Wednesday, May 09, 2007

'Fast Food Nation' ...

Public service announcement: If you like your fast food and you want to go on liking it, you might want to stop reading now.

It's not just about things that make you go "Ewww" - like cattle being fed dead dogs and cats from animal shelters or that the meat in your single Quarter Pounder or Whopper comes from up to 100 animals ... which makes it kind of hard to keep potential contamination in check ... and there's plenty of potential. Slaughterhouses aren't exactly sterile.

No, Fast Food Nation is more about the business of fast food, how it sprang up from a few hamburger stands in California and now consumes the planet. It's about how the demand for uniform food has enabled big companies to get bigger and make small-time farmers and ranchers a thing of the past. It's about the politicization of the safety of our food - those with a vested interest in the fast-food business should not be the heads of government agencies charged with our food's safety.

It's not what I expected, this book. But Girl mentioned it in a comment recently which reminded me that I had been meaning to read it. The copy at my library was checked out and I didn't want to wait, so I bought a copy at Borders, which is just as well, as now I can loan it to others.

Here are a few high points:

- McDonald's is the biggest player on the fast-food planet, and as such, it can be seen as the biggest villain, but it can also be a hero of sorts. What McDonald's wants, McDonald's gets. So while the FDA might dawdle for years and run up against a lot of Congressional (Republican; sorry, but it's true) resistance in an attempt to establish food-safety standards in slaughterhouses, the minute McDonald's demands compliance from its suppliers, its suppliers comply. And just like that, McDonald's has assurances from its suppliers that they can verify the source of the animals and what those animals have been fed. Handy information, good to know.

- Subway might have a reputation for being a healthier alternative, but when it comes to franchises, it couldn't care less about its franchisees. The head of Subway, Frederick DeLuca, wants to build the biggest fast-food company in the world, and the company with the most stores wins. So Subway doesn't care if you just opened a store. It will allow someone else to open another store a block or two away. Yes, that means your business will fall off. That's your problem.

- The big companies collude to keep their workers from forming unions and try to make the jobs as unskilled as possible so that anyone can do them without training. Restaurants have large staffs so individual shifts can be kept to a minimum number of hours. Low hours = no benefits.

- Taco Bell introduced the "K minus program" in 1989 in an effort to eliminate the kitchens from the stores. Yes, Taco Bell wanted to eliminate the kitchens from its restaurants to cut costs. Pre-cooked beef and beans were reheated on site. But sales fell as Taco Bell's reputation for cheap, bland food grew, as Eric Schlosser writes. The brand's new president, Emil Brolick, mentioned "We are not doing a great job ... in terms of cleanliness in the store." I'd say, given the recent discovery of so many rats running free in a New York Taco Bell.

But not all brands are made from the same mold. Some, the privately held companies, treat their employees well. In-N-Out Burger's starting hourly wage is $10. Managers make up to $80,000 a year. The reasoning goes, fairly treated employees are happy employees.

After all, you don't want your fast food prepared by disgruntled workers. Schlosser writes, "In May of 2000, three teenage employees at Burger King in Scottsville, New York, were arrested for putting spit, urine, and cleaning products such as Easy-Off Oven Cleaner and Comet with Bleach into the food. They had allegedly tampered with the Burger King for eight months, and it was served to thousands of customers, until a fellow employee informed the management."

Still hungry?

9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, but I bet you wish you'd hooked up with the French Fry King once upon a time. Think of the millions he raked in just for making the fries taste good.

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Doreen said...

Not sure if you know or not ... The In & Out Burger chain is owned by Christian folk who put bible quotes on all the packaging. Maybe this is what it takes to have fair wages ...

9:36 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Yup, the book mentioned the Bible quotes. I guess when you answer to something other than bonus checks and stock options, you treat people better.

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Not all brands are made from the same MOLD..." let's hope not. Pun intended?

11:57 AM  
Anonymous Ethan said...

Yup, the book mentioned the Bible quotes. I guess when you answer to something other than bonus checks and stock options, you treat people better.

Oh, an old friend of mine who worked for the Chicago Archdiocese would like to beg to differ. ;-)

Re: Fast food, GIGO, I say. No thanks.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hunter said...

Where oh where do I start???

What McDonald's wants, McDonald's gets
It's the golden rule; he who holds the gold makes the rules. Same as with WallyWorld.

The big companies collude to keep their workers from forming unions and try to make the jobs as unskilled as possible so that anyone can do them without training.
Collude has legal ramifications. Besides, I seriously doubt Ronald McDonald is talking the the big headed King (he scares me) about what they're going to pay Johnny Dropout.

Low hours = no benefits.
If a company had to provide benefits their salary would be about $4/hr lower. You think Johnny really wants to work for $3/hr after benefits? It's the same thing that WallyWorld has been up against for years, yet there's still a line of people knocking at the door when they open a new store.

given the recent discovery of so many rats running free in a New York Taco Bell.
Vacant store Beth, Vacant. You know how many non-lawyer rats there are in NYC? They've got to live somewhere. Maybe the Mayor should provide benefits and housing for them as well (the non-lawyer rats, that is).

In May of 2000, three teenage employees at Burger King in Scottsville, New York, were arrested for putting spit, urine, and cleaning products
So THAT'S what they mean by "special sauce"?

1:57 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Well, Jeffro, I'm thinkin' that the Taco Bell employees didn't hand over the keys to the rats when the store closed, so if the rats could get in when people weren't there, they could probably get in when people were there.

Anyway, i've had Taco Bell exactly three times in my life and I have no desire to ever have it again, so I'll just have to get rat hair in my food from another establishment, I reckon!

4:26 PM  
Anonymous Jurgen Nation said...

I support animal rights, so I don't think any of this should be okay. I don't expect that everyone will give up meat and I'd never be stupid enough to want that, but humane treatment and care would be nice instead of what they currently do. They also need to stop cutting corners with their feed, the growth stuff and all the other crap they put in food.

7:01 PM  
Anonymous Norberto Quintanar said...

If any of you are ever in the Barrington IL area, please stop by my Subway located at 215 N. Hough St. We make a tasty sandwich.

4:09 PM  

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