If you like fast food and want to continue enjoying it, you don’t want to read Fast Food Nation. If you hate fast food and think it’s destroying everyone’s health, you’ve either read Fast Food Nation, seen the documentary, or already know the dirt about fast food. So why would anyone read Fast Food Nation? Well, I kind of like some fast food, understand that it’s not especially good for us, but haven’t read up on, or watched any documentaries exposing, its evils. With trepidation I picked up this book, fearing I would never again savor a Hardee’s French fry or Bojangle’s iced tea.
Interested readers are advised that this “Limited Edition” is a repackaging of the 2002 Fast Food Nation; dissatisfied buyers thought there would be some new information and were disappointed. Other readers have complained about numerous spelling and grammatical errors.
Author Eric Schlosser begins his book with the history of fast food, detailing changes in transportation that influenced and encouraged its inception. Fast Food Nation is 520 pages, including notes and index, and is packed with cultural and political references (these references outweigh the food specifics). Much of this narrative is interesting but it’s not “the beef.” Readers interested in the food aspect and not the historical and cultural might skip to the second section of the book, entitled “Meat and Potatoes.” It could be more appropriately titled “Meat and Potatoes and All the Fixings.”
To find out “Why the French Fries Taste So Good,” we must first slog through a description and history of the frozen-french-fried-potato industry. When the frozen potato industry and the fast food industry shook hands, history was made. Then we learn about the flavorings industry. Really… I just want to know why I love the fries and why I shouldn’t eat them. The problem with Fast Food Nation is not a bad thing — it’s comprehensive. It offers nearly every bit of information that could possibly be connected to fast food. Although Schlosser includes his point of view, he also includes an education in food technology, sociology, history, and the politics of food. The naïve reader might accuse Schlosser of being biased or having an agenda. He does; but so does every writer. (It seems that it’s only when the subject is controversial that the “slanted” criticisms appear.)
There is so much information in Fast Food Nation, it’s difficult to read more than a few paragraphs at a time. Is it dangerous to work in a slaughterhouse? You bet, and Schlosser goes into great detail why. How horrible is e. coli? Very, and that, too, is detailed. Do people use sharp knives to cut meat? Uh-huh. Anything remotely related to the fast food industry is expounded upon. Reading Fast Food Nation is like working on an advanced degree, except there are no exams or theses.
Undoubtedly, a lot can be learned from Fast Food Nation, but the reader should take small bites or it’s indigestible. Tales of how McDonald’s deals with the threat of unionization, how Wendy’s deals with e. coli, or how Burger King came to sell chicken nuggets shaped like Teletubbies are both entertaining and informative. Possibly, the best way to read Fast Food Nation is from the back forward; turn to the index and look up topics of interest. The number and variety of index entries alone is impressive (however, don’t look for “shakes” or “milkshakes,” neither is listed.). I was mildly surprised, when browsing the index, that I stumbled across Oliver North and Joseph Goebbels. And those seriously interested in this subject should not skip the notes, which are interesting unto themselves.
Fast food is a fact of life, and if you want a thorough explanation of all aspects of that fact, Fast Food Nation is the place to look. You will come out of the experience knowing lots more than you expected.
Bottom Line: Would I buy this book? No. I prefer to do my research in small chunks on the Internet.