Chew on This
Chew on This
In the fashion of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle—which revealed the dangerous, unhealthy, and unfair world of the meatpacking industry at the turn of the twentieth century—Chew on This provides a gritty perspective on the fast food industry of today. Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson use statistics, personal interviews, and published research to prove America's dependence on the fast food industry, as well as the impact the industry has on America's economic, social, and physical well-being. Though the subject matter of the book resonates with Schlosser's previous book, Fast Food Nation, Chew on This is written for young adults.
Chew on This begins by showing the inspiration and progression of the fast food industry, from Charlie Nagreen selling meatball sandwiches at a Wisconsin county fair in 1885 to the McDonald brothers' Speedee Service System that revolutionized the concept of the drive-in restaurant. This explanation of how the fast food industry grew from small family-owned businesses to large, automated, and uniform franchises allows the reader to see the systematic decline in food quality and subsequent increase in consumer health concerns. The book also demonstrates the effect fast food has on communities, both worldwide and local, and gives the reader an inside look at what happens as meat moves from the slaughterhouse to the suburbs.
Schlosser and Wilson use a lively, engaging tone to discuss difficult topics like tooth decay caused by dependence on soda pop and the torturous process of farming chickens for the fast food industry suppliers. In addition, Schlosser and Wilson bring the ideas in their book to life by introducing young readers to eye-opening industry secrets; for example, tiny bugs are ground up to make coloring additives for foods like yogurt, milkshakes, and juice drinks. The book concludes by noting the social changes that have come about since the book's printing and urges readers to become more aware of what and where they are eating.
Eric Schlosser was born August 17, 1959, in New York City. He received his bachelor's degree in American History from Princeton University, where he experimented with different forms of writing while editing the university's humor magazine, writing plays, and studying journalism. Following his years at Princeton, Schlosser intended to pursue an academic career and went to Oriel College in Oxford but decided to change direction after three years. He went to Vermont and honed his writing, which, in 1992, led him to a job in New York as a script reader and story editor for Tribeca Productions. In New York, Schlosser began a successful career in nonfiction.
“The Bomb Squad,” his first article for Atlantic Monthly, was published following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and detailed the activities of the New York City bomb squad. Next, Schlosser wrote a two-part series, “Reefer Madness” and “Marijuana and the Law,” for Atlantic Monthly and, in doing so, caught the eye of an editor at Rolling Stone magazine, who offered him an assignment exposing the fast food industry. The three-part series, first printed in the magazine, was published as a book entitled Fast Food Nation three years later. His article “Reefer Madness” was the basis for his second book, published in 2003 under the title Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. This book focuses on the impact of certain underground trades on the American economy, namely pornography and drugs. Published in 2006, Chew on This echoes Fast Food Nation in its search for the truth about fast food and the industry that produces it, but is geared toward a young adult readership.
Schlosser has built his writing career on revealing the hidden secrets of both consumerism and capitalism. Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness both topped the New York Times bestseller list. Fast Food Nation also earned spots on the USA Today, Business Week, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. Schlosser's investigative reporting has earned him a National Magazine Award and a Sidney Hillman Foundation Award. In 2006, Schlosser wrote and produced a film version of Fast Food Nation. Schlosser has also written numerous magazine and newspaper articles about human rights and food safety. His next book will explore the American prison system.
Charles Wilson collaborated with Eric Schlosser in writing Chew on This. Born on October 18, 1974, Wilson was raised in West Virginia. A vegan, Wilson in his youth often worked with his uncle on his cattle ranch, an experience which has given him a unique and personal take on the economy and process of the food industry. Wilson is a journalist whose work on a variety of subjects from book reviews to exposes has been published in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Economist, and The Washington Post.
Chew on This greets the reader with statistics: “Every day about one out of fourteen Americans eats at a McDonald's. Every month about nine out of ten American children visit one.” The introduction offers McDonald's as a symbol for the fast food industry at large, but proceeds to establish the purpose behind the book: to inspire the reader to think more about what kind of food they are buying at fast food restaurants and how it is prepared.
Schlosser and Wilson's “story of fast food” starts with a group of vignettes that detail the pioneers who settled the frontier of the industry. It begins with the birth of the burger, marking Charlie Nagreen's ambitions with the meatball sandwich at the 1885 Outagamie County Fair and recalling hamburger meat's less than stellar reputation as “food for the poor” at the turn of the century. Walt Anderson, a fan of ground beef, was one of the first to open a restaurant devoted to selling burgers. White Castle restaurants became locally popular in the Midwest and the East, but the McDonald brothers changed America's view of the burger. After moving to California, the McDonald brothers experimented with different businesses before opening a drive-in restaurant in 1937. The restaurant, McDonald Brothers Burger Bar Drive-In, was a success, but in the late 1940s the brothers revamped the restaurant with the Speedee Service System. This assembly-line strategy sparked the convenient “Speedee” system we have today and worked so well that other restaurants like Carl's Jr., Taco Bell, and Wendy's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers followed suit. The introduction also shows how Ray Kroc took control of McDonald's from the McDonald brothers and made the restaurant into a franchise that changed the nature of the fast food industry.
The Youngster Business
This chapter illustrates the marketing relationship the fast food industry has with children. Schlosser and Wilson explain fast food's philosophy: if companies make themselves known to kids early on, kids will grow into adults who are loyal to a familiar brand. Furthermore, children have the power to influence their parents' purse strings. Both Ray Kroc and Walt Disney were salesmen who built their success on the impact of marketing to children and shared an appreciation for big ideas and imagination. Both men also kept an eye on technology and constantly tried to find ways to incorporate progress into their business plans.
Walt Disney was a man of vision. At just twenty-two, Disney opened his own movie studio in Los Angeles, and by age thirty he was building his animation empire. He always looked to the “new,” to change and innovation To publicize his dream, he enlisted the help of major corporations as sponsors; for instance, General Dynamics, makers of nuclear reactors, backed the Disney film, Our Friend the Atom, which promoted the safety of nuclear reactors. The movie Snow White was one of the first films to have a multitude of marketing deals associated with its opening. Snow White was immediately tied to toys, books, clothing, and food. With the advent of television, Disney launched a program in 1954 that advertised his new theme park, Disneyland, as well as Disney books and toys.
Ray Kroc, Disney's friend, also sought ways to promote McDonald's. He asked Disney if he could open a McDonald's restaurant at the Disneyland park but Disney declined. Kroc turned to television commercials and developed a mascot named Speedee, which did not entice the public. Eventually, in 1960, the clownish Ronald McDonald appealed to parents and their kids. At first, Willard Scott, weatherman on NBC's Today Show, played the clown, but his waistline proved a problem. McDonald's food could not be linked to gaining weight. The new and improved Ronald was thinner and more heroic, battling a villain who tried to take away Ronald's food. Like Disney, Kroc also envisioned an amusement park with a McDonald's twist. Playlands and McDonaldlands were created at McDonald's restaurants across the country, with bright colors and happy images linked to the McDonald's menu.
Children's advertising plays a key role in the popularity of fast food restaurants. A marketing tactic companies use is the power of a child's nagging. Fast food companies hope their commercials will inspire kids to nag their parents into buying them a meal or snack. Advertising agencies and universities have conducted studies on the strategy and strength of a child's nagging power. Focus groups geared toward children provide insight into what kids like and don't like, what ads appeal to them, and what their fantasies are. Many fast food restaurants have clubs for kids, mailing and emailing games, articles, and activities with a fast food theme. This product placement increases sales. In 1990, for example, the Burger King Kids Club spiked sales of the Burger King Kids Meals by three hundred percent.
Fast food restaurants began cashing in on the marketing value cheap toys could bring. Beanie Babies, Hot Wheels cars, and Teletubbies dolls have all been a part of the fast food “toy industry” allure. As children begged their parents to get them the latest children's meal so they could have the latest toy inside, fast food restaurants saw the bottom-line benefit. Toys have been made by cheap labor in countries like China to keep the fast food industry's costs low and profits high. The fast food industry has become an expert at cross-promotion and has even paid hip-hop music stars to talk about their products in their songs.
This chapter discusses the impact the fast food industry has had on the explosion of the American suburb. The invention of the automobile and the eagerness for Americans to travel demanded a new culture of on-the-go eating. Fast food chain restaurants replaced the family business, making way for highway intersections that all look the same and offer the same products. Fast food business owners like Ray Kroc used helicopters and satellite technology to scout out areas near schools and neighborhoods to find the best location and highest traffic patterns.
Danielle Brent is one of the McDonald's employees profiled by this book. She represents the many high school students who run the fast food industry; in fact, most managers and assistant managers in the industry are teenagers. The fast food industry relies on unskilled, part-time, underpaid workers, needing employees who can handle an assembly-line system. Employees are given specific instructions as to how food is made, machines are operated, and restaurants are managed. Employees are also told how to greet customers and to encourage customers to purchase additional menu items. The fast food industry saves money by not having to provide health insurance for its part-time workforce. Part-time employees get by on an hourly minimum wage, while full-time employees, like managers, earn less money and work longer hours than other comparable full-time workers.
In 2000, Pascal McDuff, an employee of McDonald's in Montreal, suggested to a friend that they start a labor union to increase wages and inspire better labor practices. After a meeting with the Canadian Confederation of National Trade Unions, McDuff and his friend secretly generated support from other workers and created a petition to officially form a union. The management of the McDonald's, upset by McDuff's tactics, hired more workers so McDuff would not have requisite signatures from half the employees. McDuff and his friend took the restaurant owner to court, won their case, and formed the only union at a McDonald's in North America. However, the owner of the McDonald's appealed the court's decision and created a publicity backlash against McDuff and the union. Eventually, the McDonald's closed, due to the expense and public conflict.
The Secret of the Fries
The success of the fast food French fry comes from Ray Kroc's partnership with J. R. Simplot, an Idaho potato mogul. Simplot suggested Kroc use frozen fries for his McDonald's menu and constructed a factory devoted to the production of McDonald's fries. Kroc's deal with Simplot increased profits immediately. But the frozen French fry changed the potato farming landscape. Small farmers were bought out by large companies that supplied the fast food industry. These powerhouses could afford to buy the fries for a low price and sell them for a large profit. The farmer got squeezed out of the big deals, and the small farm was eventually swallowed by the conglomerate.
F. Gilbert Lamb, owner of the French fry company Lamb Weston, one of McDonald's French fry suppliers, invented the Lamb Water Gun Knife, a high- pressure hose which forces potatoes through a sharp steel grid and produces uniformly sliced fries. Lamb Weston produces so many fries that they need seven huge buildings to store potatoes. Potatoes go through a meticulous, automated process before emerging from the factory as French fries. Once the potatoes arrive at one of the large buildings in tractor trailers, they are spun, sorted, cleaned, skinned, and searched for spots. They are then cooked to a crisp in gusts of hot water, hot air, and hot oil. Finally, they are frozen, divided into batches, sealed in bags, and boxed for transport. Nearby in a laboratory at Lamb Weston, analysts are busy weighing, measuring, and dissecting various batches of fries to check for consistent quality and content.
The “natural flavor” that tempts people to crave the French fry is not natural at all. It is manufactured by the flavor industry, or a group of companies involved in the chemical creation of tastes. International Flavor and Fragrances (IFF), located in New Jersey, is a company dedicated to the testing, experimenting, and creating of tastes and smells. In a huge laboratory, IFF turns these tastes and smells into chemicals that are added to all kinds of food and other consumables, ranging from potato chips to toothpaste. IFF also produces smells for other products like furniture polish, floor wax, shampoo, and perfumes.
Ninety percent of taste comes from the smell of food. Taste buds help people pick up on flavor, but the olfactory epithelium, a membrane of nerve cells in the nose, do most of the work since the flavors a person tastes derive from gases released by the food being eaten. Through various experiments, Julie Menella, a scientist with the Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia, has learned that people's preference for certain foods begins to develop during infancy and childhood. Babies, for example, can build a taste for unpleasant-tasting foods if introduced to the food shortly after birth. People can also learn to appreciate good and bad smells. Fast food companies try to capitalize on this idea by making sure the tastes and smells of their products are mouth-wateringly memorable.
The flavor industry is not new. In the nineteenth century, companies that made processed foods looked for ways to retain flavor and aroma. At first, perfume and chemical companies churned out the artificial additives, but by the 1950s, with the rise of ready-made products and the invention of new machinery and technology, the flavor industry developed in its own right. Flavors are more complex than most people think. In fact, certain smells and tastes require a very precise combination of gases and chemicals. Often, the ingredients for these flavors are not even listed on the ingredients label of a product; instead, the flavor is simply noted as “artificial flavor.” Food companies have recently tried to use “natural flavors” instead of artificial ones, but even the “natural flavors” are made in laboratories. The “natural flavors” are merely made from chemicals acquired from natural foods.
Scientists who work to create flavors are called “flavorists.” They take their job extremely seriously and compare themselves to composers of music, finding the “right notes” of a taste. “Mouthfeel,” or the combination of a food's textures, also contributes to the creation of a food's flavor. Flavorists use a machine called the Universal TA. XT2 Texture Analyzer to determine the mouthfeel of food. This machine measures a multitude of factors like smoothness, lumpiness, wetness, and juiciness.
Along with flavorists, children are asked to sample products in order to rate flavors and textures. At IFF, for example, children have been employed to evaluate different types of yogurt. As they taste tiny cups of different flavored yogurt, they sit in front of computers and answer simple questions like, “Is the flavor too strong?” Scientists have learned through these focus groups that children usually prefer sweet flavors to bitter ones, and artificial flavors to natural ones. Children's focus groups have a great impact on the distribution of national and international products.
Food coloring is also used in foods to enhance consumer appreciation of a product. One of the main ingredients in food coloring is titanium dioxide, a chemical also used in house paint and cosmetics. Products at McDonald's and other fast food restaurants use food coloring to improve the appearance of sodas, salad dressings, and different bread items. Cochineal extract, made with ground dead bugs called Dactylopius coccus costa, provides the red, purple, or pink coloring in foods like yogurt, strawberry milk shakes, or candy. Scientists have found through product surveys and testing that brightly colored foods seem to taste better than bland-looking foods. Unfortunately, brightly colored foods often resemble household products and can lead to accidental poisoning. Some countries like Norway and Finland have banned food colorings such as tartrazine, which caused adverse side effects in children. In 2004, the University of Southampton in England studied 227 children ages three and four and concluded that the chemicals in processed foods, including food coloring, may cause hyperactivity if children eat those types of foods often and in large quantities.
In 2001, Hindu believer Hitesh Shah worried that he was breaking the rules of his religion by eating McDonald's French fries. A strict vegetarian, he contacted McDonald's to see if they used beef to make the fries, instead of the pure vegetable oil they claimed to use. After McDonald's acknowledged that their fries were made with a “miniscule amount” of beef to enrich the flavor, Shah passed along the information to a reporter at India-West, a newspaper in California with a Hindu readership. Viji Sundarama, in an article for the paper, wrote about the secret ingredient, which prompted an attorney, Harish Bharti, to file a lawsuit against the restaurant chain for misleading consumers. News of this case spread to India, and in Bombay, protesters decorated a statue of Ronald McDonald with cow dung. McDonald's had always touted that they made the same fries and burgers all over the world, but this was not the truth. In some places, they used beef fat, others beef flavoring, and still others, the promised vegetable oil. McDonald's gave ten million dollars to Hindu and vegetarian groups as part of settling the case. The lawsuit forced other restaurants to reveal that they had been using animal products in their recipes as well.
Stop the Pop
In Kasigluk, Alaska, life has changed since the days when the Yupik tribe hunted, fished, and harvested wild fruits and vegetables for their survival. In 1959, with the opening of an airport a half hour away, the community of Kasigluk started becoming dependent on food and customs brought in from other places. Unemployment is high in the village today because large fisheries have taken away local fishing opportunity. Television is the main form of entertainment, as well as the primary way to pass the time. Advertising on television plays a huge role in influencing what the Kasigluk community eats and how they live. At the Akula Elitnaurvik School, which educates children from kindergarten to twelfth grade, the cafeteria serves hamburgers, fries, and other unhealthy food provided free or at a lowered cost by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The school also stores processed and frozen foods in a warehouse. No longer do the children at the school celebrate holidays like Native Food Day, when local cultural dishes would be served. They rely on the ready-made, ready-delivered foods they see on television.
In schools all across the country, cafeterias serve fast food. Years ago, Ray Kroc strategized to locate McDonald's restaurants on roads near schools, but in 1976, a McDonald's opened up inside an Arkansas high school. Currently, over nineteen thousand schools offer food from fast food chains in their cafeterias. Fast food chains forge connections with education administrators, giving them the opportunity to generate revenue for the schools and students by selling the fast food products. Some schools even make money by selling exclusive cafeteria rights to particular fast food chains, like Burger King in San Lorenzo, California. The presence of fast food chains in schools can lead to overweight students, as found in Starr County, Texas, elementary schools. Administrators in this county tried to remove fries and other unhealthy foods from the menu, but students protested.
The Bitter Cry of Children
John Spargo wrote a book in 1906 called The Bitter Cry of Children in which he exposed the horrible fact that two million children in the United States were starving because of poverty. Spargo claimed that children who were chronically hungry would not perform as well in school and that funding to boost a child's nutrition would help that particular child learn better. Not long afterward, Dr. William Maxwell advocated for a government-sponsored school lunch program in New York City so students could purchase meals at a reasonable and affordable price. In the 1930s, President Roosevelt developed a new program in which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would purchase food from farmers and deliver it to schools. This food was used to help feed less-fortunate children and was the start of a national school lunch program. In 1946, Congress created the National School Lunch Act, which protected the “health and well-being of the nation's children.” Decades later, as fast food companies courted school administrators and offered opportunities for scholarship and funding, the government wondered if fast food went against the goal of the National School Lunch Act. The USDA decided to prevent schools from selling “foods of minimal nutritional value,” but the National Soft Drink Association and other food companies did not think the ban was fair and took the USDA to court. After losses and appeals, the final judgment was in favor of the sale of junk food, with some limitations. Today, schools use the sale of junk food and soda to fund extracurricular activities and the costs associated with those activities.
Along with making profit from their products in schools, fast food companies look to sales in schools as a way to cultivate long-term customers. Children tend to believe information provided in schools, so fast food companies create educational materials that also advertise their products. Many schools readily accept these materials since they do not have adequate resources to purchase other textbooks or acquire other resources. Often, companies donate televisions to schools on the condition that the students watch the company's educational materials, which are accompanied by advertising. Teachers also become involved in spreading the corporate message about a product; for example, in Minnesota, ten elementary school teachers were employed as “freelance brand managers” who, in exchange for advertising a breakfast cereal on their car, received two hundred and fifty dollars a month. Fast food chains also offer incentives in the form of educational programs; for instance, Pizza Hut gave free Personal Pan Pizzas to children who read a certain number of books per month.
Fast food companies also encourage children to consume more soda. The companies make a lot of profit from the soda syrup that they mix with bubbly water and sell at a huge mark-up. In the last thirty years, Americans have increased their intake of soda by one hundred percent. The average American drinks approximately fifty-two gallons of soda annually. Unfortunately, soda has become a frequent substitute for healthy drinks like milk or water. A scary statistic reveals that twenty percent of toddlers, ages one and two, drink soda daily. Like the fast food companies, soda companies appeal to school administrators to sell and promote their products. The town of Glennallen, Alaska, represents another example of how soda affects community. Kristina Clark, a young girl from the town, was concerned about the amount of soda the people in her community drink. The preference of soda over other beverages, not to mention the fact that soda costs less than bottled water, has led to rampant tooth decay and tooth loss. Drinking water is scarce in the town, as is decent plumbing, and soda advertising on cargo planes promotes consumption of those beverages. The Coca-Cola Company, by delivering mail and supplies to the region, ingratiated itself with the community. It also hired Trajan Langdon, the first NBA player from Alaska, to visit different towns in the area as a means of promoting Coke products. Dental care also poses a problem in the community of Glennallen and its surrounding communities, as these places do not have regular dentists. A traveling dentist, Edwin Allgair, notes that some teens are losing all their permanent teeth by the time they reach age sixteen. The habitual consumption of soda affects children from infancy in these areas, as babies drink soda even in their baby bottles. A disease called “baby bottle syndrome,” caused when babies fall asleep with the soda-filled bottle in their mouths, leads to rotted upper teeth. Kristina Clark, in 2002, decided to protest the presence of soda machines at her school. A poster taped to the soda machine was not enough to inspire change, so she attended a student council meeting and tried to convince the new principal. Ultimately, Kristina's persistent efforts removed the soda machine from her school. Mary Kapsner, a state representative in Alaska, tried to pass a law that would prevent schools in Alaska from selling soda between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, supporters of processed food and soda companies, fought the proposal, suggesting that soda was not to blame for the health problems. After much dissent from soda company administrators, her law was never passed.
Family-owned farms and ranches are rare in these times when acreage is owned by huge conglomerates. The rising cost of land and competition from large, automated companies leave the small rancher with a pile of economic problems. Fast food companies control the meat-packing industry, driving down cattle prices and profits for the smaller ranchers. In the 1970s, the government pulled back from regulating the way meatpacking companies could operate, paving the way for four major companies to manage eighty-four percent of the market.
In Greeley, Colorado, the slaughterhouses create horrible odors and health problems in the town, caused by vast amounts of hydrogen sulfide that come from vast amounts of animal waste. Feedlots are filled with hundreds of thousands of cattle that are fattened up quickly. These cattle produce acres of urine and manure, making what the industry calls slaughterhouse lagoons. These lagoons release methane gas, and in doing so, catch fire easily and without a spark. In one instance, firefighters had difficulty putting out a fire in a feedlot that contained over four million pounds of manure. The fire burned for almost four months.
In the rural South, four companies took advantage of the weak labor unions and desperate farmers to control the majority of the chicken industry. Additionally, the Chicken McNugget changed the way chicken was processed and harvested. Fred Turner, chairman of McDonald's in 1979, came up with the idea for a boneless finger-food made from chicken. These nuggets were comprised of ground chicken breasts, and the chickens, a new breed invented solely for this purpose, were named Mr. McDonald because of their unusually large breast size. Before the McNugget, chickens were normally sold whole to companies and consumers. Now, most of the chicken is sold in parts. As the biggest supplier of McDonald's McNuggets and a supplier to many other popular chain restaurants, Tyson Foods became the world's largest chicken processor.
Tyson chicken farmers do not profit from working in the industry. The costs of building chicken houses and buying the land and fuel needed often leave the farmers in debt. Tyson Foods supplies the chickens and feed, as well as veterinary support, but the costs to the farmers outweigh the materials given. The promise of financial independence never materializes. Chickens raised by these farmers do not see daylight and live only a month. They eat inexpensive feed made with pretzels and fat-covered cookies, often supplemented with leftover meat and bones from chicken slaughterhouses. This concoction fattens chickens as quickly as possible.
Modern chickens originated in the wilds of Pakistan, Thailand, and India, from a bird called the red jungle fowl. The chicken was created when farmers mated two of these large birds, and ever since the chicken has been bred for its large breasts. On chicken farms today, chickens are injected with hormones and forced to gain weight at an alarming rate. As a result, the birds are unhealthy, can barely walk, and have severe heart problems. Heart attacks are so frequent that the condition has been nicknamed the “flip-over disease.”
Chickens raised and processed for consumer consumption suffer inhumane treatment They are slaughtered in assembly line fashion, shackled to chains and hung upside-down. Though slaughterhouses seem clean from the outside, the scene inside is chaotic. Chickens try to break free from overhead chains, but are plunged into water tanks hooked up to electricity. These chickens are supposed to be electrocuted; however, many are not killed by the process. From the shock tank, they are moved through a rotating blade that cuts their throats. Some survive this step, but are killed when they move on to a “scald tank” filled with boiling water. Sometimes, workers play a part in the chicken's death. Workers slam chickens against the wall when they can't get the chicken hooked to the moving chain. Videos from animal rights activist groups have captured these gruesome scenes. In Europe, slaughterhouses use a different method to kill chickens. Chickens, still inside their crates, are moved to a sealed chamber where they breathe a gas that renders them unconscious.
Though slaughterhouses are for the most part operated by automated machinery, they are still dangerous places to work, much like they were decades ago. Upton Sinclair, at the turn of the twentieth century, wrote The Jungle, a novel exposing the unfair, unhealthy, and dangerous conditions of the slaughterhouses in Chicago. He documented, through fiction, the injuries, deaths, and unsafe practices of the industry and connected these problems to consumer health. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt, motivated by the claims in Sinclair's book, investigated the situation and soon implemented the Meat Inspection Act, as well as the Pure Food and Drug Act. With these new laws, the government could help regulate the industry and its products.
Labor unions have struggled to raise wages for workers in the meatpacking industry, and although salaries were fair during the 1950s and 60s, the industry changed in the decades to follow. Because of the demands made by the fast food industry, wages were decreased, slaughterhouses were relocated to areas where union support would be weakened, and illegal immigrants were hired to eliminate the need for health benefits and fair labor practices. Now, employees of the meatpacking industry are among some of the lowest paid in the country and, as in the fast food industry, worker turnover is high.
Meatpacking jobs are dangerous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, handles cases of injury and death resulting from on-the-job accidents. With the speed of the machinery, required tools like sharp knives, stun guns, hooks, augers, and crowded rooms, physical harm is a daily concern. The language of the job assignments reflects the physical toll that the work demands: for example, knocker, splitter, shackler, rumper, navel boner. Injuries caused by repetitive motion, such as shoulder and back problems, are also common. Because the meatpacking companies do not often offer health benefits, they do not lose money when workers become too injured to work. The companies simply hire new workers. Unfortunately OSHA inspections of meatpacking plants are infrequent, due to connections that the meatpacking industry has with members of Congress. Speed and low wages equate to higher profits for the meatpacking companies. OSHA looks the other way in the matter of enforcing government laws and restrictions.
The bacterium E. coli O157:H7 spreads easily in feedlots, slaughterhouses, and hamburger grinders. Food safety standards are lax in many meat-packing companies and laws cannot be enforced, again due to the profitable relationship between meatpacking industry leaders and Congress. The bacterium develops in the feedlot where cattle live in pools of manure and consume dirty food and water. The bacterium travels with the cattle to the slaughterhouses, where meat becomes contaminated when animal skins are not properly cleaned. Essentially, dirt and feces from the hide ends up on the cut meat. Furthermore, if the digestive system of the cattle is not removed with proper attention, the contents of the stomach and intestines, filled with germs, may also infect the meat. To make matters worse, workers have to work at such a high rate of speed in completing these tasks that they do not disinfect their knives as often as they should. This neglect also contributes to the spread of E. coli and other bacteria, which causes food poisoning. Additionally, the ground beef in the United States derives from mixing parts from many different animals; because of this, the risk of spreading E. coli to a greater number of consumers is much higher.
Pigs are also raised much like chickens and cattle—in crowded, factory-like conditions. Mother pigs are kept in crates not much bigger than their own bodies, and piglets are confined to small pens. Since the piglets practically stand one atop the other, they become agitated and tend to nip at each other's tails, an action that prompts factory workers to snip off the pig's tails and stop infection. However, most animals destined for slaughterhouses are bred for docility in order to avoid a struggle between animal and worker. But there have been cases where animals have tried to escape their fate. Two pigs, nicknamed Butch and Sundance by the media, broke free from a slaughterhouse in England and were on the lam for a week. When they finally were caught, they were taken to a farm in the country where they continued to live out their days. Emily, an American dairy cow, bolted over a fence at a slaughterhouse in Massachusetts and headed for the woods, where she was discovered by two vegetarians. Emily was cared for by the couple, as well as by young students at a local school. Emily was blessed by Hindu priests, and when she died, many people came to her funeral. A statue was eventually erected in her honor.
Sam Fabrikant decided in 2004 to get gastric bypass surgery. Fabrikant was only sixteen years old but weighed nearly three hundred pounds. He gained this amount of weight by eating fast food three to four times a week and drinking approximately two quarts of soda daily. Many students at his high school, Buffalo Grove High School in Illinois, had the same type of eating habits, partially because a McDonald's was conveniently located across the street from the school. Fabrikant's brother, Charlie, had gastric bypass surgery at age fifteen, and his mother had the surgery as well. Fabrikant felt that the surgery was his only alternative; he needed the surgery to lose weight and reclaim an active lifestyle. At his size, he could no longer do the things he enjoyed, like attend baseball games at Wrigley Field (the seats were too small) or play basketball for more than a few minutes (he got winded).
In the last thirty years, obesity has been increasingly on the rise. Because of sedentary lifestyles and our dependence on convenient food products, we have become a fatter society. We no longer have to hunt or gather for our daily nutrition or survival. Schools have radically cut back on physical education classes, and moving our bodies is not a priority. Representatives of the fast food industry believe people should take personal responsibility for their weight and should not blame the food for their problems. But the fast food industry takes great pains in creating tempting products that make people crave them. The fast food industry even has a name for those consumers who frequently visit their restaurants: heavy users. Heavy users only make up twenty percent of fast food consumers, but the industry makes the most profit from them.
Portion sizes have also changed over the last few decades. Today, a large Coke is four times larger than sodas sold a few short years ago, and contain over three hundred calories. Hamburgers weigh six times more than they did fifty years ago. A meal at a typical fast food restaurant contains as many calories as a person's daily caloric allotment. These large portion sizes provide a major contribution to the rise in childhood obesity. Children who are obese can have both psychological and physical problems that can lead to worse problems as an adult. Diabetes, various cancers, high blood pressure, and strokes represent just some of the health concerns related to obesity. Diseases linked to obesity kill twice as many Americans as injuries resulting from car accidents. Type II diabetes adversely affects circulation in the feet and legs, and in severe cases when treatment does not work, feet or legs must be amputated. Diabetes may also affect the kidneys or may cause blindness and heart disease. More and more children are developing this type of diabetes, usually deemed “adult-onset diabetes.” The high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar diet provided by the fast food industry plays a vital role in causing diabetes in children.
Fast food restaurants are making an impact around the world. In the United Kingdom and Japan, the number of fast food restaurants has vastly increased and so have their obesity rates. In Japan, where diets used to primarily include fish, fruits, and vegetables, one-third of Japanese men in their thirties are overweight.
Nutrition expert Dr. Mehmet Oz has developed several demonstrations that show the effects of poor diet and lack of exercise on the body. He suggests that unhealthy eating habits can change the way the brain functions, specifically thickening and narrowing the blood vessels which can lead to strokes. Oz also compares a pair of aortas, one healthy and one affected by someone who had heart disease, or atherosclerosis. The diseased heart is hard, yellowed, and stuck with plaque. A diet high in trans fat causes heart disease like atherosclerosis by increasing the plaque in a person's blood. Many processed foods and foods sold at fast food chains contain trans fat. The National Academy of Sciences recently announced that people should completely eliminate trans fat from their diet. In 2006 the federal government passed a law that requires fast food and processed food companies to tell consumers how much trans fat is found in their products. During his demonstration, Dr. Oz also explained the differences between a pair of backbones and a pair of livers. The unhealthy backbone was full of holes, a sign of osteoporosis and a result of a diet lacking in calcium. Today's teens and children consume far more soda than milk, which may lead to an increased risk of osteoporosis in later years. The unhealthy liver is green, with thick yellow blobs on its surface. Since the liver acts as a filter for food, a diet high in the fats and sugars found in fast food can damage the organ. Dr. Oz reaffirms the fact that these conditions may occur not only in adults. In 2000, eighteen-year-old Thomas Robertson had a heart attack because of a diet high in junk food and a lifestyle without exercise. Doctors are seeing more children who have heart conditions that compare to those found in forty-five-year-old men who smoked for a decade.
In 2004, 150,000 people had gastric bypass surgery, compared to 16,000 in 1993. Dr. Salvino, founder of the Weight Intervention and Surgical Healthcare Center (WISH), would perform the surgery on Sam Fabrikant. With his practice solely devoted to weight-loss surgery, Salvino opened several WISH centers across the country, including locations in Texas, Arizona, and Washington. Gastric bypass surgery takes a physical and emotional toll on a person. Over four months, Fabrikant prepared for the surgery by meeting with a psychiatrist, learning new ways to eat, and facing the potential health problems that could follow the surgery. Risks for complication are high, from internal bleeding and blood clots to death. One out of every seventeen hundred patients dies from the surgery at Salvino's WISH centers. Often, patients can end up with chronic nerve damage. After the surgery, patients also have to remember to stay with their vitamin regimen or they could die from malnutrition. Teenagers who elect to have the surgery may also limit their ability to normally grow into adulthood. Ironically, McDonald's corporate offices are located near the WISH headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. While WISH centers offered weight-loss surgery and sold products like WISH Protein Plus Vanilla meal replacement powder, McDonald's was promoting products that led some people to obesity.
Fabrikant's surgery did not go as well as planned. When the doctor cut Fabrikant open, he saw that Fabrikant's intestines were not arranged normally. This unexpected surprise forced Salvino to make the surgery more invasive. As a result, Fabrikant was in more pain than a typical patient, his blood pressure was higher, and a blood clot formed in his leg and moved to his lung. Fabrikant had to spend time in the Intensive Care Unit where he took blood-thinning medicine to decrease the size of his clot. The drug prompted his surgical wounds to bleed, and Fabrikant's chances of living became slim. When Fabrikant finally improved, he was allowed to go home. His health improved some, but he did not enjoy eating the food or vitamins prescribed. Not long after Fabrikant's operation, the WISH center in Florida closed for a time due to bankruptcy; health insurance companies would not pay for the surgeries.
Even in Baghdad, the fast food industry is making profit. Not long after Saddam Hussein was deposed, the first Burger King opened. Fast food chains are a fixture at military bases throughout Iraq and around the world, catering to American consumers and creating new opportunities in foreign markets. Because of the international fast food spread, foreign cities are beginning to resemble their American counterparts. Fast food restaurants capitalize on their status as an American symbol of success and progress; for example, a KFC restaurant in Mecca pulled in a record-breaking two hundred thousand dollars in one week. Soda companies are following suit by opening bottling plants in foreign markets, as well as by generating new outlets for their products. To generate new outlets for their products, soda companies often provide refrigerators, along with the electricity to run them, to local shops. Companies also make certain to saturate their foreign markets with their products, selling them everywhere from taxicabs to factories.
Sometimes fast food restaurants overseas become the target of anti-American sentiment, particularly when Americans get involved with foreign politics. Chains like McDonald's and KFC represent American capitalism, and many over the last decade in places like Ecuador, Lebanon, and Pakistan have been burned to the ground or bombed. Additionally, some foreign business owners are turning away from franchising American-based fast food restaurants because of product quality; in Europe and Japan, for instance, the governments are working on new regulations regarding food safety, which includes restricting the use of growth hormones and pesticides. Germany was the first country in the European Union to revise its constitution to include animal rights.
McDonald's is trying to change its image. In the last few years, McDonald's has attempted to pay more attention to the unsanitary conditions of the meatpacking industry in an effort to improve the quality of its products. The company has encouraged its meat suppliers to implement more humane treatment of animals, though it has not yet helped improve working conditions for factory employees. McDonald's has also updated its menus with healthier choices and has transformed Ronald McDonald into an active clown who promotes physical fitness and “well-being.” However, a new marketing campaign for Big Macs, geared toward teenagers, uses sexual messages to sell the burgers.
Some people are trying to make a difference in the way children eat. Alice Waters, after opening her own restaurant in Berkeley, which offered a menu showcasing fresh and simple ingredients, was inspired to beautify her community when she drove past a dilapidated middle school on her way to work each day. After visiting the school, Waters came up with a way to revamp the school's way of serving food to its students. Since the students had turned to eating frozen food reheated and sold at a snack bar, Waters decided they needed a program in which they could learn about, grow, and cook their own food. Together with the students, Waters created a garden in place of a parking lot, brought in a wood-burning stove, and jump started the Edible Schoolyard program. Now at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, food grown in the garden is not just used for lunch, but as a jumping off point for lessons in history, ecology, and science.
Schlosser and Wilson propose that Congress should do a number of things to improve the negative impact that the fast food industry has on society: 1) ban advertising that exploits children; 2) establish better laws that prevent fast food and soda companies from selling and marketing their products in schools, as well as laws which protect food safety; 3) raise minimum wage; 4) implement laws that protect the safety of workers and the mistreatment of animals; 5) cultivate a free and fair market for independent, or small, farmers and ranchers; and 6) promote sustainability. They also recommend that the public stop buying products from fast food companies that condone these policies that harm our global and local communities. Schlosser and Wilson do note In-N-Out Burger restaurant, a chain in California and Nevada, as a chain that cares about the welfare and well-being of their employees and customers. They use fresh ingredients, keeps their costs down, and offer employees a better than average wage. Schlosser and Wilson also view Burgerville, a chain in Oregon and Washington state, as a restaurant that tries to make a difference in food preparation and consumer health.
The authors of this book believe the book was a precursor for good things happening in society. Congress is trying to pass new laws to improve and regulate the quality and consumption of fast food and soda. Former president Bill Clinton and Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas negotiated with the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo to eradicate their sodas from schools by 2010. Walt Disney and McDonald's recently ended their long-standing public relations partnership. However, some people see the book as a rhetorical attack on the beef, pork, and restaurant industries. They argue that the book was not fair in its depiction of the practices of each industry as a whole and supplied completely biased information. They began an Internet campaign to contradict the claims presented in the book and discouraged schools from allowing the authors of the book to speak at assemblies.
Inspired by the McDonald brothers' Speedee Service System, Carl Archer opened Carl's Drive-In Barbeque in 1941. The restaurant eventually grew into Carl's Jr., one of the most popular fast food chains on the West Coast.
- The 2006 movie Fast Food Nation adapts the books written by Schlosser and Wilson. Richard Linklater wrote and directed the film, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is not a documentary, but instead fictionalizes the issues and stories depicted in the book. The ensemble cast includes Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, Kris Kristofferson, Esai Morales, Wilmer Valderrama, Bruce Willis, and Avril Lavigne.
Glen Bell used the McDonalds' Speedee Service System to invent the Taco Bell food chain in 1962.
Danielle Brent, seventeen years old, works at McDonald's and serves as an example of a long-hour, low-wage fast-food worker.
In 1998, John Bushey, then administrator at District 11 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, was known as “The Coke Dude” because he encouraged teachers and school principals at local schools to place soda machines in high-traffic areas within the schools and to allow students to drink soda in the classroom. In effect, he was pushing the schools to sell Coca-Cola so the schools could get a share of the profits.
Kristina Clark, a twelve-year-old Blackfoot and Athabascan Native American living in Alaska, realized that junk food and soda were taking their toll on the health of the members of her family and community. Clark fought to remove the soda machine from her school in 2002 by placing a sign on the machine: Stop the Pop. No one listened at first, but eventually the school principal, impressed by Clark's convictions, took the soda machine away.
After eating at a McDonald's restaurant in California, Keith Cramer opened Insta-Burger King, now the popular Burger King chain.
With only one thousand dollars, Frederick DeLuca opened a sandwich shop called Subway in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Before Ray Kroc made his success with the conformist and systematic processes of McDonald's, Walt Disney was operating a movie studio in Los Angeles, California. At twenty-two, Disney invented a new way of animating films and managed his employees much like the employees at McDonald's: with assembly-line efficiency. His love of technology and progress helped build an empire that would unite mega-corporations with young consumers; his methods of marketing combined entertainment with publicity. He dreamed of creating an amusement park that could manufacture happiness and optimism.
In 2004 Sam Fabrikant decided to have gastric bypass surgery to lessen his obesity, a condition caused by his frequent intake of fast food. After the operation, Fabrikant had many complications. His internal organs were not in the normal positions, and as a result, he had more pain than usual. His blood pressure was also affected by the operation, and a blood clot developed in his leg, which required blood-thinning medication and several shots. When he was finally able to return home from the hospital, Fabrikant had a long, difficult recovery, particularly because he did not follow the doctors' instructions regarding vitamins and the small amount of food he was allowed to eat.
Greeley, Colorado, is a factory town that survives on the cattle-raising and meatpacking industry. Swift & Co. is one of the large companies in Greeley and runs huge feedlots and slaughterhouses.
International Flavors and Fragrances
International Flavors and Fragrances, located in Dayton, New Jersey, is one of the world's largest flavor companies. It produces the natural and artificial flavors that go into most of the products Americans consume.
Afraid for the health of her constituents, Alaskan state representative Mary Kapsner fought in 2003 for a state law that would keep schools from selling soda during school hours, between eight in the morning and five at night. Her idea was opposed by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, who claimed soda could not be the root cause of tooth decay and health problems in the community. Kapsner's law was not passed.
Salesman Ray Kroc's ambitious and aggressive attitude took the McDonald brothers' restaurants to new levels of success. Kroc's business plan revolved around efficiency, opportunity, and conformity. After convincing the McDonald brothers to partner with him, Kroc opened new McDonald's restaurants across the country. Kroc developed a new franchise method in which businessmen would use their own money to open the restaurant, but Kroc would dictate the way the restaurant would be operated. Gradually, Kroc bought out the McDonald brothers and pushed the fast food chain in the direction it is going today.
F. Gilbert Lamb
F. Gilbert Lamb, owner of Lamb Weston, invented the Lamb Water Gun Knife in the 1950s. The Water Gun Knife shot potatoes out of a water hose through a grid of steel blades. Today, Lamb Weston makes over 130 different types of potato products and is the world's biggest producer of frozen French fries.
Richard and Maurice McDonald
Richard and Maurice McDonald bought a drive-in restaurant in 1937. The restaurant, called the McDonald Brothers Burger Bar Drive-In, was a great success. Soon, however, problems like frequent employee turnover, an excessive amount of broken dishes and glassware, and a customer base of primarily teenagers motivated the McDonald brothers to try something new. They closed the drive-in and invented a new system of preparing food: the Speedee Service System. Its self-serve premise and assembly-line process is the ancestor of the fast food system we know today.
Ronald McDonald is a mascot created by Willard Scott in 1963 to promote McDonald's restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area. Ronald McDonald became popular through television advertising and inspired the idea of McDonaldland, a fantasy world based at the McDonald's restaurants. McDonaldland followed the “happiness equals product” concept of Disneyland.
In 2000, Pascal McDuff began a union in Montreal, Canada, after his long-hour, low-wage position at McDonald's drove him to champion workers' rights. McDuff is currently aiming to become a journalist.
Julie Menella is a scientist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia who conducted an experiment that shows babies can learn to like “disgusting” tastes if they learn to eat or drink things with that taste at an early age.
If babies are raised on better-tasting products and then are introduced to bad tastes, they will not like them.
A former Marine raised in the foster-care system, Thomas Monaghan opened a pizza restaurant with his brother in Michigan with only seventy-five dollars. When his brother left the business, Monaghan grew the successful Domino's Pizza parlor into a popular chain.
Charlie Nagreen, or Hamburger Charlie, can be considered one of the first makers of the modern-day hamburger. In 1885, Nagreen sold meatballs at the Outagamie County Fair in Wisconsin, but when he discovered his customers could not easily eat them, he decided to flatten the meatballs between two pieces of bread. Nagreen claimed the hamburger was named in honor of German immigrants who lived in his hometown of Hortonville, Wisconsin, since Hamburg, Germany, was known for its ground beef steaks. Nagreen sold hamburgers at the fair until 1951.
Pilgrim's Pride Slaughterhouse
Pilgrim's Pride Slaughterhouse, located in West Virginia, sells meat to KFC and other fast food restaurants. They used cruel and tortuous methods to kill their chickens, as revealed by animal rights activists who videotaped the activities within the company.
Jens Rasmussen of the Chupa Chups lollipop company discussed the idea of “NeuroMarketing” at a youth marketing conference in 2004, a concept that could connect people's brain activity to further success in product placement and publicity.
After a series of odd jobs, William Rosenberg opened a doughnut shop that would become Dunkin' Donuts.
Doctor Chris Salvino
Dr. Salvino operated on Sam Fabrikant. He had six college degrees, including biology and mechanical engineering, and in 2000 began a chain of weight-loss surgery clinics under the WISH (Weight Intervention and Surgical Healthcare) umbrella.
Harland Sanders, jack-of-all-trades who once worked as a lawyer and an obstetrician without a law or medical degree, owned a gas station in Kentucky where he also sold food. Eventually, Sanders opened a restaurant and motel. One of his famous dishes, fried chicken, remained popular even after Sanders was forced to sell the restaurant and motel to pay his debts. At age sixty-five, Sanders began to sell the “secret recipe.” for his chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken debuted in 1952, and “Colonel” Sanders became the symbol for the restaurant, though Sanders was never a colonel in the military. He simply enjoyed dressing like one.
Hitesh Shah is a vegetarian member of Jainism, a religion that does not allow its followers to eat meat or wear clothing created with animal products. In 2001, Shah had heard that McDonald's fries contained beef in them and, concerned, contacted the company. The standard McDonald's line was that the fries were cooked in pure vegetable oil and were acceptable for vegetarians. From an email sent to him directly from McDonald's, however, Shah learned that beef was used to enhance the flavoring. Upset that he had denied his religion each time he had eaten French fries, Shah spread the word, and the news motivated a reporter at India-West, a California-based newspaper with a Hindu readership, to investigate and report on the problem. Because of the reporter's article, an attorney from Seattle decided to file a lawsuit against McDonald's, claiming that the restaurant misled its customers. Hindus in India, upon hearing about the case, protested and vandalized local McDonald's restaurants as a show of support. McDonald's acknowledged their mistake and gave $10,000,000 in a settlement to Hindu and vegetarian groups.
J. R. Simplot
During the 1960s, J. R. Simplot was a major manufacturer of potatoes in Idaho and began supplying frozen French fries to Ray Kroc and his McDonald's chain. The relationship was fruitful and made Simplot one of the richest men in the United States.
Upton Sinclair was a novelist whose book, The Jungle, exposed the horrors of a slaughterhouse at the turn of the twentieth century. Through his personal research, Sinclair illustrated the unsanitary and dangerous working conditions, as well as the chemicals and diseased animals used in meat processing. The book prompted President Theodore Roosevelt to investigate Sinclair's findings and to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906, which gave the federal government the power to regulate the industry.
Norah Smith, a chicken farmer in West Virginia, thought raising chicks would allow her and her husband to live comfortably. Unfortunately, the high start-up and maintenance costs, not to mention the physical labor, make the occupation far less beneficial than she predicted.
A representative of the Coca-Cola company, Karen Tan gave a presentation at a youth marketing conference in 2004 that claimed, according to research, repetitive advertising could make a lasting impression on children and affect their perception of a particular product.
After working at a restaurant at age twelve, dropping out of school at fifteen, and taking jobs as a busboy and cook, Dave Thomas opened Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers Restaurant.
Fred Turner, chairman of McDonald's, came up with the idea of the Chicken McNugget in 1979 when he wanted a supplier to give him a “chicken finger food without bones.”
After studying French cuisine abroad in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Alice Waters opened a restaurant in Berkeley, California. With her simple and fresh ingredients, Waters made Chez Panisse a successful cafe that became one of the most well-known restaurants in the United States. On her way home from work, Waters saw a dilapidated middle school and was inspired to bring it back to life. Under the auspices of the new Chez Panisse Foundation, she changed the way the students perceived and ate food by creating a food program in which the students grew, cooked, and served their own meals. The “Edible Schoolyard” has motivated other students and schools across the country to implement the same kind of ambitious and healthy manner of education.
The Effect of Fast Food on the Body
The main message of Chew on This is two-fold: (1) fast food is not part of a wholesome, well-balanced diet like its marketing purports it to be, and (2) the fast food industry adversely affects people on a physical level. Obviously, the high calorie, high sodium, high fat, high sugar content of fast food affects the health of consumers. Most fast food is low in fiber and nutritional value. Fast food has also caused some people to become seriously ill from E. coli and other bacteria. Overconsumption of fast food can lead to obesity, heart disease, and liver disease, not to mention it can damage a person's other major organs. With obesity, a person can develop diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, and asthma, among other problems. Some people who have chosen gastric bypass surgery to help them lose weight experience further health problems after the procedure, such as blood clots and nerve damage. They also have to be careful about what they eat and must take the proper vitamins. Workers in the fast food industry risk their lives daily, particularly those employed by slaughterhouses. The unsanitary, dangerous conditions make being at work a constant hazard. Additionally, workers often do not have health insurance, which only leads to compounding health problems and puts a strain on the economy.
Chewing Through the Youth Market: Workers and Consumers
The fast food industry relies on the youth of America for its success, both in the way of labor and of consumerism. From its small beginnings in the era of carhops and drive-ins, the fast food industry turned to young people for its workforce. These jobs did not require much experience, and young people were willing to work for minimum wage. Unfortunately the long hours, low pay, excessive responsibility, and lack of benefits led to a low retention rate. However, because the fast food restaurants have a ready supply of young, inexperienced workers, the issue is not a big concern for the industry. Companies simply hire, fire, and reap profits while keeping costs low.
At the same time, the industry focuses their marketing efforts on the young consumer. Fast food chains want to grow their loyal customers from childhood. McDonald's mascot Ronald McDonald is the perfect example of how fast food companies specifically target kids. When first created, Ronald McDonald encouraged kids to eat McDonald's products by showing how fun the food could be. Ronald lived in a colorful world with hamburger patches and apple pie trees. McDonald's, like other fast food companies, wanted to make the food so irresistible that kids would beg their parents to buy it. Companies not only achieve this through product marketing and advertising, but also through direct outreach; they forge relationships with school administrators to promote and sell their products in schools. Often, school administrators work closely with fast food and soda companies in order to make much-needed money for the school. While schools definitely use the profit from the sales of junk food, children are harming their health by consuming far too much of the readily available products. Young people are exploited by the fast food industry, as both workers and consumers.
The Secret Ingredients in Meat
Chew on This wants its readers to be aware of how the meat they consume via the fast food industry is prepared. In the past, when the fast food industry was just beginning to thrive, restaurant owners would use fresh beef ground locally to make their hamburgers. Now, meat is processed start to finish, from the feedlot to the slaughterhouse to the packing plant. Hundreds of thousands of cattle from different regions are brought to the same feedlots and slaughterhouses so the beef can be made in a more uniform way. At the processing plant, hamburgers are made using parts mashed up from many different animals, which increases the spread of E. coli, a bacteria that can make consumers seriously ill. One infected animal can taint thousands of burgers, locally, nationally, and internationally. Additionally, because the conditions in feedlots are overcrowded and the animals often live in their own excrement, unsanitary filth remains on the animal's hide when it arrives at the slaughterhouse. As the workers take apart the animal, germs from the hair, skin, and intestines can contaminate the meat, raising the risk of food poisoning.
Eating only chicken doesn't free the consumer from possible health risks. To increase supply to fast food restaurants as well as to the average consumer, many chicken suppliers encourage their farmers to feed their chickens with a high-fat, high-sugar mixture, forcing the chickens to gain weight unnaturally and mature faster. Furthermore, many farmers give their chickens hormones to advance growth. This overstuffing causes health problems for the chickens themselves, but also leads consumers to question the effect eating these chickens has on humans. This book encourages consumers to be aware of the hidden health dangers in the meat sold in the United States.
The foundation of Chew on This is derived from research conducted by Schlosser and Wilson. Schlosser and Wilson had to interview many people for this book, including employees of fast
TOPICS FOR FURTHER STUDY
- The afterword of Chew on This, is about both the direct and indirect public response to the book. Not long after the book's release, former President Bill Clinton and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee joined forces with the Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo to begin reform that would remove “sugary soft drinks” from schools by 2010. The Walt Disney Corporation ended its marketing relationship with McDonald's. Some companies launched a publicity campaign and websites to counter the ideas in the book and offer their version of the story. Write a two-page paper describing your position on the issues presented in the book. For example, do you think soda machines in schools make a difference in the health and well-being of you and your fellow students? Do you see a problem with the low wages and long hours of fast food restaurant employees? Do you notice a correlation between advertising and your desire to consume certain fast food products?
- The “Mr. McDonald's Breasts” section of Chew on This provides gruesome details about the events and procedures of the chicken processing industry. Write a one-page essay about how this particular description might affect or change a reader's eating habits. The next time a reader buys chicken at a store or farmer's market, why might he or she decide to look on the packaging for labels? How important is it to know that the chickens were not injected with hormones or antibiotics, were “Certified Humane Raised and Handled,” and were “free range,” or kept out of cages?
- Some critics of Chew on This say that fast food is not to blame for obesity and other health problems, but that people should take personal responsibility for the choices they make, particularly as consumers. First, write a one-page paper that agrees with that idea. Talk about how people, not restaurants, should be held accountable for their actions when it comes to their nutrition. Next, write a one-page paper from the opposite point of view, discussing the ways in which you think the fast food industry contributes to poor health and eating habits.
- Chew on This illustrates its points using several real-world examples based on interviews that the authors conducted, including the stories of Danielle Brent and Pascal McDuff. To gain a new perspective, conduct three personal interviews, all with people who work at fast food restaurants. Ask them to describe their work hours, duties, and wages. After the interviews, write a two page summary analyzing what you learned from your findings. Did your perspective on the fast food industry change or stay the same?
- Chew on This provides a lot of opportunity for personal change, especially with regard to eating habits and our health. Think about which ideas in the book make you want to change. Write a five-paragraph proposal in which you identify a problem either with your personal habits or the habits of your school community and propose a healthy way to solve the problem. Give details about how your solution might work, who is involved, and who will be affected. If your idea requires a budget, let your reader know how you might raise the funds. Show both the pros and cons of your plan, but emphasize the positive aspects and encourage action.
food restaurants; scientists who conduct experiments on how the taste and smell of different foods affect people; farmers employed by the chicken suppliers; and members of an Eskimo tribe in Alaska. Personal anecdotes, statistics, histories, and insider information combine to help get at the truth of the fast food industry. In the back of the book, Schlosser and Wilson include footnotes, in which they list resources they used, people they spoke with, and facts that support their claims.
Although Chew on This presents facts to build its argument, the book also uses vignettes to support and illustrate its claims. A vignette is a short descriptive scene that illuminates a character or theme in a particular way. For example, Schlosser and Wilson use a vignette about the town Martinsburg, West Virginia, to show how the once-rural area gradually became a bustling suburb due to the construction of highways and the influx of fast food chains. Schlosser and Wilson also use the story of Sam Fabrikant, a young man who had complications from his gastric bypass surgery, as a vignette that illustrates the health problems associated with obesity and the overconsumption of fast food. At the start of the book, the authors offer a vignette of “Hamburger Charlie,” a man in Wisconsin credited with the invention of the first hamburger in 1885, to mark the humble beginnings of fast food.
The Drive-In Culture
When the fast food industry was just beginning, the drive-in restaurant made its mark. Born by the automobile industry and a population on the go, the drive-in restaurant provided a place for people to be seen tooling around in their new jalopies. These restaurants opened in warm climates so customers could eat with their windows down and carhops could easily deliver food to the cars. Usually, drive-ins were decorated with bright lights and vibrant colors to catch a customer's eye as they drove past. The drive-in became the new craze, growing into a hub of social activity, particularly for teenagers. The decline of the drive-in began when restaurants, following an idea born from the McDonald brothers, replaced the friendly carhops and personal service with assembly-line tactics and a team of worker-bees. Food became more convenient to eat, and the experience of sitting in the drive-in parking lot with your hamburger and milkshake from a tray propped on your window took too long and would not bring in as much profit for the restaurant owner.
The Fast Food Assembly Line: Speedee Service System
The fast food industry grew from consumers' need for quick easy meals they could eat on the go. With the invention of the automobile and the subsequent development of roads and highways, restaurants catering to the new traveler popped up all across America. At first, food at these restaurants was made fresh at the time of order. Soon, however, that mode of preparation became too slow for Americans and their newfound freedom. In the late 1940s, Richard and Maurice McDonald created the Speedee Service System; employees at the McDonald Brothers Burger Bar Drive-in learned how to make menu items like automobile factory workers putting together cars on an assembly line. Each worker was in charge of a different job, from grilling the burgers to making the fries. Repetition and a more basic menu simplified the way that the restaurant kitchen worked. Every burger was made the same way. Other restaurant owners followed the McDonald brothers' lead, using assembly line strategies to develop their own burger joints as well as restaurants that specialized in other menu items, like fried chicken or Mexican food. The assembly-line system changed the labor force of the fast food industry. Workers no longer needed special skills or a paycheck to match. Fast food employees were as disposable as the products they served off the line.
Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson's Chew on This was published by Houghton Mifflin in Boston, 2006. The book, a version of Schlosser's bestselling Fast Food Nation aimed at the youth market, became a bestseller and received accolades from reviewers writing for national newspapers and journals. Representatives from the fast food industry, however, did not appreciate the book's approach or its rhetoric and created a media backlash to challenge the “indigestible propaganda,” “factual errors,” and “misconceptions about food production.”
Most reviewers echoed Washington Post writer Abby McGanney Nolan's praise for the book's “accessible style” and the way the book “combines digestible nuggets of history, present-day anecdotes about individuals that teens may be able to relate to, and statistics that capture the
startling size of the fast-food problem.” They applaud the detailed manner with which this book faces the problems and causes of childhood obesity through the close inspection of the fast food industry. As Julie Just of the New York Times summarizes,
With behind-the-scenes, closely researched detail, the author examined the fast-food industry from cattle ranch to Happy Meal cross-promotional Disney toy, including stomach-turning insights into state-of-the-art ‘food product design’ along the way.
Overwhelming support from the general public did not counteract a rise of frustration and animosity from those involved in the fast food industry itself. Representatives from several large companies formed a group to launch a counterattack against the book, focusing on websites like Best Food Nation. com, which put a new spin on some of the facts and claims proposed by Chew on This. Other foundations and industry organizations addressed the book on their own; for example, the Heartland Institute, a right-wing organization out of Chicago, wrote its own review of the book, comparing it to Nazi propaganda. Fast food industry lobbyists from Washington D.C. also organized teams to help prevent Schlosser and Wilson from speaking at schools.
Opposition to the book did not keep it from landing on The New York Times bestseller list or from getting its message out to children. In fact, during the summer of 2007 at Rye Middle School in Westchester County, New York, all students entering grades six through eight were required to read the book and participate in discussion groups in the fall. Other schools across the nation followed suit, demonstrating that the underlying themes of Chew on This made an impact.
Michelle Lee is a doctoral candidate in English literature at the University of Texas at Austin, an instructor of English composition, and a freelance editor. In this essay, Lee investigates the comparison between Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Schlosser and Wilson's Chew on This.
Chew on This is often touted as a twenty-first-century version of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, written in 1906. Thematically, both books address the same social concerns about the meatpacking industry, but while Sinclair uses fiction to contextualize his argument, authors Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson take a more straightforward approach to frame their opinions.
Chew on This spells out its message through distinct vignettes and historical research. The Jungle, as a novel, has a well-defined narrative arc and establishes a story through which Sinclair's moral themes and social messages resonate. Set during the turn of the twentieth century, Sinclair's novel tells the story of Jurgis Rudkus and Ona Lukoszaite, a Lithuanian immigrant couple who settle in the Chicago area called Packingtown. In debt from their recent American wedding, Jurgis and Ona are forced to take jobs in the stockyards where the corruption and inhumane practices of the meat-packing industry cause the characters' moral decay.
In contrast to Sinclair, Schlosser and Wilson present their information directly to the reader, in hopes of clearly illustrating the physical and socioeconomic problems of the meatpacking industry. The sections of the book that discuss meatpacking contribute to the authors' overall argument; Schlosser and Wilson are explicit in saying their book is “about fast food and the world it has made.” Their book is nonfiction but, like The Jungle, presents fact through storytelling. Charles Wilson told Satya, an online magazine about vegetarianism, environmentalism, animal advocacy, and social justice that he and Schlosser “wanted to tell the book through the stories of young people.” Wilson also noted that in writing the book, he and Schlosser “encourage kids who read our book to also look at the information that fast food chains are giving to counter it. Then they can try to figure out for themselves what their truth is.”
Structurally, The Jungle and Chew on This are very different. Sinclair exposes the dangerous, unsanitary, and unfair conditions of the meat-packing industry by cloaking the information in a novel with fictional characters and contrived conflicts. Although Sinclair did research in Chicago slaughterhouses, he opted for a more distanced approach to the material in choosing the novel genre. The reader of a novel is not part of that world, no matter how realistic. Characters and their foils force the reader to question the central issues and to search constantly for the truth within the carefully crafted fiction. The novel takes the reader in many directions; every plot twist is designed to keep a reader guessing at the outcome. As a work of nonfiction, Chew on This also encourages the reader to uncover the truth in its message, but does not force its reader to wade through well-plotted contrivances, symbolism, or buried themes. The book uses research as a foundation for its basic and direct argument and supplies real examples that support its claims. For instance, to illustrate what effect consuming regular amounts of fast food has on a person's body, the book describes a visit to the basement of a New York City hospital where Dr. Mehmet Oz, a leading heart surgeon, compares healthy and unhealthy organs from recently deceased patients. Detailed descriptions of each body part effectively show the dangers of a diet high in fats, sugar, salt, and calories. Ultimately, a novel like Sinclair's presents the strong possibility that the situations and characters may not be real or believable, whereas a work of nonfiction like Chew on This purports to tell the truth from the start.
Rhetorically, though the purposes of the books are similar, the audiences they target are not. At the time of its publication, The Jungle appealed to an adult audience because of its characters, tone, and subject matter. Despite being fiction, the novel generated public excitement and outrage. The realistic portrayal of Rudkus and Lukoszaite's plight, not to mention the horrors of life in the stockyards, motivated readers to investigate what was actually happening in cities across America. Readers were appalled to discover that images like the following actually existed:
There was no place for the men to wash their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage. There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale water—and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public's breakfast.
Underneath Sinclair's rich prose, readers found the reflections of truth and demanded reform. President Theodore Roosevelt, after receiving hundreds of letters a day on the subject, invited Sinclair to the White House and, not long after, implemented new laws: the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. These acts helped regulate the quality of meat products, but did nothing to help the working conditions.
Chew on This experienced similar controversy, but the issue was not quite the same. Schlosser and Wilson's “kid-friendly” version of Schlosser's bestseller Fast Food Nation, is written in no-nonsense, lively, simple language, and was aimed at getting kids to change their eating habits in order to build the foundation for a healthy adult future. Even though the book was geared toward children, its message nonetheless upset adult members of the fast food industry. They felt Schlosser and Wilson had skewed the facts to suit their own purposes and were unfair in their treatment of the industry. They believed consumers had to take responsibility for their own health and could not blame the fast food industry for its ills. Websites like www.bestfoodnation.com were created by various food industry groups to reflect this opposition; in fact, the sponsors of the BestFoodNation website claimed that Upton Sinclair would appreciate how much improved the working conditions are today compared to a century ago. Additionally, when Schlosser and Wilson attempted to extend their message beyond their book by visiting schools across the country, these coalitions tried to prevent them from speaking and suggested Schlosser and Wilson were influencing children with a very biased viewpoint. As Schlosser said in an interview with The Toronto Star, “Rather than engage in discussion of the issues I raised, instead of talking about obesity or the treatment of animals or aggressive marketing to the poor, they attempted to besmirch my reputation. I got called anti-American, a socialist, anti-immigrant, a racist—completely crazy stuff.”
Upton Sinclair is quoted as saying, “I aimed for the public's heart and by accident I hit them in the stomach.” Though The Jungle and Chew on This expose similar issues and confront similar social problems in different ways, both Sinclair and the writing team of Schlosser and Wilson “aimed for the public's heart” and “hit them in the stomach,” making their readers seriously consider how food, particularly processed food, affects their lives and society as a whole.
Source: Michelle Lee, Critical Essay on Chew on This, in Literary Newsmakers for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning,
In the following review, Gartner provides a tidy overview of the book, as well as criticizes its rhetoricand delivery.
First, a confession. I have spent the past few years brainwashing my son. Now 6, he's somewhat savvy to McDonald's marketing ploys and is convinced eating there (or Burger King or KFC or…) can kill you. He's gotten into arguments with teachers as a result—after which the various nuances of “can kill” had to be parsed—and is the odd-little-man-out when it comes to fast-food repartee. “Hey guys,” he announced at a recent birthday party, “when you get home, tell your parents that McDonald's sucks.” A couple of the boys rolled their eyes so far back into their sockets, that, well, you know.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
- Greg Critser's Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World (2003) began—much like Schlosser and Wilson's Chew on This—as a cover story in Harper's Magazine. Critser, like Schlosser and Wilson, discusses how ingredients like corn syrup and palm oil as well as fast-food marketing strategies supersize our bodies. With his view toward obesity as an epidemic, Critser digs deep into the physical and psychological ramifications of being fat. Critser also sheds light on how poverty, obesity, and social victimization go hand in hand. Like Schlosser and Wilson, he exposes these issues in an attempt for public and personal change.
- Food Fight (2004), by Kelly Brownell, an expert on nutrition and weight disorders, also deals with the relationship between America's obesity and the fast food industry. After outlining the problem with research and statistics, Brownell addresses the need for change. She claims the power lies in the individual community, suggesting it needs to establish limitations on advertising in schools, provide public classes on nutrition, and create safe opportunities for outdoor exercise. Brownell also encourages involvement on the part of the federal government, particularly in advertising content and public service announcements.
- Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2002) exposes the hardship of life at the bottom of America's workforce. As an experiment, Ehrenreich decided to see how people could make ends meet on seven dollars an hour. With one thousand dollars, her car, and her laptop, she left her middle-class life as a journalist for a series of different low-paying jobs. Faced with high transportation costs, rent, and personal expenses, she quickly adapted to a new—and often difficult—lifestyle. Ehrenreich could barely keep above water financially, even when she took on two jobs and accepted free meals. Her book shows the struggle of living hand to mouth on minimum wage without benefits.
- The Jungle (1906), a novel by Upton Sinclair, inspired economic, political, and social reforms throughout the meatpacking industry and showed how big business was built on low wages, unsafe factory practices, and unfair labor treatment.
- A collection of linked short stories based on true stories and personal research, Eve Eliot's Insatiable: The Compelling Story of Four Teens, Food, and Its Power (1993) is the story of four teenaged girls who, concerned about their body image, use food to gain control over their lives. The stories address important issues like self-mutilation, bulimia, and overeating.
Until just a few years ago, this was the monthly fix: Big Mac, Filet o' Fish, small fries, carton of milk. It was a guilty pleasure I never felt all that guilty about. Then along came Eric Schlosser in 2001, with one of the most important books of the past decade. Fast Food Nation, for the two Globe readers who may not have heard of it, is the 21st century's The Jungle, the 1906 Upton Sinclair novel that led Teddy Roosevelt to investigate the brutal and unsanitary conditions in Chicago's meat-packing plants. Fast Food Nation detailed the power that the greed-a-licious players in the fast-food industry have over the way food (mainly potatoes, beef and chicken) is grown, packaged, marketed and sold to North American (and worldwide) consumers.
So here is Fast Food Nation repackaged for the 11-to-13-year-old crowd, with some added kid-relevant material by Schlosser and his fact-checker, Charles Wilson.
“We left out some of the more gruesome and disturbing episodes included in Fast Food Nation, but on the whole we didn't engage in self-censorship,” Schlosser recently told Publisher's Weekly. “I think kids need to face some of these harsh realities.”
Probably a good call—although the more disturbing episodes in Fast Food Nation (including a horrifying account by a mother whose child died from the pathogen E. coli 0157: H7, ingested from a tainted hamburger, parts of his brain liquefied by the toxins) are the things that tend to stay with the reader.
Chew on This has info that's requisitely gross. Red-hued food colorings are made from ground-up bugs. “Natural” flavourings are anything but natural. How the success of Chicken McNuggets helped turn chickens into big-breasted cannibals who routinely keel over from heart attacks. And how a single fast-food hamburger can contain meat from hundreds of different cows, aiding the spread of E. coli O157:H7. Or, as Chew on This puts it: “There is poop in the meat.” (Some people read horror-meister Clive Barker to get a fright; for me it's enough to read about the possible fecal content of commercially packaged ground beef.) Then there's the other kind of grotesque—the branding of schools. In one down-at-heels Minnesota school district, teachers received $250 a month from General Mills in exchange for covering their cars with a vinyl wrap advertising Reese's Puffs cereal.
While Chew on This has no shortage of villains, the book also has its heroes, including: a 12-year-old girl in Bethel, Alaska, who got the Coke machine removed from her school; Chez Panisse's Alice Waters, who started an innovative food program called the Edible Schoolyard at a run-down Berkeley, Calif., school and reformed the food served in all district schools; and the two Montreal teenagers who tried to unionize a McDonald's.
The authors could have expended more energy appealing to their target demographic, taking a cue from the marketing wizards on whom they're yanking the curtain aside. Chapter titles and subtitles and the writing itself are uninspired, as is the (almost non-existent) design. Some sidebars, fun (and gross) factoids et cetera might have gone a long way toward jazzing things up.
And the decision to mirror the order and content of Fast Food Nation results in some chapters that are bound to be eye-glazers to any kid but an earnest young activist. Are 12-year-olds really going to be interested in the family farm going out of business and workers' rights—not that they shouldn't be, but the presentation here is classic boring textbook. We don't actually get to the meat and potatoes until page 71.
Chew on This will no doubt inspire some kids to take on the pop machines in their own schools, stage cafeteria revolts and find other ways to make themselves unpopular with their peers, as kids with minds of their own often tend to be. But the unfortunate thing is that it's probably going to end up singing to the choir. Will it actually be read by the kids (and parents) who need it most? Which parents and teachers will buy this book for their pre-teen charges?
The working-class and new immigrant parents of the children at my son's school who think nothing of staging a birthday party at McDonald's, and whose kids regularly bring McDonald's toys for show-and-tell? The teacher whose school cafeteria features items from KFC and an exclusive deal to sell only Coca-Cola or Pepsi products? The mothers in my east side Vancouver neighbourhood pushing strollers bulging with sumo-wrestler-sized toddlers gnawing on fistfuls of fries, while their school-age siblings, future candidates for gastric bypass surgery, waddle alongside, slurping up large Cokes?
Unlike global warming though, the childhood obesity epidemic is starting to be taken seriously. A voluntary deal to phase out pop sales in U.S. schools over three years, involving the major soft-drink companies and brokered by former president (and former junk-food addict) Bill Clinton, was announced on Wednesday. (Evidently those bathtubs full of pop guzzled per capita each year in the Sultanate of Brunei, not to mention the boom in the bottled water business, will ensure Coca-Cola and friends won't take a hit.) In Canada, the presence of pop machines in schools varies on a province-to-province basis.
Chew on This introduces us to a 13-year-old Brooklyn girl who usually eats a bag of potato chips for breakfast, buys more chips and fruit roll-ups for lunch, and meets her friends at KFC or Burger King after school. “Our school, it's mainly fat kids,” she says. “Her eating habits seem typical these days,” Schlosser and Wilson write.
If you don't want to leave the brainwashing of your kids, not to mention their future health, to the fast-food geniuses, this book, alongside Morgan Spurlock's usefully revolting documentary film Supersize Me, might be a good place to start their re-education.
Source: ZsuZsi Gartner, “Want Fries With This?” in The Globe and Mail, May 6, 2006, p. D17.
In the following review, Simmie addresses the critical stance McDonald's takes toward the book.
That may be one of the reactions of young readers to a new book that takes a riveting—and sometimes revolting—look at the fast food industry.
Another response might be to think twice before downing that next meal from McDonald's, KFC, or Burger King.
Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food is the newest assault from Eric Schlosser. He's the award-winning American journalist whose 2001 book, Fast Food Nation, bruised the reputation of fast-food giants and turned some consumers into activists. This effort, which he co-authors with Charles Wilson, is aimed at informing one of the industry's prime demographics: kids.
The authors of Chew on This “share with kids the fascinating and sometimes frightening truth about what lurks between those sesame seed buns, what a chicken ‘nugget’ really is, and how the fast food industry has been feeding off children for generations,” says a promotional page, accompanying a review copy.
It won't be on the stands until May 10 but the book has already hit the radar of McDonald's in the United States. The influential magazine Advertising Age devotes two full pages of coverage to Chew on This and to a feature film, based on Fast Food Nation, scheduled for release later this year. It says top McDonald's marketing executives have convened a “war council” to deflect upcoming criticism.
In an email, the national communications manager for McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Ltd. says the corporation has not yet seen the book so cannot comment. The note contained a statement, saying: “McDonald's priority focus continues to be on our customers” and it has “worked closely with independent experts…to help develop and implement action steps that positively impact food safety, good jobs and quality food…Our responsibility is to tell the whole McDonald's story based on the facts. Moving forward, the McDonald's family will communicate this information to correct any misrepresentations about our restaurants, our people, or our values.”
Industry concern over the book, Chew on This, is understandable. Packed with statistics and muckraking journalism, it challenges young readers in the first few pages to open their eyes before they open their wallets—or their mouths.
“The food you eat…helps determine whether you'll be short or tall, weak or strong, thin or fat. It helps determine whether you will enjoy a long, healthy life or die young…So why is it that most people don't think about fast food and don't know much about it?” asks the introduction.
“The simple answer is this: the companies that sell fast food don't want you to think about it. They don't want you to know where it comes from and how it's made. They just want you to buy it.”
Buy it we do. Chew on This contains mostly U.S. statistics but the numbers tell quite a tale. Spending on fast food in the United States has jumped from $6 billion (U.S.) in 1970 to $134 billion last year, with nine out of 10 American children visiting a McDonald's every month. North America has become a drive-through nation, with an explosion in waistlines and attendant health problems mirroring the proliferation of fast-food outlets and sedentary lives.
The book outlines the history of this transformation and the role marketing to young people has played in our changing eating habits. It shows how mascots, cross-promotions, “playlands” and massive ad campaigns start targeting toddlers, in the hope of creating cradle-to-grave brand loyalty. “(McDonald's) sells or gives away more than 1.5 billion toys every year,” says the book. “Almost one out of every three new toys given to American kids each year comes from McDonald's or another fast-food chain.”
Why are those toys given away or sold at low prices? For starters, they're pretty cheap to make—usually in factories in China, but Schlosser and Wilson argue the real answer is that they help sell more food. In one 1997 McDonald's promotion, giving away Ty Teenie Beanie Baby toys over a 10-day period boosted sales of Happy Meals from 10 million to 100 million.
Much of Chew on This is devoted to the food itself. It takes readers to the reeking feedlots of Greeley, Colo., where cattle spend their final days fattening up before being turned into burgers in massive slaughter/packing houses. It reveals how a single patty might contain meat from “hundreds or even thousands” of different cattle—and how this type of processing increases the risk that just one sick animal could potentially contaminate more than 100,000 burgers.
“A modern plant can produce almost a million pounds of hamburger meat a day…” but a single animal with potentially lethal E. coli 0157: H7 can contaminate 32,000 pounds of that ground beef.”
Not just the beef comes under a microscope. Chew on This examines the (37-day) life and death of chickens bred to become fast-food morsels. It visits “flavour factories,” where chemicals are mixed to produce the tastiest shake, soft drink or candy—flavours often tested using young children as market researchers. It details the sugar (10 teaspoons) contained in the average can of pop, and shows how selling larger portions of fries and soft drinks helps the fast-food giants increase profits.
Chew on This urges kids who feel strongly about the issues to take action. To question why a pop machine's in their school, or a fast-food restaurant's across the street. Schlosser told Advertising Age fast-food giants “get their point of view across every single day on TV. If they believe in democracy, they should welcome criticism and debate.”
Two ingredients the authors think are healthy for everyone.
Source: Scott Simmie, “Reality of Fast Food Industry Dished Out,” in The Toronto Star, April 10, 2006, p. A01.
Adamy, Janet and Richard Gibson, “Flak Over Fast Food Nation,” in The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2006.
Just, Julie, “An Interview with Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson,” in The New York Times, May 14, 2006.
” Knives Out for Fast-Food Muckraker,” in The Toronto Star, July 23, 2006, p. C07.
Nolan, Abby McGanney, “Greasy Kid Stuff: Taking the Case Against Junk Food to the Youngest Consumers,” in The Washington Post, May 14, 2006, p. T09.
Anderson, Robert, Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald's, St. Martin's, 1987.
Schlosser and Wilson suggest this memoir of Ray Kroc as a good source to learn more about the man who branded McDonald's all over the world.
Love, John F., McDonald's: Behind the Arches, Bantam, 1995.
McDonald's Corporation has approved this history, which chronicles the company from its beginnings to its success.
Stull, Donald, Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry Industry in America, Wadsworth, 2003.
Schlosser and Wilson call this book “the best book” about the meatpacking industry. The book is based on more than fifteen years of research and offers an in-depth study of how the industry impacts its employees and the surrounding communities.
Waters, Alice, Fanny at Chez Panisse: A Child's Restaurant Adventures with 46 Recipes, Morrow, 1997.
This book describes Waters' restaurant Chez Panisse through the perspective of Alice's daughter, and includes healthy and organic recipes.
Watts, Steven, The Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney and the American Way of Life, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
This biography of Walt Disney uses material from the Disney archive to present a complete and in-depth picture of the man behind the empire.
Witzel, Michael, The American Drive-In: History and Folklore of the Drive-In Restaurant in American Car Culture, Motorbooks International, 1994.
Schlosser and Wilson recommend this book, which presents a good history of the fast food culture that swept California in the early days of motoring.
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