Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal,

The Book: Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser (Perennial, 2002).
Why You Should Care: Before the high tech revolution, there was fast food. Both are a testament to the power of entrepreneurship.
Let me confess something at the outset: I have a weakness for McDonald’s french fries. Faced with a supersized serving, my head tells me to turn away, but my heart—or, to be much more accurate, my stomach—compels me otherwise.
I know I am not alone. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who does not have an opinion on who—or rather, which, fast food franchise—offers the best fry. For a large number of aficionados, the golden, hot crispiness of the McDonald’s fry, with its hint of beef flavor, wins hands down.
For me, McDonald’s has always been around—I never knew a time when there wasn’t one nearby. And now fast food is everywhere. Where did it come from? I wanted to know more, and so it was with some anticipation that I approached Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a fascinating and detailed review of what has become, like jazz music, one of America’s principal contributions to global culture—the fast food franchise.
I was not disappointed. Here I learned that the subtle beef flavor of those McDonald’s fries originally came from deep frying in beef tallow. I shudder to think how much of that, consumed in my youth, now coats the walls of my arteries, but was relieved to learn that since 1993 the fries have been prepared in pure vegetable oil (the subtle beef flavor now coming from a secret “natural flavoring” additive). I also learned that those perfectly shaped fries are the product of a contraption consisting of a giant high pressure hose that shoots potatoes at high speed into a group of sharp steel blades. Pretty cool.
The big picture is even more interesting. “A Nation’s diet,” Schlosser tells us, “can be more revealing than its art or literature.” That’s some claim, but consider that on any given day, about a quarter of the adult population in the United States eats at a fast food restaurant. And about half of the money spent on food in this country is spent in restaurants, mostly of the fast-food variety.
It was not always thus. Here again we have a story of the marriage of opportunity and American ingenuity giving birth to a hitherto unknown industry that has changed life in the United States and, by export, abroad. Before the high tech revolution came fast food. And, as has been the case with high tech, “One of the ironies of America’s fast food industry is that a business so dedicated to conformity was founded by iconoclasts and self-made men, by entrepreneurs willing to defy conventional opinion.”
For better or worse, the industry has changed America, and again the massive shift in the way we live our lives started with just a few entrepreneurs and an idea.

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