Must Read Books:
Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. by Eric Schlosser. NY: Houghton Mifflin, 2001.

Note: The following are notes from the above book. I found the book seminal, eye-opening, life-changing. I recommend that you buy and read the entire book. Only by reading the entire book will you get the whole picture. The following quotes, I hope, will whet your appetite. --Colby Glass

"Adjusted for inflation, the hourly wage of the average U.S. worker peaked in 1973 and then steadily declined for the next twenty-five years" (4).

"The McDonald's Corporation is the nation's largest owner of retail property in the world. Indeed, the company earns the majority of its profits not from selling food but from collecting rent" (4).

"A survey of American schoolchildren found that 96 percent could identify Ronald McDonald. The only fictional character with a higher degree of recognition was Santa Claus. The impact of McDonald's on the way we live today is hard to overstate. The Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian Cross" (4).

"The political philosophy that now prevails in so much of the West -- with its demand for lower taxes, smaller governments, an unbridled free market -- stands in total contradiction to the region's true economic underpinnings. No other region of the United States has been so dependent on government subsidies for so long, from the nineteenth-century construction of its railroads to the twentieth-century financing of its military bases and dams. One historian has described the federal government's 1950s highway-building binge as a case study in "interstate socialism" -- a phrase that aptly describes how the West was really won" (7-8).

"Between 1968 and 1990, the years when the fast food chains expanded at their fastest rate, the real value of the U.S. minimum wage fell by almost 40 percent" (73).

"In the absence of good wages and secure employment, the chains try to inculcate "team spirit" in their young crews" (74).

"The fast food chains often reward managers who keep their labor costs low, a practice that often leads to abuses" (74).

"After working at Burger King restaurants for about a year, the sociologist Ester Reiter concluded that the trait most valued in fast food workers is "obedience"" (75).

""The fallacy of composition" is a logical error -- a mistaken belief that what seems good for an individual will still be good when others do the same thing. For example, someone who stands at a crowded concert may get a better view of the stage. But if everyone at the concert stands up, nobody's view is improved. Since the end of World War II, farmers in the United States have been persuaded to adopt one new technology after another, hoping to improve their yields, reduce their costs, and outsell their neighbors... Every increase in productivity, however, has driven more American farmers off the land. And it has left those who remain beholden to the companies that supply the inputs and the processors that buy the outputs" (119-120).

"Chicken McNuggets... derive much of their flavor from beef additives -- and contain twice as much fat per ounce as a hamburger" (140).

"The belief that agribusiness executives secretly talk on the phone with their competitors, set prices, and divide up the worldwide market for commodities -- a belief widely held among independent ranchers and farmers -- may seem like a paranoid fantasy. But that is precisely what executives at Archer Daniels Midland, "supermarket to the world," did for years.

"Three of Archer Daniels Midland's top officials, including Michael Andreas, its vice chairman, were sent to federal prison in 1999 for conspiring with foreign rivals to control the international market for lysine (an important food additive)...

"At a meeting with Japanese executives that was secretly recorded, the president of Archer Daniels Midland preached the virtues of collaboration. "We have a saying at this company," he said. "Our competitors are our friends, and our customers are our enemies"" (143).

"... meatpacking giants have cut costs by cutting wages. They have turned one of the nation's best-paying manufacturing jobs into one of the lowest-paying, created a migrant industrial workforce of poor immigrants, tolerated high injury rates, and spawned rural ghettos in the American heartland" (149).

"Far from being a liability, a high turnover rate in the meatpacking industry -- as in the fast food industry -- also helps maintain a workforce that is harder to unionize and much easier to control...

"Today, the United States, for the first time in its history, has begun to rely on a migrant industrial workforce" (161).

"IBP [International Beef Packers, a huge corporation] now maintains a labor office in Mexico City, runs ads on Mexican radio stations offering jobs in the United States, and operates a bus service from rural Mexico to the heartland of America" (162).

"Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the United States. The injury rate in a slaughterhouse is about three times higher than the rate in a typical American factory" (172).

"One of the leading determinants of the injury rate at a slaughterhouse today is the speed of the disassembly line... the old meatpacking plants in Chicago slaughtered about 50 cattle an hour... Today some plants slaughter up to 400 cattle an hour... " (173).

"Some of the most dangerous jobs in meatpacking today are performed by the late-night cleaning crews... They earn hourly wagges that are about one-third lower than those of regular production employees. And their work is so hard and so horrendous that words seem inadequate to describe it" (176-7).

"...the death rate among slaughterhouse sanitation crews is extraordinarily high. They are the ultimate in disposable workers..." (178).

"Every day in the United States, roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a food borne disease, 900 are hospitalized, and fourteen die...

"...the lasting health consequences of such illnesses are far more serious than was previously believed. The acute phase of a food poisoning -- the initial few days of diarrhea and gastrointestinal upset -- in many cases may simply be the most obvious manifestation of an infectious disease. Recent studies have found that many food borne pathogens can precipitate long-term ailments, such as heart disease, inflammatory bowel disease, neurological problems, autoimmune disorders, and kidney disease" (195).

"In the USDA study 78.6 percent of the ground beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal matter... a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat" (197).

"...the nation's leading agribusiness firms have resolutely opposed any further regulation of their food safety practices. For years the large meatpacking companies have managed to avoid the sort of liability routinely imposed on the manufacturers of most consumer products" (196).

""The hamburger habit is just about as safe," one food critic warned, "as getting your meat out of a garbage can"" (197).

"The Clinton Administration's efforts to implement a tough, science-based food inspection system received an enormous setback when the Republican Party gained control of Congress in November of 1994...

"... Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas, received more money from the meatpacking industry than any other U.S. senator. Gramm is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and his wife, Wendy Lee, sits on the board of IBP" (210).

"In the aftermath of the Jack in the Box outbreak, the Clinton Administration backed legislation to provide the USDA with the authority to demand meat recalls and impose civil fines on meatpackers. Republicans [refused] to enact not only that bill, but also similar legislation introduced in 1996, 1997, 1998, and 1999" (214).

"Instead of focusing on the primary causes of meat contamination -- the feed being given to cattle, the overcrowding at feedlots, the poor sanitation at slaughterhouses, excessive line speeds, poorly trained workers, the lack of stringent government oversight -- the meatpacking industry and the USDA are now advocating an exotic technological solution to the problem of foodborne pathogens. They want to irradiate the nation's meat" (217).

"For years some of the most questionable ground beef in the United States was purchased by the USDA -- and then distributed to school cafeterias throughout the country. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the USDA chose meat suppliers for its National School Lunch Program on the basis of lowest price, without imposing additional food safety requirements" (218).

"... the enormous buying power of the fast food giants has given them access to some of the cleanest ground beef. The meatpacking industry is now willing to perform the sort of rigorous testing for fast food chains that it refuses to do for the general public.

"Anyone who brings raw ground beef into his or her kitchen today must regard it as a potential biohazard... The current high levels of ground beef contamination, combined with the even higher levels of poultry contamination, have led to some bizarre findings. A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. According to Gerba, "You'd be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one that fell in your sink"" (221).

"The United States now has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation in the world... The rate of obesity among American adults is twice as high today as it was in the early 1960s" (240).

"Obesity is now second only to smoking as a cause of mortality in the United States" (241).

"There is nothing inevitable about the fast food nation that surrounds us -- about its marketing strategies, labor policies, and agricultural techniques, about its relentless drive for conformity and cheapness... During the past two decades, rhetoric about the "free market" has cloaked changes in the nation's economy that bear little relation to real competition or freedom of choice. From the airline industry to the publishing business, from the railroads to telecommunications, American corporations have worked hard to avoid the rigors of the market by eliminating and absorbing their rivals. The strongest engines of American economic growth in the 1990s -- the computer, software, aerospace, and satellite industries -- have been heavily subsidized by the Pentagon... Indeed, the U.S. defense budget has long served as a form of industrial policy, a quasi-socialist system of planning... legislation passed by Congress has played a far more important role in shaping the economic history of the post-war era than any free market forces" (260).

"Many of America's greatest accomplishments stand in complete defiance of the free market: the prohibition of child labor, the establishment of the minimum wage, the creation of wilderness areas and national parks, the construction of dams, bridges, roads, churches, schools, and universities" (261).

"The history of the twentieth century was dominated by the struggle against totalitarian systems of state power. The twenty-first will no doubt be marked by a struggle to curtail excessive corporate power. The great challenge now facing countries throughout the world is how to find a proper balance between the efficiency and the amorality of the market" (261).

Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS

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