Monday, June 2, 2008

The Book That Blew My Mind

{Farmer's Market Monday will resume next week. I had to work this weekend, thus was unable to go. And what is the matter with Blogger??}

Warning:Some people may find this post too graphic.

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. Why didn't I read this book sooner? I guess partially because it was on those best-seller shelves (a turn off for me if there ever was one) or maybe because I figured, 'Hey, I know fast food is bad. Why do I need to read an entire book about it?'. Boy was I wrong. Fast Food Nation is a brilliant expose on the fast food industry but it encompasses so much more.

The first few chapters were a fascinating history of how fast food came to be what it is today. For example: Did you know that Ray Kroc (who made McDonald's what it is today) and Walt Disney knew each other as young men? Most of the founders of the big companies (Dunkin' Donuts, Taco Bell, Burger King, McDonalds, etc.) were just regular guys trying to make a living. The first McDonalds was opened by the McDonald brothers who found a hugely efficient way to sell burgers, fries and shakes. It's pretty easy to see that this sort of food isn't inherently bad - if portions are small and you eat it maybe once or twice a month. The problem is what has happened behind the scenes, what this food really is, what is does to our agriculture, and what it does to our bodies when eaten several times a week or even day.

A large portion of this book deals with the meat industry. I have read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and had felt somewhat educated about the problems with feeding cows corn. Pollan writes about this at length and even discusses what goes on inside a slaughterhouse. Somehow, though, a piece of this picture was missing and though I am ashamed to admit it, I never even realized it. The missing puzzle piece is the people. The people that work in these slaughterhouses and meat packing plants who are for the most part immigrants who are not able to or are afraid to stand up for their rights. The jobs they do are horrific. Schlosser describes multiple cases of workers who have been injured. When these workers suffer an injury they are often forced to sign a waiver that relieves the company from legal action. The injured worker is sent to a company physician who generally discounts the problem and sends workers back on the line. Sometimes bleeding. Schlosser describes a slaughterhouse keeping two sets of injury records, the real ones, and the falsified ones which are provided to government agencies. Then we learn about the people who clean the slaughterhouses which Schlosser describes as the Most Dangerous Job. Workers who do not have protective gear spray a 180 degree water and chlorine solution to clean the plant. The machines have to be running in order to clean them. Human beings are sometimes caught in these machines. In addition, some have died from the fumes.

The government plays a terrible role in all this. The FDA and USDA are separate entities. The FDA has no jurisdiction to order a meat recall. Generally by the time these recalls happen, most of the meat has been eaten. The slaughterhouses are not being inspected as they should be. OSHA was cut back such that worker safety is not being monitored. Some of this is a result of the current administration - republicans receive the lions share of donations from these companies. Early on, the Bush administration actually decided to stop the testing of meat that goes to schools for salmonella. Fortunately someone overturned that.

And why is all this happening? To provide cheap meat for McDonalds and other fast food chains. And what really burns me? McDonald's actually receives federal money to train unskilled workers. Yet, they pride themselves on the fact that the jobs at McDonald's require practically no training. And my money that I pay to the government goes to McDonald's for this. It's maddening!

Then there's E coli. How many more people have to die from E coli before something changes? Cows that are sick, they have E coli in their gut and it gets in the meat. Slaughterhouses kill animals at such an unbelievably fast rate that it's really no surprise that the meat is compromised.

Let's not forget about the mad-cow scare. That's when we unsuspecting consumers learned that animals were being fed animal protein. Here is an article detailing how one woman lost her life to Cruetzfeldt-Jakob Disease (the human form of mad cow). This disease can incubate for years. I could have it right now.

In the epilogue Schlosser states:

The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society.

We know fast food fast is bad for us, but it's not really good for anyone involved in the cycle except the businessmen whose pockets we pad.

I've tried to explain what this book meant to me here and share what I felt was important, though as I re-read my review it it feels somewhat disjointed but long just the same. I'm sure as soon as I hit 'publish' I'll think of 12 other things I want to say. I haven't even touched on their advertising geared towards children! I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's not just a burger and fries you're buying at McDonald's. It's a huge industry that is being supported and we consumers have the option to say No.


Carrie K said...

It's being supported by the consumers, is the most maddening part. Like the lottery. Who plays the lottery the most? The people who need money the most.

Eva said...

This one blew my mind too when I read it last year! (and I love in CO Springs, which made it even mroe touching, I think) I started doing a feature where I discussed each chapter, but after chapter 3 or 4 a friend borrowed it, and I haven't seen it since.

I was already a veggie, but sometimes on roadtrips I'd get fruit or something from McDonald's. Not anymore.

Gentle Reader said...

I haven't read this but clearly I should. I was really impressed with The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Barbara Kingsolver's book about eating locally, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Bookfool said...

Oh, darn. Another one for the wish list. Eva has me worried with the fruit comment.

Bybee said...

Everyone should read this book. Great review!

Bree said...

This has been on my TBR pile for over a year. My daughter studied this book in high school health class this year and now will not eat at McDonalds. I've been putting it off because I love $1 double cheeseburgers and dont want the details. Yes, I confess, I'm one of the horrible consumers. Your review is awesome so now I have 2 advocates for me to read the book. Darn it!

Tara said...

Carrie, You are right. But it's really amazing how many people out there don't realize what the bigger picture looks like.

Eva, I think living in CO would put a big spin on things! I remember you writing about this book - way more eloquently than me! I haven't eaten at McD's since watching supersize me a few years back...I think I've walked in once so my daughter could use the bathroom and it was just disgusting. I refuse to buy anything there - I've even told people that I'm morally opposed to McD's.

Gentle Reader, If you liked those books I'm sure you'd fine this worthwhile. The film Supersize me, is great, too.

Bookfool, Yeah, I won't buy anything there either. My sister was going to stop there when we were visiting to buy her kids food, and I wouldn't even let my child get a drink there.

Bybee, thank you and I think so too! I think if more people knew this less people would eat fast food. But it's too easy to look the other way when you're addicted - which I really believe people are who eat there all the time.

Bree, that is absolutely fantastic that this book is being used as a teaching tool. I love that! I'm proud of your daughter. Mine says
'McDonald's - yucko!' though she's never even eaten there. I hope her tune doesn't change as she gets older (she's only 6 1/2). I really recommend reading it.

Danielle said...

I read this a few years ago and thought it was an excellent book--it made me mad, too. I thought the history aspect was really interesting--how fast food chains came about (how it was all tied into automobiles using trains far less)--some of it has really stuck with me. I should reread it sometime! I know people who have worked in meat processing plants and it is not a nice job! Definitely a thought provoking book!

Shelley said...

I've got the audio of this book ready to go when I finish The Historian, and I'm encouraged to hear that it is as interesting as I was hoping!

Tara said...

Danielle, I am sure I am going to look back at this book over and over for reference. I couldn't believe the part about how GM bought up all the trolley lines, tore them down and replaced them with GM buses. maddeding!

Chain Reader, I bet it will be interesting to listen to! Would like to hear what you think when you're done.

KristiB said...

I read this when it first came out and gave copies as gifts. This book, the Omnivores Dilemma and What to Eat have definitely affected my diet.

My parents were pretty much macrobiotic when I was growing up so we never had fast or processed food. Soda was never in the house. I guess in a way we were fortunate money was sometimes short because I remember a lot of fruits and veggies from the garden.

Nan said...

I can't even read the post, let alone the book. I already know in my heart of hearts.

Tara said...

KristiB, thanks for stopping by! I agree that this would be a great gift. I really want my husband to read it. Both have affected by diet, too. My parents were also low on cash when I was a kid, so while we did have some processed foods and soda, definitely not as many as the norm.

Nan, I know you can't. It was really rough in parts.