Fast Food Nation

The first time I had food poisoning was from a hamburger in Cody, Wyoming. It was not pleasant; I ended up hospitalised. I do not know what circumstances contributed to that particular instance. Was it improper washing of a dish; mishandling of the ingredients during preparation; bad meat from the wholesaler; improper packing or slaughtering? From my plate (it was a plate; we ate in a “family-style” restaurant) to the beast that provided the raw material, there is a line of potential mishap. At one time, during the middle part of the 20th century, the instance of mishap was abated by government regulation and the fact that most of the meatpacking industry consisted of well paid, unionised, career meatpackers. This is no longer the case.

I have just finished reading Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: What the All-American Meal is Doing to the World. It is a thoroughly researched account of the history, marketing, employment practices, safety issues (both the food itself and the people working with it), economic ramifications (from the “farm” to the counter), and worldwide reach of the fast food industry.

I’ll not rattle off statistics here; however, it’s enough to say that a particular fast food restaurant’s logo is now more widely recognised worldwide than the Christian cross. Its mascot is more trusted by children than many other given authorities. It is the largest purchaser of beef and potatoes in the United States and one of the largest employers. With this power, it has vast influence over agricultural practice and government policy concerning wages and the environment.

The book is a bizarre and, at times, harrowing account of what goes on behind the facade of happiness promoted by the fast food giants (after reading once chapter in particular, I broke down into tears). This is a truly unpleasant book to read (certainly not for the weak stomached). It is not a tirade against any particular company or industry. If anything, it is somewhat sympathetic to men who were the original pioneers of this phenomenon; they were living out the opportunity of the American Dream. What is does do is trace the results of dreams when compounded with massive amounts of money and the unchecked openness of American society to allow corporate growth (and the self-regulation of these corporations).

I have had food poisoning several times since that first incident in Wyoming; this is to be expected, I’ve travelled all over the world to some fairly dodgy places. However, the dodgy places are not where I’ve been poisoned. Except for one instance, it’s all been in the States. After reading this book, I’ve a better understanding of why that may be.