Fast Food Nation is a palatable and informative read with a heavy dose of historical contextualization on the side. This grease-laden social commentary is broken into two major sections: the first deals with the development of the fast food culture as part of American culture and the second explores what is behind the burger stand through an evaluation of the factory farms and meat processing plants that supply fast food ingredients to the thousands of franchises across the globe. I felt that the first section was a little too heavy on the historical digressions with some unnecessary references to Disney and Kroc as odd bedfellows in business whereas the second half was a little more enlightening because in this section it is apparent that Schlosser’s research is based on field work where he has actually visited the potato farm, the Simplot fry packaging plant, the ConAgra Greely Meat processing plant, and of course the “scent” factory laboratories in New Jersey.
Throughout my reading I found my blood boiling as I learned about the Catch-22 governmental systems that have promoted the business development of our fast food culture. Fast Food nation is full of sour tasting facts such as the existence of tax breaks for on the job learning programs that don’t really exist because of the high turnover of low skilled low paying jobs. I was blown away by the details regarding the dangers of working in a meat packing plant where 1/3 of workers are injured each year but fail to get adequate medical coverage because workers aren’t guaranteed medical insurance until they have worked for 12 months. And it is utterly frustrating to learn how ineffective the FDA and USDA are in preventing contamination because they lack the authority to force recalls of distributed meats. The fast food and packaged food industries have even lobbied to create specific libel laws that make it illegal for you or I to say that a specific type of meat product is rancid or unhealthy.
Despite the layers of interesting facts, Fast Food Nation doesn’t compare to Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. I read Pollan’s book several years ago and instantly began proselytizing his mission to eat good food that is grown the old fashioned way and began passing the book around to a few friends because I felt it was a good read with a well-rounded thought proving argument worth sharing. I am less enthusiastic after reading Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation precisely because it lacks the well rounded aspect of multiple perspectives that is present in Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. In reading Schlosser’s work I always felt that I was reading from a certain perspective that was intended to convince me of the book’s subtitle “The Dark Side of the All-American Meal.” I don’t feel that there was enough personal stories incorporated within his research to make this a classic book. True, there was plenty of interviews with franchise owners, meat packing workers, ranchers, and so on, however each interview was brief in detail and sometimes some of the personal asides would only be a brief paragraph amidst a 10-15 pages of fact downloading. Furthermore, as I indicated above in the references to Disney, Schlosser tries to make some big leaps regarding the interconnectedness of fast food culture with main stream culture and he really lost me when he tried to connect the presence of McDonald’s in the East German city of Plauen as an example of consumer capitalism triumphing over communist socialism. The example was far too overreaching and I would have much rather have welcomed an in depth evaluation of the health care costs associated with fast food rather than a pop culture theory of mainstream culture.