Sunday, 22 February, 2004

Fast Food Nation

I picked up Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation at the airport bookstore in Houston on Friday.  I'd heard about the book and figured I'd get around to reading it at some point.  The book explores some of the less appetizing aspects of where and how we get our food, with emphasis on the fast food industry in general and McDonald's in particular.  The book covers pretty much the entire food chain, from beef on the hoof through the slaughterhouse, to McDonalds and finally to your plate.  It's not a pretty picture.

There's no doubt that cattle ranching and meat packing have changed drastically over the last 30 years or so, but even after reading the book I'm not convinced that fast food is the primary culprit.  Certainly the fast food industry has benefited greatly from these changes, and the large chains like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, and Jack in the Box enough power to change things when it makes good business sense.  Even so, the primary benefactors aren't necessarily to blame for the changes.  People like fast food.  They like the price, the convenience, and apparently the taste.  Without that, no amount of advertising to any age group would convince people to eat there.

Schlosser did a great job digging up information for the book, and he does a good job presenting the facts.  Unfortunately he sprinkles the facts a bit too liberally with, well, liberal propaganda.  He uses the fast food industry as a too-convenient scapegoat, and in my mind fails to prove that fast food is the underlying cause of these problems rather than just another consequence of the huge changes we've seen in the past 30 or 40 years.  That said, I'd still recommend the book for the quality of the research, if not for the conclusions that the author reaches.