Who would have thought that a book on fast food would be so interesting. “Fast Food Nation : The Dark Side of the All-American Meal”:http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060938455/jksobservat-20 is part history, part investigative journalism. On the one hand there is the story of the various people who started the fast food revolution from South California. Then there is stomach churning details on the state of the various factories where fast food is manufactured. There is also the human interest story on the various other cogs in the fast food wheel, such as the ranchers who do not make any money to the illegal immigrants who work in dangerous conditions risking their lives to produce fast food.
The story, starts with the people who started the fast food revolution in United States, people such as Ray Kroc the founder of McDonald’s, Carl Karcher the founder of Carl’s Jr and JR Simplot who became rich selling frozen fries to McDonald’s. These people identified that Americans were a bunch of people who would want to eat and not dine and made their restaurants a place where one could grab food and be on the way. This was at a time when conveyor belt production was becoming popular in industries and the founders of the Fast Food industry decided to apply the same concept to their kitchen as well.
Something which I learned from the book was that the meat packing industry is controlled by a few major companies and as a result they have the power to dictate to the farmers what they should produce and how much. For example, the poultry farmers do not even own the chicken they grow. The day old chicken, the feed, and instructions on how to grow them are provided the company. The farmers just follow the instructions and when the time comes the company takes the chicken, weighs them and pays the farmer for those chicken which meet their requirements. The farmers when they sign the contract with the packaging companies give up all legal rights. It seems they do not make money and the number of suicides in the farming community is increasing. I have read about farmers in Andhra Pradesh committing suicide because of debts. In United States, the epicenter of capitalism, some farmers are doing the same.
The meat packing industry is also the most dangerous places to work in United States. According to the book people who operate slaughter houses advertise in radio stations in Mexico to get cheap and sometimes illegal labor to do the dirty work. The people who work in the slaughter houses are at the mercy of their supervisors and are encouraged not to report any injuries they get at work. The book mentions the case of a worker who got his hand stuck in machinery, had to be taken to the hospital for treating his wounds and was bought back and put to work immediately. The profit margins for these places are very low and the margins depends on how many cattle are slaughtered each day. So the supervisors are under pressure to operate these factories at the maximum possible speed without any delays, even if they affect the health of the workers.
There is also mention of the nexus between the large meat packing companies and the Government. According to the book these large companies have made sure that the administration relaxes the quality control on the meat and have made sure that even meat tainted with E-Coli cannot be recalled. The author accuses that these companies have no concern for the health of the consumer and provides numerous cases where the companies have lied to investigators. There are some very gross descriptions on what all goes into the meat, reading which, you will think twice before eating Fast Food.
I found the book very gripping and interesting to listen. The book presented a shocking view regarding the business practices that are followed by large corporations which control the market and sets profits as the only goal. Worker safety and consumer health concerns are not paid any attention at all. If you are a regular fast food consumer, you will think twice before placing that order after reading this book.
Some Tidbits from the book
* The Fast Food industry started in South California and one of the reasons they became popular was because of the popularity of automobiles.
* The fast food industry does not make much money off food. Their profit margin comes from selling soft drinks.
* The main audience for the advertisements are children. When they are 8 yrs old children develop the taste for a soda and then they have about 65 years of drinking ahead. So it is important for advertisers to catch them early.
* Some school district in Colorado did not have sufficient funding and so they allowed a fast food joint to advertise in the school lobby.
* 2/3 rds of the people employed by the fast food industry is below 20 years of age.
* A $1.75 Hamburger sold at a fast food joint gives $0.02 to the rancher.
I had a blog called Silicon Notes on blogger before I moved here. I had posted quite a few book reviews, and I am going to selectively move some of them to varnam. Got this idea after reading “Yaz’s blog”:http://www.yazadjal.com/mt/archives/000054.html.