The Golden Arches of McDonald”s enjoy such ubiquity that the restaurant has earned a familiar nickname, Mickey D”s, an innocuous title more appropriate for an uncle than for a corporate behemoth.
Yesterday evening, crowds of Ann Arborites listened attentively to a reading of “Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,” a brutally honest critique of the massive fast food industry, by its author, Eric Schlosser. The hardcover edition of “Fast Food Nation” leapt onto the New York Times bestsellers list last year and demanded reader response.
Mr. Schlosser reveals what lurks behind the burgers and fries we consume without thought but by impulse. As we drive through unfamiliar landscapes or feel frazzled at the end of a long day, we turn to the Golden Arches to satisfy our immediate hunger for food and for comfort just as Pavlov”s dogs began drooling at the bell”s ring. But our instincts lead us to take for granted what we greedily devour although the meal may be quick, fast, and dirty, what costs do such a meal exact that remain hidden but hold such dire consequences for millions of Americans?
This engrossing and often grotesque account not only grabs the reader”s interest immediately and refuses to let go but also provides crucial evidence for the responsibilities fast food industries have traditionally shirked in favor of their bottom line.
Mr. Schlosser leads the audience through training for McDonald”s employees, where the corporation instructs “we cannot trust people who are nonconformists, we will make [them] conformistsin a hurry.” We tour flavor factories that produce the “french fry” taste, and slaughterhouses where migrant workers receive worse treatment than the cows they kill, and the cows they butcher are often dismembered while still alive. We discover four-year-olds participating in “pajama parties” where kids stay awake late with marketing executives to divulge the toys and foods that would attract them to Mickey D”s.
Schlosser was surprised and pleased by the popularity of “Fast Food Nation,” his first book. “At first, no one wanted to publish the book, it wasn”t obvious there would be a significant readership,” Mr. Schlosser recalled. Once published, the first few readings on his publicity tour were sparsely attended, but by the end, bookstores he visited depleted their inventory to meet the requests of hordes of customers.
The national attention now drawn to the book gives Mr. Schlosser hope that the injustices of the fast food industry may be alleviated, if not corrected within five or 10 years. I asked what a typical student could do to fight the sprawling tentacles of fast food chains. He reasoned that one need “not be purely greedy or just live a life of total monklike abstinence[but] I”m betting where we are right now, there”s a deli and there”s a pizza place, and there”s a sandwich shop that serves food that”s inexpensive and not made by a national chain.”
Schlosser explained that citizens express their opinions with their votes, we can convey our collective disapproval through our stomachs, by refusing to patronize corporations that manipulate us virtually from birth to “covet” what they peddle. I avoid the word “food” when describing the product the chains sell, since so much of the meat used in hamburgers is tainted with salmonella, a bacterium introduced to food through animal fecal matter. When we refer to a Mickey D”s hamburger as shit, we tell more truth than we realize.
These horror stories even apply to the ground beef you find at the local Kroger, and surely, as Mr. Schlosser points out, “even if you don”t but a loved one does consume hamburger, then it affects you.”
Despite the outrage his book inspires, Mr. Schlosser offers reason for optimism, “Sales [at McDonald”s and other fast food chains] were flat in the year 2000 in the United States, and not good in the year 2001. They basically have run out of places to open in this countrymad cow disease in Europe and Japan has really made people think about food differently, and they”re really questioning the system of agriculture and distribution now.”