Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I'm Reading: Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
By Eric Schlosser

Although it was published 8 years ago (and is largely based on the U.S.) Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation is still frighteningly relevant today even in Canada. Yes, this book is 8 years old, so I am sure if you are a consumer of food-related literature you may have already read it. Perhaps you saw the Richard Linklater film based on this book, and if so, I strongly suggest you give the book a read because it delves much deeper into the world behind fast food in America than the film. (Plus it's much less jarring to read about the meat processing plants than to see depictions of their operations on screen).

Along with many others I've been reading, I believe this book will change the way you think about food, in this case, fast food (and yes, this does include Subway and Tim Horton's). I know, some people don’t want to change the way they think about food. They don’t want think about it at all --they just want to eat it. I totally respect that. However, if you are going to start digging into more conscious food choices, this book should be in your library.

Schlosser's book doesn't just talk about the food itself and what we as North Americans are putting into our bodies, he also discusses North America (specifically the U.S.) as a whole, discussing financial, political, cultural and human issues. This speaks volumes with respect to so many choices we are making as consumers today, with fast food purchases only being one piece of the pie. Here is a slice of some of the reality this book serves up:

“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”(page 4).

Wow. I think that quote speaks for itself. There were so many other quotes I wanted to include in this review (my book had more dog ears than a Minister's Bible), but rather than regurgitate Schlosser's work, I'd rather you read it for yourself.

Much like Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me film, Fast Food Nation (the book) uses a modern style and cuts right to the core of the issues. Schlosser also provides so much history and insight into the fast food world, and the connections between American cultural history and the rise of fast food in general. I was shocked at the number of examples in the book that proved the power of fast food in American history and how it blazed trails with endorsement deals, movie marketing and product development. In some ways, the fast food industry (especially McDonald's),shaped the way many companies advertise their products today.

Although this book is a little longer than a casual summer read, trust me, it'll fly by if you're interested in the topic. Schlosser's writing style is quick and compelling and drives you to learn more as you go along. He originally started writing about the topic for Rolling Stone Magazine, and it ended up becoming a book that he spent 3 years researching.

Schlosser really gets to the heart of the human stories involved in fast food culture and he doesn't mince words. From providing an inside view of Walt Disney, to sharing the heart wrenching story of a man named Kenny who literally sacrificed his life to prepare the meat that goes into your Big Mac, Schlosser puts you inside the fast food world and shows you the effect it is having on the people involved.

Interestingly enough, one amusing fact I learned while reading this book was that Today Show weatherman Willard Scott was the first guy ever to put on a Ronald McDonald suit, but they eventually fired him because they wanted someone thinner to sell the fries.

*While researching for this review, I read some uplifting news about the relationship between Disney and McDonald's. So, 8 years after Schlosser wrote the book, some real change is finally happening.


  1. Books such as "Fast Food Nation", films such as "Food Inc.", and blogs such as "After the Harvest" are all instrumental in waking up the general public to the impact our simple food choices have in our lives. Not only will one's health improve, but the environment and society will also benefit!
    Bravo on your blog!

  2. Well said, Absalon! Thank you for your support! Stay tuned as I am reviewing a few more books and films soon and also will be finally seeing Food Inc. myself! (Can't believe I haven't seen it yet...)

  3. I read Fast Food Nation a while ago....and wasn't particularly impressed. Although the message that one should examine their food choices is a good one, I felt it relied too much on using on extreme anecdotes. It's the same problem that I have with most books written by journalists. They read like a collection of stories rather than a scientific analysis. I guess that's what they are supposed to be...but I'd much rather read a well thought through scientific argument rather than a collection of stories designed to 'shock and awe'.