It's hard to pick the most stomach-turning of the incriminating facts spilling from the pages of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, a forceful and persuasive assault on America's fast-food culture. The basic statistics speak to the industry's stranglehold on the country: Americans spend $110 billion annually on fast food, a quarter of the population visits a fast-food restaurant every day, and a startling one in eight citizens are employed by McDonald's at some point in their lifetime. Having swiftly established his thesis, Schlosser jabs from every conceivable angle, including religion ("The Golden Arches are more recognizable than the Christian Cross"), education ("You've reached Grapevine-Colleyville school district, proud partner of Dr. Pepper"), and employment (McDonald's closed a successful franchise in Quebec just to keep its workers from unionizing). And then, of course, there's the food itself, the origins of which the abnormally obese American populace remains blissfully unaware. Why do McDonald's famous fries taste so good? Because of a trace flavor additive manufactured by a chemical plant in New Jersey. What comprises the average hamburger? Meat processed and patched together from dozens, if not hundreds, of different cattle per patty. And what, dare you ask, is in the meat? Well, quite possibly feces, or at least the threat of E. coli bacteria spreading through feedlot troughs, where cattle stand in puddles of manure. The meatpacking industry would surely have answers to all this mudslinging, but in true muckraking tradition, Fast Food Nation doesn't pretend to balance its reportage. Schlosser's strong biases are limiting in certain ways, especially when he twists a few seemingly positive aspects of the industry against it, but the book serves as a chilling wake-up call. As Schlosser phrases it, eating fast food has become "a social custom as American as a small, rectangular, handheld, frozen, and reheated apple pie." On top of the industry's health risks, labor problems, and agricultural issues, Schlosser also aims to expose the more wide-reaching and insidious influence of so-called "fast-food culture." Though he heads into vague territory here, the history of fast food, from its humble beginnings to its omnipresent future, makes his case for him. Virtually all the original fast-food restaurants were started by self-made men, rugged individualists with little capital whose hot-dog stands and drive-in restaurants sprung up in post-war Southern California. But there's no trace of their entrepreneurial spirit left in the uniform, impersonal, corporatized chains that line every major street corner. In Fast Food Nation, the industry threatens not just a monopoly on America's diet, but an all-encompassing pox on its way of life.
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