30. Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
A friend of mine at sleepaway camp read Fast Food Nation back in 2003. We all listened bemused as she cited statistics such as the fact that Ronald McDonald was superseded only by Santa Claus in recognition among children. Schlosser investigates every imaginable aspect of the horizontally and vertically integrated fast food industry. He discusses issues like manipulation of immigrant (and other) workers both in slaughterhouses and restaurants, the dangers of foodborne illness in the likes of E. Coli 0157 : H57 and salmonella, and the effects of corporate power on the economy. Schlosser methodically takes the reader through every part of the slaughterhouse process. Even though I had never read a book on the subject before, most of what I learned was not new, though this time it was presented in a more personal manner. Workers are poor and often inept, or forced to work faster than they can while maintaining proper hygiene protocol. Meat is contaminated with feces or "shit" as Schlosser puts it, and cow stomach contents. Due to the consolidation of the fast food industry, one infected cow can infect meat distributed to thousands of restaurants all over the nation and consumed by millions. That is probably Schlosser's strongest argument against such uniformity, that it makes the dissemination of pathogens easier. I was also not surprised that until recently, the USDA purchased the lowest quality meat from slaughterhouses to serve (where else?) the nation's schools. My favorite part of the book was the section describing Schlosser's visit to a scent manufacturer. Fast food, because it is freeze-dried and otherwise processed, is tasteless, so compounds are invented to infuse fast food with specific flavors and make them taste good. I honestly think this is unbelievably cool. Using this technology, we could make anything-even lima beans-taste good! Although I agree with and applaud Schlosser's mission-to reform the fast food industry and economy-his reporting is not flawless. He repeatedly attacks Republican politicians and the Republican Party in general for accepting money from fast food or slaughterhouse companies. However, he cannot prove any correlation with their voting records or any related corruption. In the updated edition's Afterword, he notes this criticism and admits that his attacks are circumstantial (though he stands by them), and that some Democrats were guilty of this as well, which he had neglected to mention. I also checked his footnotes and sources in the back and was interested to see that many of his statistics and assertions were of his own creation, based on other information and his observations. I think it is somewhat misleading to present that as fact, though I suppose someone has to figure out statistics. All in all, it was easy to read and contains important information, still relevant almost seven years after its original publication.