Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser was absolutely amazing! I haven’t read a book like this in a while. And by that I mean, a book that I could not put down and be totally consumed by. This book completely transformed my life! I became a vegetarian literally overnight and shed many tears while reading.
I certainly was not planning on giving up meat. But once you learn the truth about the meat and fast food industries, you will find it so difficult to continue to support these huge corporations that don’t care about your health or quality of life. Please keep in mind that this book was published in 2001. Therefore, many things in this book may have changed since then.
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How It All Began
Before McDonald’s completely changed the food and meat industry, the world was a different place. Butchers and meat packagers were highly skilled and highly paid. Sure, the job was dangerous. However, it allowed men to live a comfortable lifestyle and take care of their families.
Also, farms were big businesses. There were no factory farms which means all meat came from the local farmer. The meat was fresh and the animals were cared for.
The McDonald brothers opened their first restaurant in 1940. Their business was great, but there was one huge problem: The turnover rate was so high! It seemed like once a person learned exactly how to execute the food, they’d leave the company and leave the two to find someone else. Fed up, they close the business and tried something new. That’s when the Speedee Service System was born.
When McDonald’s relauched, they had their own little fast food factory in place. One person made grilled the burger. Another person wrapped the sandwich. Then, another person handed out the food. This worked for the brother because when someone quit, they only had to teach the new employee one job. Plus, they had all new cutlery and dishes – made of paper and plastic!
Oh! Did I forget to mention that they sold 15 cent burgers when the average price at that time was around 19? They were truly winning.
Soon, burger joints popped up all over the place. Burger King, In And Out Burger, Carl’s Jr. Even non-burger joints wanted in on the success to be made in this new industry including KFC, Taco Bell, and Chick-fil-a to name a few.
Everything was great. How could anything bad ever come out of this?
Industries Completely Changed
With the rise of these food empires came the high demand for food from manufactures. The average farmer simply could not keep up and factory farms were created in the 1960s. This allowed restaurants to keep up with the customers’ wants. However, factory farms led to a massive shutdown of family-owned farms all around the country.
“The number of people on farms dropped from over 20 million in 1950 to less than 10 million in 1970.” 
Another industry radically changed by the increase in fast food restaurants is more obvious – the food industry.
McDonald’s began recruiting franchise owners and opening up restaurants all over the country. Shortly afterward, other fast food places joined in the movement. This led to many family-owned restaurants to go out of business. Soon, there would be no such thing as an American middle class. These restaurant owners and farmers would be forced to find jobs elsewhere that usually paid way less than what they previously made.
Not only did McDonald’s wipe out these American businesses, but they sought to employ teenagers. Teenagers were more likely to accept a minimum wage paying job. Many people have gotten their first job at McDonald’s. As a matter of fact, 80% of all American’s worked for McDonald’s at some point in their life. 
Okay, let’s quickly go over what changes happened in America’s work and food industry by the emerge of all these fast food places:
- Farmers were replaced by factory farms.
- Many family-owned restaurants were put out of business.
- These entrepreneurs were forced to find a low paying job elsewhere, eliminating the wealthy middle class and resulting in a spike of poverty levels.
The Meat Industry
Perhaps the most saddening change of them all were the changes in the meat industry. Because of the high amount of cattle ready to be slaughtered each day, slaughterhouses were immensely changed.
In 1960, Warren Monfort and his son opened their first slaughterhouse. He began to feed his cattle grain instead of grass. The following year, Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) opened. The founders, Currier J. Holman and A.D. Anderson, set up an assembly line similar to McDonald’s that changed the job requirements.
A slaughterhouse no longer needed skilled laborers because a person did the same job all day long. Hundreds of small meatpacking firms went out of business and closed.
Then, IBP began to spread and open more slaughterhouses. With the technology and machinery that helped them execute the job, the workers at IBP were paid low wages and were quickly replaced. In the 1980s, Monfort began to employ immigrants and illegals to work in their slaughterhouse for a low, poverty wage. More than half of the employees didn’t speak any English.
Slaughterhouses soon became the most dangerous place to work. Many people were injured and killed. Machines crushed and tore people apart, people were cut by the big knives they all used, some lost limbs, and mostly everyone’s lives were impacted in a negative way.
If an associate filed for worker’s comp and won, this is what they can expect:
“Under Colorado’s new law, the payment for losing an arm is $36,000. An amputated finger gets you anywhere from $2,200 to $4,500, depending on which one is lost. And “serious permanent disfigurement about the head, face, or parts of the body normally exposed to public view” entitles you to a maximum of $2,000.” 
Then, I came across the story of Kenny Dobbins. His story led me to tears. You can read the actual story HERE.
In 1987, ConAgra bought Monfort and became the biggest meatpacker in the world.
Because of the low wages Americans were now forced to earn, crime rates skyrocketed. Poverty levels and crime are closely linked.
People living in households in the US that have an income level below the Federal poverty threshold have more than double the rates of violent victimization compared to individuals in high-income households. 
About 2.5 million youth are arrested on an annual basis, with the most common crime being larceny-theft. 
Dangers Of The Food
CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. 
In the 1980s-1990s, many people including children were sickened and killed by tainted meat. The most famous story of all is the 1993 E. Coli outbreak at Jack In The Box that hospitalized 171 people and took the lives of four children. 
There are many reasons why E. Coli may have the chance to make people sick and take their lives. Whenever something is undercooked, you’re at risk for contracting some kind of illness. Other than that, cattle that are infected and eaten also cause sicknesses.
With the slaughterhouse workers underpaid and overworked, mistakes happen and sometimes those mistakes are deadly. Depending on how fast the assembly line is, workers may not be able to thoroughly clean the carcasses.
Did you know? 1 beef patty is likely to contain meat from over 100 different cows?  All it takes is one infected cattle to contaminate the whole batch. Yuck!
Since the introduction of fast foods, weight gain and obesity rates have risen tremendously. The medical industry is booming.
“The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.” 
Fast foods are high in calories, extremely processed, cheap, and convenient. The average American spends $1,200 a year on fast food and 20% of all meals are eaten in the car. 
However, these foods are far from the natural foods that the world gives us to eat. For example, the Big Mac bun alone contains these ingredients:
“Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup and/or Sugar, Yeast, Soybean Oil and/or Canola Oil, Contains 2% or Less: Salt, Wheat Gluten, Calcium Sulfate, Calcium Carbonate, Ammonium Sulfate, Ammonium Chloride, Dough Conditioners (May Contain One or More of: Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, DATEM, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide, Mono and Diglycerides, Ethoxylated Monoglycerides, Monocalcium Phosphate, Enzymes, Guar Gum, Calcium Peroxide), Sorbic Acid, Calcium Propionate and/or Sodium Propionate (Preservatives), Soy Lecithin, Sesame ” 
But the burgers aren’t the only reason to run away from this place. Their large Coca-Cola in America is 32 fluid ounces and contains 86 grams of sugar and 310 nutrient-deficient calories!  Not to mention, these places allow free refills so how much are we really drinking?
McDonald’s serves 68 million people every single day. With all these alarming statistics, is it really any wonder as to why 70% of the American population is overweight or obese?
The fast-food industry changed the world in the following ways:
- American farmers and butchers closed down shops and were forced to find a living elsewhere.
- Middle-class families became poor.
- Wages in meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses were the lowest ever.
- Factory farms were invented.
- Many people were injured and lost their lives due to the negligence of these large corporations.
- Hundreds if not thousands of people died as a result of tainted meat consumption.
- Crime rates skyrocketed due to the rise of poverty levels.
- Obesity rates went through the roof.
What Can You Do?
The only thing we can do as consumers of food is to spend our money elsewhere. As I laid in bed watching countless videos on factory farming, I began to cry. There is nothing I can do to change the food industry – except refuse to purchase the products made by big corporations.
To be honest, just the thought of eating meat makes me sick to my stomach. However, I still would like to find a local farmer and support their business by purchasing produce from them compared to the corporations.
I refuse to buy anything from a fast food place no matter what. I strongly encourage you to buy a copy of the book and join me in this incredible health journey.
There are many other things you can discover in this book such as:
- the protesting and looting of many McDonald’s overseas
- individual stories of people working in the meat and food industries
- about artificial coloring
- cattle and animals fed feces and injected with hormones & antibiotics
- stories of the parents who lost their children to E. Coli
- and so much more
Fast Food Nation entirely changed my life. I could not put this book down and binge read it whenever I had available time.
- Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 185