Critical Analysis of “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser
Meta-thesis and its Development/Evidence
The overall thesis of the book is to expand hidden information about the creation of food and planning in America. Schlosser argues that the consumerism and corporate greed have turned the America’s personality into a blunt vacancy in watching the admissions of the food that make this country.
Talking to the McDonald’s executive and the starter of the fast food industry, Carl N. Karcher, “My whole philosophy is–never give up…watch the pennies and dollars will take care of themselves…Life is beautiful…This is how I feel about every day of my life”. When he said this quote, he was millions of dollars in debt, but still thought life was amazing. This was the beginning, when there was no corporate greed. Schlosser included this quote because he wanted to show that the big corporations and executives weren’t always corrupt.
The beginning of corporate greed began with a business man that made McDonald’s the most successful franchise globally: Ray A. Kroc. Kroc helped join Disney land (which was not well known at the time) with McDonald’s to help get both corporations more money. When more fast food restaurants came up, McDonalds became less popular; There was cheaper and better places to eat. To get more business they targeted kids, thinking they were the easiest minds to fool. Thus began the exploitation of kids from fast food executives.
“These jobs are for the less wealthy, young adults, and the elderly.” This excerpt from the book helps Schlosser’s argument about the conditions and pay of working under money-hungry executives. Because of the conditions of these employees, the managers can take advantage of them by lowering their pay and making them work overtime. The bad conditions sparked labor laws such as “people under the age of 18 can’t work over 8 hours a day.” To get around these laws, managers would make their employees clock out, then work two extra hour to help clean up. Working at a fast food restaurant used to be very “high class”, But because of the amount of robberies, injuries, and hours teens had to work, it became “the bottom of the heap”. Kids that worked at fast food restaurants began dropping out of school and seemed more depressed.
Dave Feamster, the manager of little caesars, gave days off to employees and took them to “success festivals” because he wanted his employees to see that there was more out there then just working for a pizza joint. Feamster began the trend to give employees breaks and that the workplace is fun. He shows a counterargument that not all managers/executives are greedy and disregard the employee’s needs.
Technology began to grow and canned and frozen foods became more popular. When the frozen fry was invented, it was sold to so many restaurants to cut the time of making them, so the businesses could profit more and cut down on time. “Today people on average eat about 49 pounds of potatoes each year.” another fact is “90% of money spent on food is processed food.” The reason the author include these facts was to show how much people depended on processed food, as well as to make people more aware. When McDonald made its first french fries, they consisted of 7 percent cotton seed oil, and 93 percent beef tallow. When the public found out they were disgusted, so they used vegetable oil and “natural flavors” instead. People seemed to not mind not knowing what was the “natural flavors.” Although most people believe natural flavoring is healthier than artificial flavoring, it is actually very similar. “Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods.”“…Before placing the stripes under my nose, I closed my eyes…Grainger’s most remarkable creation took me by surprise…I suddenly smelled a grilled hamburger…When I opened my eyes, there was just a narrow strip of paper and a smiling flavorist.” This narrative helps reveal that just because it says “peach yogurt” doesn’t mean it necessarily has peach in it. It shows us how shifty the American Flavor Industry can be. Schlosser is helping the audience understand what they eat when they buy something like a hamburger. That what they smell is just chemical flavoring, rather than natural.
“In America, Independent cattlemen have become an endangered species.” This quote is referring to how the big corporations had unfair ways to drive cattle prices down: shared livestock information, colluded to divide up markets, secret fixed prices. The beef trust is a corp alliance of the top four corporations: ConAgra, IBP, Excel, and National Beef. These four corporations slaughter 84 percent of the nation’s cattle.
Because these four corporations battle against all the independent ranchers, most go out of business. Suicide rates of ranchers and farmers in the US is three times greater than the national average. A good example to prove this fact is Hank. Schlosser mentions a rancher he met named hank. When he first met him this is how he described him, “…He was a prominent local rancher…Hank was forty-two years old and handsome enough to be a Hollywood cowboy…he was too smart to fit any stereotype. He had strong opinions, but didn’t take himself too seriously…He was not wealthy…in his views, good ranchers did far less damage to the land than city-dwellers…And I thought: “This guy’s going to be governor someday.”” A year later he died. He took his own life because of the monopoly power in the meatpacking industry. Because of the forces of bankrupting independent ranchers. By the tax laws that favor ranchers. The wealthy corporate leaders are corrupt and push all the good hearted independent ranchers away.When the author begins his journey through the slaughter house, it seems similar to what you would see at a supermarket. But as he looks deeper into the house he is surprised at the conditions: workers standing inches from each other with long electric knives, slicing hunks of meat, standing in blood pools – inches deep. The conveyor belts (especially at IBP plant) moves so fast that the workers slice about 400 cattle in one hour. Because the belt is so fast, the workers are prone to more injuries. “Meatpacking is to be the most dangerous job in the US. One out of three meatpackers get injured every year – out of 43,000 workers.” This is because the speed of the belt, the hours worked, and the space between workers. All because those executives want to maximize their profits. “If a worker is injured, the supervisor will make them a deal. If workers agree to not report injuries, the supervisor will shift them to an easier job. If they disagree, they are given one of the more difficult jobs and deducted pay.” Because the corporation is self-insured, they don’t want to pay for injuries, they “blackmail” them, in a way, with work hours. Most of the workers are Hispanic, and don’t speak English (or read) so they are easy to take advantage of. The supervisors take short cuts around labor laws and make the workers deal with the injuries.
Author’s Credibility and Bias(es)
Looking at the back of Fast food nation, Eric Schlosser has been writing for the Atlantic Monthly and has received numerous journalistic honors: including a National Magazine Award for an article in Atlantic Monthly about marijuana (taken from back cover of book). Fast Food Nation is his first book, so he still fairly new to writing novels, yet he cited everything properly and left a section in the back of the book for citations and photo credits.
Why Should We Trust What He Says?
Throughout the book Schlosser visits different places (farms, slaughterhouses, homes, restaurants, etc.) and takes his stories from not only what he sees, but also the stories of people in the middle of these situations. Employees, managers, executives, tasters, etc. He properly cites them and doesn’t “hide” the truth. He states the truth whether or not it is gross/bad. He has bias, everyone does, yet he keeps it hidden. For example, when he talks about Hank, he says he is so smart and that he could run a town someday. But it all gets ruined by large corporates. The papers didn’t say that Hank died because of large corporations, that was the authors thought/opinion. He tries to keep his biases very hidden though.
According to prwatch.org, Schlosser said, “Once I realized how powerful the industry had become and how different it was in reality from the images it was marketing–that’s when I became intrigued. Whenever there’s something that I think deliberately is being kept from people or deceptive that’s when I become curious. His response showed how curiosity inspired him to write this book, as well as power that the corporations held.
Understanding and Connections
After reading the first couple chapters of this book, I was a little disappointed that it was mostly history of fast food rather than the dangerous of the big fast food corporations and to enlighten the audience about how fast food is created. Although I was disappointed, it was still very informational. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to learn about history and how things came to be (especially in the food industry). This book has made me want to not eat at fast food restaurants anymore or eat any beef at all. The horrors that occur in the slaughterhouses have shaped my mind negatively. I don’t really eat beef anyway, but now I am completely disgusted by the thought of it.
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