Hello everyone!

In a recent swap with friends, I picked up a copy of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All American Meal by Eric Schlosser. I just finished reading it and I really want to do a review to let you know what I think! I know this is a bit of an older book (it was written in 2001), and it was made into a movie in 2006, but it still contains very relevant, useful information that can impact your way of thinking.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it is definitely going on my list after reading this book! 

Fast Food Nation is a type of expose of the fast food industry, with a general focus on companies operating in the United States. Schlosser describes the practices and problems that exist throughout the supply chain – everything from the relationship between franchise owner and head corporation, hiring and employment practices, food preparation and nutrition, advertising, slaughterhouses and meat factories, as well as everything in between. 

The book starts off with an overall history of how fast food restaurants gained popularity in the United States. I found this history one of the most interesting parts of the book and I learned so much about why we eat the way we do today! Schlosser made a number of links and connections that I had never even considered before. For example, the link between fast food restaurants and the rise in popularity of the automobile and care ownership. One of my favourite passages talked about how what we generally think of as public infrastructure (i.e., roads, bridges, highways, etc.) was actually just a sweet deal that Lobbyists won in the early 1900s:

“…driving seemed to cost much less than using public transport – an illusion created by the fact that the price of a new car did not include the price of building new roads. Lobbyists from the oil, tire, and auto industries, among others, had persuaded state and federal agencies to assume that fundamental expense. Had the big auto companies been required to pay for the roads – in the same way that trolley companies had to lay and maintain track – the landscape of the American West would look quite different today.” (page 16)

As this passage shows, Schlosser writes in a very intelligent, almost academic style and conveys a large amount of information in this book. However, it is still a very easy read, written in plain language with very relate-able anecdotal stories and examples. He is able to explain some very controversial aspects of the fast food industry without coming across as a fear monger. Throughout the book, he keeps reaffirming a very specific message – we, the consumers, hold all the power for change in our hands. This concept works to counteract the fear and empower the reader. For everything wrong in the industry, for every grotesque practice or insufficient standard, there is an opportunity for change and improvement. There is still hope. 

The book is separated into 10 chapters.

The first 4 chapters are focused on the history and evolution of the fast food industry in America. Chapters 5 to 9 each examine different parts of the industry and answer questions such as: What is in the food? Where does the meat come from? How is it processed? Is it safe? And – what is the job environment like for people that work in the industry? Chapter 10 talks about global expansion; how American companies have begun operating in other countries and how this has affected their practices and standards.  In the version I read, an epilogue and and afterword were added later to provide updated information and to discuss the impacts of Mad Cow Disease on the industry. 

What I liked about Fast Food Nation: I learned A LOT from reading this book. It completely changed how I think of fast food and has already had a huge impact on the choices I make. As I mentioned, it made links and connections between different issues that I had never considered before. These links actually gave me the final push to give up eating meat – which I talked about in my August/September Weight Loss Update Video.  Schlosser demonstrates that problems within the fast food industry have wide reaching social impacts, which include a number of issues that I am passionate about, such as environmentalism and health:

“Today’s fast food industry is the culmination of those larger and social economic trends. The low price of a fast food hamburger does not reflect its real cost – and should. The profits of the fast food chains have been made possible by losses imposed on the rest of society. The annual cost of obesity alone is now twice as large as the fast food industry’s total revenues. The environmental movement has forced companies to curtail their pollution, and a similar campaign must induce the fast food chains to assume responsibility for their business practices and minimize their harmful effects.” (page 261)

Schlosser’s message of empowerment for readers also speaks to my own personal philosophy and belief that our purchases mean something and can impact change in our world. What we buy shows what we are willing to support. Companies, no matter how large, must listen to the demands and desires of their customers in order to profit. If we don’t like something and demand change, they will listen. Every purchase you make is a vote for what you believe in and the type of world you want to see. Schlosser provides many examples of where customers have been successful in demanding change from huge corporations, like McDonalds.

What I didn’t like: As I mentioned, Fast Food Nation is focused on the United States. While there were some examples and links made to other countries (and at least one Canadian story), there was very little information on fast food in Canada. I wish someone would write a book like this on the Canadian industry. Are we better, worse or the same? Do we have Canadian-specific problems we need to be aware of? If you have any suggestions of a book that might answer some of these questions, please leave a comment below!

In addition, the book was written almost 15 years ago and is a little outdated. There have been so many changes in the world since 2001 and I would be interested to know what the industry looks like now. In 2012, Schlosser did publish an updated edition of this book with a new afterword on the increasing popularity of buying local and organic food. So – I may have to find myself a copy of that newer version. Although… it would be silly to buy the same book just for a new afterword! :p I would definitely love to see Schlosser write a sequel and follow-up to Fast Food Nation that goes further, explores new issues, and provides updated information on the previous issues discussed.

My Overall Review: I definitely recommend that anyone who has ever eaten fast food should read this book. So that means – everyone should read this book. It is eye-opening and has changed my entire view of fast food. I am now making different choices, in my opinion, for the better. This book contains so much information on issues that I was previously unaware of. Knowledge is power and I think that if people actually knew what was behind their Big Mac, we would be living in a very different world today. 

Have you read Fast Food Nation? If so, what did you think? Have you watched the movie? Leave a comment down below – I would love to hear from you!

I hope you enjoyed this review! I will see you all next week.

-Courtney xoxo