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Book Review: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Author: Eric Schlosser
Genre: Politics, Health, Business
Pub. Date: July 2005
Format: Paperback, 416pp
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Personal Rating: 4/5

Published in 2001, Fast Food Nation is a volume not for the faint of heart or week of stomach. Eric Schlosser takes on the corporate machine in an expose which has drawn comparisons to Upton Sinclair�s The Jungle. While one is nonfiction and the other fiction, both attempt to shed light on poor corporate practices.

Schlosser, an investigative journalist, spent three years researching and studying the fast food industry from the cows and chickens on the farm to the final preparation before it ends up in your Big Mac. Using personal vignettes interspersed with statistics and primary research, Schlosser attempts to build a case for change in the way industrialized agriculture does business, especially in regards to meats.

Some might find this work a little biased. Schlosser lays blame for many of the industry�s problems at the door of Republicans (with good reason I admit) but places little or none at Democrats. In the afterward to the UK Penguin edition, Schlosser addresses these critics, �Fast Food Nation has no hidden partisan agenda; the issues that it addresses transcend party politics. In retrospect, I could have been more critical of the Clinton administration�s ties to agribusiness.� True, but he didn�t, and it is only in this edition that the afterward is found. So the sideways apology rings a little hollow.

The book uses statistics, but at times will use words like �hundreds� or �thousands� instead of real numbers when the statistics don�t suit his purpose. Part of that is an attempt to make the work readable for the average man, but the preponderance of occurrences for the words is not to simplify the stats, but to obscure those stats that don�t fit the conclusion.

I was also disappointed in the small mention of In-and-Out Burgers. Although Schlosser uses it as an exemplar of a good corporate culture, even mentioning the Bible verses on the bottoms of cups, he fails to say why, only to point out the good things they do. If he had been honest, it is not because they are family owned, but that they have a set of moral values that are not flexible but fixed and so cannot be changed at need. The Christian values they have lead it to be a leader in compassionate business, rather than a simple family ownership or small size as Schlosser asserts.

Still, for all its flaws, Fast Food Nation does try to be objective and Schlosser�s final conclusion that, �The great challenge now facing countries throughout the world is how to find a proper balance between the efficiency and the amorality of the market.� is one I think most readers will agree with. The reader will have to slog through some biases, as I mentioned in two (1 and 2)pevious posts, but the challenge to your thinking makes it worth taking the time to read. Schlosser�s call for governmental, civic, and corporate action is one that is rounded and doesn�t lay the blame at anyone�s door.

I recommend the book be read if you are interested in public health issues, corporate America, and politics. Liberals will have many assumptions and biases confirmed, so it is of less use to them ultimately. Conservatives will benefit from a viewpoint that takes into account the value of the free market, but fears allowing it free reign.

I learned a lot from Fast Food Nation, and will probably avoid beef for a while as a result. I did not feel condemned for eating fast food, nor did I feel that I need to become a vegetarian. This is not a philosophical book, only an analytical one that is readable, thorough, and thoughtful.

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