Fast Food Nation Essay Summary

This article is about the book. For the film, see Fast Food Nation (film).

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001) is a book by investigative journalistEric Schlosser that examines the local and global influence of the United States fast food industry.[3]

First serialized by Rolling Stone[4] in 1999, the book has drawn comparisons to Upton Sinclair's classic muckraking novel The Jungle (1906).[5] The book was adapted into a 2006 film of the same name, directed by Richard Linklater.


The book is divided into two sections: "The American Way", which interrogates the beginnings of the Fast Food Nation within the context of post-World War II America; and "Meat and Potatoes", which examines the specific mechanisms of the fast-food industry, including the chemical flavoring of the food, the production of cattle and chickens, the working conditions in the beef industry, the dangers of eating meat, and the global context of fast food as an American cultural export.[6]

Fast Food Nation opens with a discussion of Carl N. Karcher and the McDonald's brothers, examining their roles as pioneers of the fast-food industry in southern California. This discussion is followed by an examination of Ray Kroc and Walt Disney's complicated relationship, as well as each man's rise to fame. This chapter also considers the intricate, profitable methods of advertising to children. Next, Schlosser visits Colorado Springs, CO and investigates the life and working conditions of the typical fast-food industry employee: fast-food restaurants have among the highest employee turnover rates and pay minimum wage to a higher proportion of their employees than any other American industry.[6]

The second section of the text begins with a discussion of the chemical components that make the food taste so good. Schlosser follows this with a discussion of the life of a typical rancher, considering the difficulties presented to the agricultural world in a new economy. Schlosser is perhaps most provocative when he critiques the meatpacking industry, which he tags as the most dangerous job in America. Moreover, the meat produced by slaughterhouses has become exponentially more hazardous since the centralization of the industry: the way cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed provides an ideal setting for E coli to spread. Additionally, working conditions continue to grow worse. In the final chapter, Schlosser considers how fast food has matured as an American cultural export following the Cold War: the collapse of Soviet Communism has allowed the mass spread of American goods and services, especially fast food. As a result, the rest of the world is catching up with America's rising obesity rates.[6]

Evolution of the fast food industry[edit]

The book continues with an account of the evolution of fast food and how it has coincided with the advent of the automobile. Schlosser explains the transformation from countless independent restaurants to a few uniform franchises. "The extraordinary growth of the fast food industry has been driven by fundamental changes in American society. During that period, women entered the workforce in record numbers, often motivated less by a feminist perspective than by a need to pay the bills. In 1975, about one-third of American mothers with young children worked outside the home; today almost two-thirds of such mothers are employed. As the sociologists Cameron Lynne Macdonald and Carmen Sirianni have noted, the entry of so many women into the workforce has greatly increased demand for the types of services that housewives traditionally perform: cooking, cleaning, and child care. A generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food in the United States was spent to prepare meals at home. Today about half of the money used to buy food is spent at restaurants - mainly at fast food restaurants."

Marketing to children[edit]

Regarding the topic of child-targeted marketing, Schlosser explains how the McDonald's Corporation modeled its marketing tactics on The Walt Disney Company, which inspired the creation of advertising icons such as Ronald McDonald and his sidekicks. Marketing executives intended that this marketing shift would result not only in attracting children, but their parents and grandparents as well. More importantly, it would instill brand loyalty that would persist through adulthood, through nostalgic associations to McDonald's. Schlosser also discusses the tactic's ills: the exploitation of children's naïveté and their trusting nature.

In marketing to children, Schlosser suggests, corporations have infiltrated schools through sponsorship and quid pro quo. He sees that reductions in corporate taxation have come at the expense of school funding, thereby presenting many corporations with the opportunity for sponsorship with those same schools. According to his sources, 80% of sponsored textbooks contain material that is biased in favor of the sponsors, and 30% of high schools offer fast foods in their cafeterias.[7]

In his examination of the meat packing industry, Schlosser finds that it is now dominated by casual, easily exploited immigrant labor and that levels of injury are among the highest of any occupation in the United States. Schlosser discusses his findings on meat packing companies, including ConAgra and IBP, Inc., and profiles former meatpacking employee Kenny Dobbins. Schlosser also recounts the steps involved in meat processing, and reveals several hazardous practices unknown to many consumers, such as the practice of rendering dead pigs, dead horses and chicken manure into cattle feed.

Schlosser notes that practices like these were responsible for the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, aka Mad Cow Disease, p. 202-3), as well as for introducing harmful bacteria into the food supply, such as E. coli O157:H7 (ch. 9, "What's In The Meat"). A later section of the book discusses the fast food industry's role in globalization, linking increased obesity in China and Japan with the arrival of fast food. The book also includes a summary of the McLibel Case.

In later editions, Schlosser provided an additional section that included reviews of his book, counters to critics who emerged since its first edition, and discussion of the effect that the threat of BSE had on USDA policy towards cattle farming. He concluded that, given the swift, decisive and effective action that took place as a result of this interest and intervention, many of the problems documented in the book are solvable, given enough political will.

Young reader version[edit]

An adaptation of Fast Food Nation for younger readers titled Chew on This was published in May 2006 by Houghton Mifflin. It is co-authored by journalist Charles Wilson.



Rob Walker, writing for The New York Times, remarks that "Schlosser is a serious and diligent reporter"" and that "Fast Food Nation isn't an airy deconstruction but an avalanche of facts and observations as he examines the fast-food process from meat to marketing."[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^"Fast Food Nation". Salon. 2002-05-03. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  2. ^Sagon, Candy (2001-03-14). "The Hamburger Critic (and His Own Critics); 'Fast Food Nation" takes a scary look under the bun. But is it just fear-mongering?". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-12-05. 
  3. ^Schlosser, Eric (2001-04-07). "The bitter truth about fast food". The Guardian. Retrieved 2012-05-09. 
  4. ^Audio Interview: Eric Schlosser. The New York Times listen to audio file. 
  5. ^Tichi, Cecilia (2004). "From the Jungle to Fast Food Nation: American Déjà Vu". Exposés and excess: muckraking in America, 1900-2000. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0-8122-3763-3. 
  6. ^ abc"Fast Food Nation, Analysis Book Summary Online Chapter Notes". May 16, 2008. Archived from the original on June 15, 2013. Retrieved May 2, 2014. 
  7. ^Schlosser, Eric (2001). Fast Food Nation. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.
  8. ^Walker, Rob (21 January 2001). "No Accounting for Mouthfeel". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Eric Schlosser’sFast Food Nation is an attempt to describe how American eating and food-production patterns have changed since World War Two. Schlosser charts this transformation by tracking many different people: fast-food employees at franchises, and well-paid executives at fast-food conglomerates; ranchers and potato farmers in Colorado and its environs; large-scale farming and ranching operations; workers at meatpacking plants; food scientists tasked with creating new “natural” flavors for food products.

Schlosser begins by noting the emergence of major American fast-food companies, like McDonald’s (with its Golden Arches), Burger King, and Wendy’s, after World War Two. The explosive growth of many of these chains was coupled with the expansion of the American suburbs, especially in California, as soldiers returned from the war and began settling with their families in car-based communities, along highways between major cities. McDonald’s “speedee service system,” a way of making burgers more efficiently and with little skill on the part of employees, marked, as Schlosser writes, a series of sweeping changes in fast food, causing it to become ubiquitous in America. Increasing mechanization of fast-food production in the 1960s and ‘70s ensured that companies could easily replace fast-food workers—that these workers would be a transitional workforce, employed nationwide without union benefits.

Schlosser writes that most fast-food companies make the bulk of their profits from the “franchise” system, wherein the conglomerate is actually the landlord for the franchisor, who “rents” the brand. Schlosser tracks the lives of fast-food employees, franchise owners, and fast-food company executives, then shifts his attention to the meat and potato economies north of Colorado, in Wyoming, Idaho, and its environs. Schlosser describes the lives of small-time, independent ranchers, and the changes in large-scale ranching that have made independent farming so difficult, almost impossible, economically. Schlosser then moves to later stages of the beef and chicken production “systems” throughout the country, which, like fast-food production itself, has come increasingly to rely on unskilled labor (without union protections) and mechanized processes, often at dizzying and unsafe speeds.

Indeed, for Schlosser, safety and hygiene become important issues for consumers. Large-scale meat and poultry plants often allow fecal matter to contaminate animal food sources—this has led to outbreaks of Salmonella, E. coli, and other viral and bacterial contagions throughout the food supply. But Schlosser laments, too, the patterns of “deregulation” (often spearheaded by Republican groups in Congress) that have kept government agencies like OSHA and the USDA from adequately keeping track of the dangers to consumers, and plant-workers, in the meat-packing and food-service industries.

Schlosser closes the book with two important messages. The first is that the “fast-food-ificiation” of eating habits is not simply an American phenomenon, but one that is becoming increasingly popular the world over, in Europe as well as Asia. The second is an appeal to reform. Schlosser argues that, although many of the factors and processes he depicts in the book seem bleak and unchangeable—dictated by corporate interests with deep pockets—he notes that consumers don’t have to buy fast food at all. Even by selectively boycotting certain fast-food and food-production practices, and by learning more about the manner in which their food is caught, cooked, and distributed, consumers can help improve those patterns. Fast food can be made more healthy for consumers, and more economically viable for independent owners; food production can be made safer for workers in plants across the US and the globe. Schlosser writes that these changes, ultimately, begin with us—the readers.

Schlegel, Chris. "Fast Food Nation Plot Summary." LitCharts. LitCharts LLC, 11 Aug 2015. Web. 13 Mar 2018.

Schlegel, Chris. "Fast Food Nation Plot Summary." LitCharts LLC, August 11, 2015. Retrieved March 13, 2018.

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