(Schlosser, 2002, p.197)
I just finished reading ‘Fast Food Nation’ by Eric Schlosser. I am pretty sure that I will never eat at a fast food establishment again, and if I do, I sure as heck won’t enjoy it. And that’s a strong statement coming from me, who was fine eating at McDonald’s after she worked there. After reading the book, I’m not concerned about the restaurants themselves – as I said, I worked in one, their cleanliness doesn’t bother me – and neither does what goes on your burger.
It’s what goes on behind the scenes.
It’s the industry that advertises to our children – hoping to create brand loyalty by as early as age 2. The industry that pairs with governments and school systems to advertise to our children in their schools and promote a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
It’s the entire fast-food industry that relies on transient, minimum wage workers to work at its counters and in its kitchens. The industry that strives to keep their workers part-time so that they needn’t pay benefits. That exploits teens and fires workers who are involved in union-organizing activities.
It’s the industry that puts chemicals in our food to make them taste. The industry that, without changing the look or (un)nutrition of its food, could make it taste just as easily of fresh-cut grass as it does like a french fry or a hamburger. The industry in which it costs 1/2 of a penny to flavour a can of coke for which we pay at least $1.00 (+ tax).
It’s the industry that has led progressively to the ‘agribusiness’ world in which we live. The world where the independent potato farmer and rancher can no longer support his family on the land that has been inherited down through the generations. The average poultry-house owner who gives up after only 3 years, having invested hundreds of thousands.
It’s the industry that drives into Mexico to recruit men and women to work at its meat packing plants and slaughterhouses, then pays them less than minimum wage and doesn’t give them health benefits – and yet asks them to work long shifts in cramped spaces, wielding large knives and cutting up raw cow halves. The corporations that seek out the states that have no workers compensation or workplace safety boards. The companies that ask their cleaning staff to spray scalding hot water and bleach throughout the plant at night – without proper safety equipment or supervision. The industry that gave Kenny Dobbins two herniated discs, two chlorine-burned lungs, a shattered ankle, and a heart attack. They also gave him a pink-slip while he recovered. “They used me to the point where I had no body parts left to give,” he is quoted as saying (Schlosser, 2002).
It’s the industry that has killed thousands of children because of poorly regulated health standards with its meat and its high levels of E. coli O157:H7 – one of the most potentially lethal and virulent pathogens known to man. It killed one boy, Alex, in roughly 5 days – after eating one hamburger. And how does E. coli get into the meat? Fecal contamination. Hence the title of the post. And it’s hard to kill – there are no antibiotics which are effective against it.
What are Schlosser’s recommendations after all this disturbing information?
1. Ask our governments to ban the advertising of unhealthy foods to children under 8 – this would help discourage bad eating habits and encourage fast food chains to change their kids meals (reducing carbs and fats).
2. Lobby to fast food restaurants about the nutrition in their food, where they get it from, and what you would like them to do about it – since the fast food chains are the largest purchasers of beef, they have the ability to change what happens in slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants. If they demand that the standards change, the plants must change or go out of business.
3. Ask our governments to protect the independent farmers and ranchers – ask them to open up the meat market and make it more competitive.
4. Most of all, use your consumer power (which is quite considerable if we all work together) to make meaningful change. Schlosser explains below:
“Pull open the glass door, feel the rush of cool air, walk inside, get in line, and look around you, look at the kids working in the kitchen, at the customers in their seats, at the ads for the latest toys, study the backlit colour photographs above the counter, think about where it is the food came from, about how and where it was made, about what is set in motion by every single fast food purchase, the ripple effect near and far, think about it. Then place your order. Or turn and walk out the door.” (p.270)
This book gets five stars from me. I would highly recommend it to anyone. It’s graphic and disturbing at times, and it makes you think. It makes you think about what you’re eating and what you’re supporting when you do so. As I said, I’ll never enjoy fast food again.
Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc.