'Fast Food Nation' ...
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
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."