Quicklet on Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation

by Chandni Rathod

What's in the book?

Quicklets: Your reading sidekick!

    • About the Book
    • Introducing the Author
    • Overall Summary
    • Chapter-by-Chapter Summary and Commentary
    • List of Important People
    • Notable Terms and Definitions
    • Interesting Related Facts
    • Sources
    • Additional Reading

Description

ABOUT THE BOOK

“Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely consider where this food came from, how it was made, what it is doing to the community around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap the paper, and dig in. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten. I've written this book out of a belief that people should know what lies behind the shiny, happy surface of every fast food transaction. They should know what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns.”

Published in 2001, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal explores the dark underbelly of fast food production in the United States. An award-winning journalist and contributor to Atlantic Monthly, Schlosser developed the book from a  series of articles for Rolling Stone magazine. Rolling Stone asked Schlosser to find out where fast food came from. As someone who enjoyed indulging in fries and hamburgers, Schlosser was initially reluctant to take on the assignment.

As he began to research the history and formation of the fast food industry, he became increasingly curious about how the industry gained power and influence on America’s agricultural landscape and food culture. With over 50 pages of research notes included at the end of the book, the author defends his points with thorough analysis from various legal investigations, interviews, and journal articles.  Schlosser artfully weaves sarcasm with gritty investigative journalism to demonstrate how corporations and greed have corrupted the food system in America.

Schlosser’s book was a New York Times bestseller for over two years and has  sold over 1.4 million print copies. In 2006, Fast Food Nation became a fictionalized film directed by Richard Linklater, which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival.

However, the book and film were not met without criticism from trade industry producers of beef, potatoes, and restaurant chains like McDonald's. The Wall Street Journal  reported in 2006 that various organizations were trying to create campaigns against Schlosser’s allegations in the book that fast food consumption contributes to obesity and fostered corruption in the nation’s agricultural system.

EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK

The author playfully muses that, should America be attacked in the future, Cheyenne Mountain may be the only place with artifacts of our civilization – “Burger King wrappers, hardened crusts of Cheesy Bread, Barbeque Wings bones, and the red, white, and blue of a Domino’s pizza box.”

What started as a small food stand in southern California has now spread all over the nation. Schlosser says fast food “has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American society.”

Shockingly, Americans spend more today on fast food than higher education, computers, or new cars. Schlosser estimates, “On any given day in the United States  about one-quarter of the country’s adult population visits a fast food restaurant.”

The author argues that the powerful rise of fast food industry happened quickly and “not only transformed the American diet, but also out landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture.”

Importantly, Schlosser draws parallels between Cheyenne Mountain and today’s fast food industry. Both “conceal remarkable technological advances behind an ordinary-looking facade.” Colorado Springs was chosen as a focal point for book because the changes in this city reflect those of the fast food industry. Schlosser says the city’s population has more than doubled in the last few decades and “the Rocky Mountain region as a whole has the fastest-growing economy in the United States, mixing high-tech and service industries in a way that may define America’s workforce to come.”

Schlosser admits that during the writing process of this book, he ate a lot of fast food and that he does not look down on it in an “elitist” or “aesthetic” way.  His greater concern is the way fast food is marketed to children and is prepared by people that are only a few years older.

He feels consumers are attracted to fast food for three simple reasons:

  • it tastes good
  • it is inexpensive
  • it is convenient

Chapter 1: Founding Fathers

“What had begun as a series of small, regional businesses became a fast food industry, a major component of the American economy.”

This chapter describes the rise of today’s largest fast food restaurants. He begins with Carl N. Karcher, whose modest beginning on a farm in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, led to the birth of fast food. Karcher was born in 1917 and dropped out of school in the eighth grade to work full time on his father’s farm.

Eventually, he was offered a job by one of his uncles in Anaheim, California. Karcher worked at his uncle’s Feed and Seed Store selling goods to local farmers and also took a job delivering bread for bakery. He was amazed by the number of local hot dog stands popping up everywhere. When he heard one was for sale nearby, he decided to buy it. At the same time, Los Angeles was growing rapidly and cars were becoming the main form of transportation. Car culture led to the world’s first motel, drive-in bank and curb-side service restaurant.

By 1944, Karcher owned four hot dog carts in Los Angeles. When a restaurant went up for sale across from his wife’s family farm, he decided to buy it, becoming the first Carl’s Jr. restaurant in 1956. Initially, the restaurant was a drive-in barbecue place, but when Karcher learned of a restaurant using a self-service system, which did not require expensive skilled and short order cooks, he converted his restaurant too.  

The McDonald’s self-service system was devised by Richard and Maurice McDonald, two brothers who moved to California from New Hampshire during the depression for a better life. They also created the memorable and most famous corporate logos in the world: the letter ‘M’ in golden arches.

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