A fast-food refresher

Last night, I went to hear Eric Schlosser speak at UT, regarding the effects of industrial agriculture and the fast food industry. In case you aren’t familiar with Schlosser, he is the author of Fast Food Nation. Hard to believe that book came out a decade ago! His investigative journalism really went behind the scenes, and explored a side of the industry that was (purposefully) kept hidden from the public.

Of course, the effects of the fast food nation are widespread. Their food hasn’t just affected our health and nutrition, but also the living conditions of their workers  the agricultural methods used in this country.

Although most of the facts were not new to me, it was a good “refresher course” to get me re-energized and remembering why we need to care about our food systems.

Some of Schlosser’s points that stood out to me:

  • Fast Food’s success is largely dependant on our ignorance of how they operate. The more we know about what goes on, the more we can do to choose something different. Knowledge is power.
  • Although Ray Kroc never had children, he mastered marketing to children
  • The goal of the fast food mentality and philosophy is for everything to be uniform and controlled. The slogan “one taste worldwide” sums it up. They have gone so far as to dominate and control nature – breeding plants that produce plants/animals that grow at the same rate, look the same, taste the same, etc.
  • In the days when there wasn’t a fast-food restaurant on every corner, working in a meatpacking plant used to be a well-respected and well-paid job, with waiting lists for future employees. Today, it is one of the lowest paid jobs with an incredibly high rate of injury and turnover.
  • As the largest employers of minimum wage workers, the fast food industry fought hard to keep the minimum wage from rising. During the 1970s-1990s (the period of fastest growth for McD), minimum wage actually decreased (adjusted for inflation). Works out pretty well for the fast food industry; you can pay your workers less, and keep them eating your food because they can’t afford anything better!

As a writer, Schlosser says that the aim of his work is to make you think about what you’re doing. He doesn’t travel and speak with the intent to convert everyone’s diet to organic, vegetarian cuisine, but rather to educate on our current food system. It was exciting for me to see a packed auditorium, and I wondered about the reaction of those who had never heard this story before. 

He also reminded us that nothing is inevitable, and that change is possible. The movements of local, organic and sustainable foods are growing at an encouragingly fast pace, especially on college campuses. Schlosser did point out that the sustainability movement will need to be based on social justice for it to succeed, that we need to be mindful of the farmers, workers, and the “human” aspect of our food. (He also wishes that PETA would be more concerned about the welfare of 2-legged animals, instead of our 4-legged friends only).

To end the night, Schlosser left us with a Buddhist quote “Once there is seeing, there must be acting. Otherwise, what is the point of seeing?”

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