Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser discusses how fast-food chains like McDonald’s revolutionized the industry with assembly-line principles and how these chains are exploiting the people from weaker sections of the society. It also discusses how these industries target children as potential customers and how the globalization of fast-food is making people obese worldwide.
Fast Food Nation Summary
Have you heard of McDonald’s?
I know what you’re saying right now: “Are you an idiot, everybody has heard of it.”
What if I tell you the food you eat in the restaurants isn’t prepared in the kitchen of the restaurants?
Well, in this book, Eric discusses the dark secrets behind these giant fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King.
And today, in this Fast Food Nation summary, I’ll share the lessons I learned from this book.
Without further ado, let’s roll.
The adoption of revolutionary factory line principles
In the pursuit of cutting or reducing the food production cost and optimizing it for speed and efficiency, McDonald’s brothers adopted the assembly-line production model.
And it changed everything!
This model divided the whole process of food production into several specific stages.
At each stage, there existed a simple task to be performed.
What’s the best thing about this model?
It didn’t require skilled laborers.
An average person with almost no skill or less training could perform a simple individual task at one stage.
Since the task to be performed didn’t require much skill, the fast-food chain owners could easily get away with minimum labor costs.
They could easily hire an unskilled person at a low price and teach him without any high cost.
Adopting this practice allowed them to maximize their profits and scale up their empire throughout the world.
Seeing the apparent success of McDonald’s, other fast-food chains also adopted this model.
All the prominent fast-food chains like Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken, they all owe their success to McDonald’s for revolutionizing the industry with the assembly-line model.
Even though this model sent the profits of fast-food chain owners soaring high, it had drastic consequences on the people of America and other countries throughout the world.
This model changed the way people eat and see food today.
Today, most of the food has become part of the “Speedee Food Service” system.
The faster the food is produced, the more the fast-food companies make profits.
All thanks to the assembly-line production system.
Kids are the prime target of fast-food chains
Guess who are the ideal customers for these fast-food companies?
If you are from a business background, or even if you have little knowledge about the corporate world, you can easily tell that children are easy to influence and hence ideal for such companies.
It’s easy to target children because they don’t possess enough experience and knowledge to see through marketing tactics.
These fast-food chains run advertisements on TV, place big hoardings, and adopt several marketing strategies to win over the heart and minds of kids.
Eventually, young children end up believing all the promises these companies make in their commercials and develop in them the want to buy these products.
Kids can even pressurize their parents to buy from these food chain owners.
Simply put, win over kids, and they will make their parents buy from you.
This was the idea that all fast-food chain owners firmly believed in.
McDonald’s took great steps to attract kids to their restaurants.
Have you heard of “Happy Meals”?
Of course, you have.
Why does McDonald’s provide toys with “Happy Meals”?
They do this to attract kids.
They have even gone one step ahead.
They have started building playgrounds near their shops to glue kids to their restaurants.
The result? McDonald’s has tripled or quadrupled its revenues.
Fast-food chain owners haven’t stopped just there.
Commercials have made their way into the school textbooks to nurture children into believing that their products are excellent – and their promises are real.
They deliberately implant false ideas into the minds of young children and run their propaganda.
Fast food industries exploit workers and children
Working at fast-food restaurants looks fancy from outside.
Who doesn’t want to be surrounded by all that tasty and mouth-watering delicious food?
All the foodies out there would dream of having a job at big fast-food companies.
But what you see isn’t real.
On the contrary, the condition of workers in the fast-food companies is worse than you can imagine.
Remember the assembly-line system we talked about earlier? It plays a great role in worsening the conditions of the workers.
Due to the simplicity of the task to be done at each stage, the workers get a low salary.
On top of that, companies are continually working on moving manual labor to automation, meaning less need for labor.
Another thing is, companies often hire people from weaker sections of society which include poor people, children, migrants, etc.
They hire young people as they are often less experienced and don’t demand high wages.
And not to forget, they are easily interchangeable.
You can quickly fire one in case of any dispute.
Talking about the workplace environment, especially when it comes to meatpacking industries, injuries are pretty common among the workers.
Workers are discouraged from reporting their injuries and are even forced to work at a faster rate.
Especially teenagers, who are unqualified and untrained, suffer the most.
Sometimes, female workers are harassed and abused by the superiors, and still, no action is taken against them.
Despite all that harsh treatment, they are provided with minimal pay.
Not being in the authoritative position, the workers yield to the demands of the fast-food giants.
You might ask why these workers don’t resist?
Well, they do try to resist.
Whenever a union is formed against the policies of these fast-food companies, these companies adopt harsh methods like mass firing.
Sometimes, indirect methods are also used to suppress these unions.
For example, McDonald’s suddenly started showing interest in the emotional as well as the financial well-being of the workers at its restaurants when they saw any possibility of union formation.
Since the people forming labor unions already belong to lower sections of the society, they fail to fight against these giants.
Moreover, these companies invest in developing strategies to reduce their expenditure, which consequently results in poor working conditions for workers.
Managers who keep labor costs low (often achieved by abusing workers) are often rewarded with benefits.
On the other side, the workers don’t get any benefit.
Workers are hired, fired, and scheduled at will by fast-food corporations.
Flavor matters more than quality in fast-food chains
No matter how much you try to hate fast-food and criticize it, it’s hard to resist the temptation of eating them.
The flavors in the fast-food are enough to seduce your taste buds.
What do you think causes this?
What’s the secret behind all that heavenly pleasure you get while eating them?
Let’s talk about McDonald’s french fries.
Even for the critics, it’s hard to deny the fact that they taste good.
What do you think is the secret of the flavor behind these fries?
One might think that the restaurants have highly trained chefs at their kitchens who discover an exquisite blend of ingredients to make those flavors.
Ironically, those flavors have more to do with the test tubes at chemistry labs than with the kitchens at restaurants.
In fact, the taste of fries isn’t due to the quality of potatoes or the technology used to process them; it’s more about the oil and the flavor they use to cook them.
Just like any chemical product, those little fries go through a lot of processing like freezing, canning, etc.
And by the end of tremendous processing, they lose most of their natural flavors.
So to overcome this situation, companies add artificial flavors to it.
Have a look at your refrigerator today and check the labeling on the packaged food items.
You’d find that most of them would have added flavors in them.
Now, you might ask what’s wrong with these added flavors?
And why one should bother about it?
These added flavors mostly have two names:
- Natural flavors
- Artificial flavors
Surprisingly, both are produced at chemistry labs.
Here is what’s alarming:
These giant fast-food companies have secret formulas or recipes for making these mouthwatering flavors with exquisite taste and aroma.
Nobody knows what ingredients they use to make them.
Sometimes, these flavors are derived from animal products.
All that artificial heavenly taste comes at the cost of quality.
Simply put, when you enjoy your delicious pizza, you can’t be sure that it’s prepared by using natural ingredients.
Taste is what decides the success or failure of a restaurant, so these companies make sure that their products taste good.
These companies often invest in hiring “flavorists” who are basically chemists with a great sense of taste and smell.
And these “flavorists” discover new flavors by artistically putting little amounts of different chemicals together.
So the next time you go to Burger King, McDonald’s, or any other fast-food restaurant, remember that what you taste might be different than what you eat.
Farmers suffer due to the monopoly of fast-food corporations
Today, due to the monopoly of few fast-food giants like McDonald’s in the market, farmers have no choice but to sell their potato, poultry, beef, etc. to these giants.
Earlier, McDonald’s used to buy from many suppliers, but now it has cut the numbers to a minimum.
These companies set terms and policies that benefit them but don’t benefit the suppliers or farmers.
For example, farmers don’t get the pay they deserve. The worst part is they don’t get to work with the company they want.
Fast food companies could terminate the contract at their will and impose terms and policies without the consent of the farmers.
Farmers end up paying huge debts.
Corporations then force these farmers to sell their land and other such property to them.
Farmers, due to the paucity of buyers, yield to the demands of these corporations.
These corporations heavily influence the lives of the farmers and make it even worse.
And eventually, the farmers go out of business and get dependent on these companies for their entire life.
Unhygienic conditions at slaughterhouses cause foodborne diseases
Today, on average, the typical American eats sixty-eight pounds of beef every year.
Where do you think all this comes from? It comes from the slaughterhouses.
These slaughterhouses are one of the most dangerous places in America.
In fact, these are the places that precisely narrate what happens behind the scenes when it comes to beef production.
Just imagine all the mess that happens while slaughtering cattle and birds, slicing them with knives, putting them on assembly-line, and hanging them with a hook.
The laborers who work at slaughterhouses often get cuts, stabs, and other such injuries.
To make more profits, the managers push them to work even harder.
The worst job there is to clean all the mess after the slaughtering of animals.
Often the beef gets contaminated as the people working there don’t get sufficient training.
Deadly bacteria find home into beef when it comes into contact with cattle feces.
Now imagine, if only a single contaminated batch of beef gets packaged and reaches the supermarket, how many people it would affect?
To meet the rapidly increasing demand for fast-food, these fast-food industries don’t put enough checks on the quality.
But to keep up with it, they adopt faster production techniques that result in cheap quality food products.
Foodborne diseases like food poisoning, diarrhea, etc. affect people in millions in the U.S every day.
And no matter how much these industries brag about their rising standards, their food quality remains low.
The fast-food is gaining influence throughout the world
Despite all these flaws, fast-food is gaining widespread influence.
The fast-food industry is becoming more competitive every day.
Therefore major chains are now looking overseas to expand their territory.
McDonald’s, today, has around fifteen thousand restaurants in more than 117 countries outside the United States.
This shows how quickly the fast-food chains have undergone expansion in recent years.
The reason fast-food industries have spread rapidly across different nations is, fast-food chains were the first movers to enter a country when it first opened its market to international investors.
This rapid spread of fast-food chains to other nations has led to “Americanization.”
Due to this, more and more people are getting obese.
And McDonald’s, due to these negative consequences, has faced protests from environmentalists and animal rights activists across different nations.
Fast Food Nation Review
This book changed the way I used to look at the fast-food.
If you’re a fast-food lover, then you would think twice before buying your favorite hamburger or pizza again.
I already knew before reading this book that fast-food isn’t as healthy as it looks.
I thought it only causes obesity.
After reading this book, I realized that not only is it harmful to humans, but also to the animals.
This book taught me how flavors are prepared inside a lab, not in the kitchen, which was a shocking revelation to me.
It’s hard to imagine how the globalization of fast-food will affect the world.
Eric Schlosser did a great job in explaining how fast-food has changed the way we look at the food and how bad it’s for our health.
The chapter where Eric explained about chemicals used in artificial flavors reminded me of my chemistry class.
Although it looks like the fast-food is the evil here, but I think, if you know what you eat, it’d help you make proper eating decisions.
The key point is, you must be food-conscious if you want to be healthy.
Disclaimer: All the things about fast-food chains or corporations like MacDonald, Burger King, etc. that are discussed in this post are derived from the book itself, means those aren’t my personal opinions. I respect every brand out there and don’t pose any intention to hurt their reputation.
Now it’s your turn
Would you ditch fast-food for good?
How do you think the globalization of fast-food chains across the world would affect the health of the people?
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