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'Fast Food Nation' by Eric Schlosser

Time for a fast break? Some hard facts about easy-come food

Sunday, March 11, 2001

By Woodene Merriman, Post-Gazette Dining Critic


Fast Food Nation

By Eric Schlosser

Houghton Mifflin


Have you had your three hamburgers and four orders of fries this week? Don’t miss out.

That’s the national average, says Eric Schlosser, author of this controversial look at the fast-food business.

But Schlosser contends this is not necessarily good news. Thanks to all the fast food they consume, he says, Americans are fatter and less fit than ever before. As other nations begin eating our way, they’re getting fatter, too. (Personally, I think television and cars should also get some of the blame.)

On the good side, Schlosser tells some inspiring stories about the McDonald brothers, Harland Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Carl Karcher (Carl’s Jr.) and others who started with nothing and made fortunes as our appetites for their fast foods grew. He credits the fast-food industry for making franchising popular, for teaching young people good work habits and for making potato growers in the West wealthy, along with other successes.

One of the most fascinating chapters in the book is about so-called “natural flavors” in your Pop Tarts, Bac-O-Bits, Tang, etc. Many of them come from laboratories in New Jersey. And the source of those natural flavors can be surprising. Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich, for example, contains beef extracts.

“Fast Food Nation,” however, deals much more with what Schlosser calls “the dark side of the All-American meal.” He describes the work inside slaughterhouses -- where employees work ankle-deep in blood, and the just-killed animals swing upside-down on hooks above them -- in graphic detail.

He writes about how teen-agers have not been treated fairly in some fast-food restaurants where they work, and about customers who have died or been seriously sickened by tainted fast food.

This is the first book for Schlosser, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly. He researched the subject carefully and apparently without prejudice. To his credit, he has also come up with specific suggestions on how we can have it our way. Most of his suggestions involve passing new laws.

One example: “A ban on advertising unhealthy food to children would discourage eating habits that are not only hard to break, but potentially life-threatening. Moreover, such a ban would encourage the fast-food chains to alter the recipes for their children’s meals. Greatly reducing the fat content of Happy Meals, for example, could have an immediate effect on the diet of the nation’s children. Every month, more than 90 percent of the children in the United States eat at McDonald’s.”

He urges readers to do something on their own, too. Next time you’re waiting in line for a burger, think about where the food came from, about the people who produce it and about what it’s doing to our country. You may want to turn around and walk out.

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