the herniated back sounds an awful lot like Boxer from Animal Farm, except for the part about the glue.

Update 2/14/04: done now. Learned a lot more disgusting facts. I wrote a brief review of the book in the full entry.

Update 2/14/04: don't know if this is real, but this seems like a appropriate reading to accompany Fast Food Nation. According to the site, which is claimed to be run by the guy who tested the American mad cow, the USDA has effectively stopped testing for Mad Cow in order to prevent the appearance of an epidemic. Just as disturbing is the assertion, which also appears in this MSNBC story, that the cow was not a 'downer' cow. This is important, as it is policy only to test downer cows for mad cow disease. The cow in question happened to arrive with a bunch of other downer cows, and the handler was impatient and killed it with the rest of the downers.

The book is broken into two halves: one that focuses on the fast food companies, and the other that focuses on the food suppliers. The section on the fast food companies focuses a lot on McDonald's, which is understandable given McDonald's brand awareness: ranks first worldwide, Coca-Cola is second; Ronald McDonald (invented by Willard Scott) is second only to Santa Claus in recognizability for fictional characters among children. If there was anything good said about McDonald's, I missed it. From its labor practices to its food, it pretty much sucks.

In-n-Out gets a brief mention, mostly to say that they do it right: they treat their employees extremely well (complete opposite of rest of industry), have low turnover, and purchase better quality food. Jack-n-the-Box and Taco Bell both get dishonorable mentions for public cases of food contamination, though Jack-n-the-Box looks good in the end for its efforts to actually try and eliminate contamination and try to force greater accountability on their suppliers.

When Schlosser turns his spotlight on the food suppliers, he channels the spirit of The Jungle and hones in on the meat industry in particular. Some sad facts about the meat industry include the fact that it still resists testing for bacterial infection of its product, and unlike other industries the US government cannot force a recall of meat products that are known to be contaminated. The meat industry also falsifies its records and creates dangerous work situations that lead to frequent workplace injuries/death. On top of all of this, throw in the fact that sick or already dead cows are sent to the slaughterhouse, and you may want to become of vegetarian.

One major theme throughout the book is that many of the problems can be fixed without the industries imploding under the increased costs. However, another theme is that the industries are also have effective lobbyists and they also resist change imposed externally.

It's a shame that this book came out during a Republican presidency. It's well-written, convincing, and could effect positive change. As the book points out, though, previous Republican presidents have regularly dismantled the oversight of the meat industry, relying on self-reporting techniques despite a history of falsifications, and trend has only increased with this Republican president. Even with the recent mad cow news, it doesn't seem like there is any movement towards actual product safety testing in the meat industry, despite the small incremental cost, and despite the fact that European nations have implemented far more comprehensive testing than we have. I even recall tha tthe meat industry was asserting that its cattle were safe because the sick cow had come from Canada, as if this is anyway made our beef any cleaner.

I still won't give up meat, but my commitment to In-n-Out over all other fast food restaurants is reaffirmed :).

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» Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser from Stacy Austin | Weblog
I just finished reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It was a fast, extremely interesting read. I really enjoyed it. Yet, I am a year behind, right? (Other reviews: here, here, and here) When I saw this book at... [Read More]

» Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser from Stacy Austin | Weblog
I just finished reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. It was a fast, extremely interesting read. I really enjoyed it. Yet, I am a year behind, right? (Other reviews: here, here, and here) When I saw this book at... [Read More]

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