BooksYou Think the Food Stinks? Fast Food Nation Says You May be Right.

For the last month or so, the letters pages of the Carolinian have been inundated with complaints about the food. Lines are too long, prices are too high, quality is bad and variety is lacking, or so say our loyal readers. If you, too, have been thinking that there’s something rotten in the state of University dining, you are only partially right. It’s not just WCU: according to Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, change is desparately needed.

Fast Food Nation could probably be best described as ‘everything that has even remotely pertained to the fast food industry in the last hundred years.’ Schlosser’s strength is his research, and he takes full advantage of it, painstakingly waving geography, demographics, and economics into his story. Unfortunately, the immediate result of this verbal density is a loss of interest. Fast Food Nation promises dirt; it delivers history. In the first 100 pages, specific facts about the fast food industry are clouded by discussions of franchising, assembly-line production, and special-interest lobbies in Congress.

And the marginalization continues. We learn about cattle farming, chicken farming, potato processing, smell manufacturing, meat packing, and inspection processes, but the juicy tidbits for which we have been waiting seem far and few between, and we must wade through many, many long-winded anecdotes to find them. It is all individually interesting, but it makes this book very hard to concentrate on.

Fast Food Nation definitely has its moments, though. Schlosser’s statistics are plentiful and well-chosen–the kind that lend themselves to pull quotes and sidebars, not to mention appetite-killing pre-burger comments. A few examples:

  • “Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars. They spend more on fast food than on movies, books, magazines, newspapers, videos, and recorded music-combined.”
  • “The only Americans who consistently earn a lower hourly wage [than fast food employees] are migrant farm workers.”
  • McDonald’s fries are cooked in beef tallow, and contain more saturated beef fat per ounce than a McDonald’s hamburger.
  • Chicken McNuggets contain twice as much fat per ounce as a hamburger.
  • The same company that manufactures aromas for most fast food chains also makes six of the ten best-selling perfumes in America, as well as the smells of household products like dishwashing detergent, deodorant, and floor wax. Says Schlosser, “The basic science behind the scent of your shaving cream is the same as that governing the flavor of your TV dinner.”
  • Ever wanted to bottle a smell and sell it? Red Arrow Products has beaten you to it. They bottle smoke and sell it in liquid form as “natural smoke flavor.”

Then there are the truly disgusting ones. Schlosser follows his story all the way to the source: crowded feedlots that produce more excrement than Denver, Boston, Atlanta, and St. Louis combined. From here, he takes his nauseous readers through the nightmarish world of a commercial meat processing plant, telling us everything we never wanted to know about the corruption, the injuries, the filth, and the E. coli. Suffice to say that after having read Fast Food Nation, you will never unthinkingly pick up a burger again.

He takes a long time to get around to it, but in the end, Schlosser’s point is one that we can’t afford to miss. Fast Food Nation will open your eyes and trigger your gag reflex … if you make it that far.