Fast Food Nation, a journalistic exploration into fast food – or what author Eric Schlosser terms the “dark side of the all-american meal” – turned 13 this year… and its age is showing. There’s no doubt in my mind that the book was a first of its kind, or that the information about which Schlosser writes is interesting (because it is), but the way in which Schlosser presents his argument is lacking and weakens the entire narrative as a whole.
I went into this book with almost no expectations, and the only real information I knew about the story was that I owned a copy – which means I’d had enough interest to purchase the book rather than just read it – and it was shorter than most of my other unread non-fiction – which promised a relatively short read. With that said, I found the information interesting. Every chapter boasts a new facet of Schlosser’s argument and weaves different pieces to the puzzle that produces a Happy Meal. (For example, some topics were as follows: real estate development, economics of franchising, meatpacking and manufacturing practices, pyramidal structure of the business behind fast food, and biographies of fast food’s founding fathers.) The book didn’t feel like an uber-long journal article; instead, Schlosser told a story of what needs to happen in order for a 5-minute meal from a standardized menu to be possible, touching on all facets of that process.
By the end of the book, though, Schlosser’s main point of contention is that his readers should simply stop eating fast food. While this would, in theory, solve a litany of problems Schlosser has taken pains to bring up, his advice is too negative to function in the real-world. Because when has advice that started with “don’t” or “stop” ever actually worked? People who read this book need more than just what Schlosser asks of CEOs of fast food restaurants and members of congress – they need positive recommendations about how they can reinforce his argument. What can they do instead of eating at fast food restaurants? How can they affect change?
Fast Food Nation is a great starting point for readers interested in the social, political, environmental, or health benefits of not eating meat (or at least meat sold for $2). It dips into social justice issues related to the sprawling decline of small business owners and the lack of safety, job security, or agency of a slowly-growing foreign and illiterate work force. It taps across the burgeoning divide between the very rich and the very poor. But it doesn’t do more than that. Readers looking for a better argument or a more in-depth look at what fast food actually means need to look elsewhere