I picked up this book expecting something along the lines of Supersize Me; a shocking look at the amount of saturated fat in Big Macs™, for instance, or a simple polemic against fast food in general. I was surprised to find that Schlosser’s book about fast food is more thesis paper than NY Times bestseller (although it’s that, too).
Fast Food Nation begins by exploring some of the backstories of the most famous names in fast food. How Ray Kroc spread McDonald’s across the nation; how the founder of Carl, Jr.’s made his fortune, lost it, and made it again. Then, Schlosser talks about how the rise of fast food (and the accompanying economies of scale) have transformed the workplace: the employment of teenagers and immigrants, for instance, and how fast food corporations like revolving door employment because it allows them to get subsidies from the government (I kid you not: the fast McDonalds goes through fryguys, the more money we pay them).
It is around this point that one begins to see the common thread that runs throughout the book: big business can be one evil mamma-jamma. In face, one becomes almost sickened when Schlossinger begins to talk about the big Agrobusiness conglomerates (IBP, Lamb Weston, ConAgra, &c.) and how they a) lie, cheat, and steal in order to drive small farmers and ranchers out of business and b) use their unprecedented power to break unions; use, break, and throw away cheap foreign labor at their slaughterhouses; collude to fix grain and beef prices; circumvent national law in order to keep dirty factories operating. It’s The Jungle, literally, a century after it was written. Though the book isn’t politically charged, I must again point out how much the Republican party has limited the government’s ability to regulate business, which is what leads to such deplorable conditions in slaughterhouses, such debacles as the early 90s outbreak of E. coli 0157:H7 eventually traced back to the popular burger chain Jack in the Box.
Left unchecked, the powerful market forces that brought us a fast food nation are a bad thing; by the end of the book, after taking his readers on a journey from farm to factory to fast food joint, Schlosser adamantly calls for more careful regulation of the industries involved in the fast food business, and I have to agree.