Quicklet on Eric Schlosser's Fast...

Table of Contents
Quicklet on Eric Schlosser's Fast... Table of Contents

Table of Contents

I. Background and Basics
About the Book

Introducing the Author

Overall Summary

II. Discussion and Analysis
Chapter-by-Chapter Summary and Commentary

III. Key Information
List of Important People

Notable Terms and Definitions

Interesting Related Facts

IV. References

Additional Reading

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Background and

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About the Book

“Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought,
unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely
consider where this food came from, how it was made, what it is doing to the community
around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap
the paper, and dig in. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten. I've written
this book out of a belief that people should know what lies behind the shiny, happy
surface of every fast food transaction. They should know what really lurks between those
sesame-seed buns.”

Published in 2001, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American
Meal explores the dark underbelly of fast food production in the United States. An award-
winning journalist and contributor to Atlantic Monthly, Schlosser developed the book from
a series of articles for Rolling Stone magazine. Rolling Stone asked Schlosser to find out
where fast food came from. As someone who enjoyed indulging in fries and hamburgers,
Schlosser was initially reluctant to take on the assignment.

As he began to research the history and formation of the fast food industry, he became
increasingly curious about how the industry gained power and influence on America’s
agricultural landscape and food culture. With over 50 pages of research notes included at
the end of the book, the author defends his points with thorough analysis from various
legal investigations, interviews, and journal articles. Schlosser artfully weaves sarcasm
with gritty investigative journalism to demonstrate how corporations and greed have
corrupted the food system in America.

Schlosser’s book was a New York Times bestseller for over two years and has sold over
1.4 million print copies. In 2006, Fast Food Nation became a fictionalized film directed by
Richard Linklater, which was featured at the Cannes Film Festival.

However, the book and film were not met without criticism from trade industry producers
of beef, potatoes, and restaurant chains like McDonald's. The Wall Street
Journal reported in 2006 that various organizations were trying to create campaigns
against Schlosser’s allegations in the book that fast food consumption contributes to
obesity and fostered corruption in the nation’s agricultural system.

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Introducing the Author

Eric Schlosser always knew he wanted to be a writer. He grew up on the Upper East Side
of Manhattan, New York and Los Angeles, California. His father worked as the chairman
of NBC. Schlosser attended Princeton University and studied writing and American
history. He later completed a postgraduate degree in British History at Oxford University.

His initial writing endeavors were as a playwright and scriptwriter in New York City. In
1985, he wrote a play, Americans, that was produced in London in 2003. His other play,
We The People, was produced in 2007 at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre.

Schlosser also tried his hand at writing novels, but he was unsuccessful. It was not until
his thirties that he began nonfiction writing.

His investigative journalism career began at The Atlantic Monthly in Boston. His work for
Rolling Stone led to his first published nonfiction work, Fast Food Nation, in 2001. An
instant bestseller, Fast Food Nation literally became America’s food for thought.
Consumers began reconsidering their fast food choices and large fast food chains began
rethinking their advertising campaigns.

In 2003, Schlosser published his second book, Reefer Madness, which took an in-depth
historical look at the underground marijuana trade, migrant strawberry farm workers in
California, and pornography in the United States.

His third book, co-authored with Charles Wilson, Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want
To Know About Fast Food (2006) is a bestselling children’s book, an expose on the
harmful health effects of fast food and how it is produced.

Schlosser received accolades on a number of occasions for his writing and reporting
including the National Magazine Award and the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award. As a
journalist, Schlosser has always tried to cover subjects often missed by mainstream
media. Through his writing and research, he strives to show readers that there is often
more to an issue than meets the eye.

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Overall Summary

“This is a book about fast food, the values it embodies, and the world it has made. Fast
food has proven to be a revolutionary force in American life; I am interested in it both as
a commodity and as a metaphor. What people eat (or don’t eat) has always been
determined by a complex interplay of social, economic, and technological forces.”

In Fast Food Nation, Schlosser scrutinizes every unsavory facet of the fast food supply
chain. It begins with fast food’s innocuous evolution in southern California and ends with
well-oiled fast food corporations changing food production around the world. Throughout
the book, Schlosser takes a critical look at how fast food changed Americans and their
attitude towards food culture.

The founding fathers of fast food crafted and mastered the art of the Speedee Service
System, which allows faster food with lower prices for consumers. Later, Schlosser tours
readers through McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Illinois to meet our “trusted
friends.” Behind the golden arches is a calculated facade to make parents feel good
about taking kids to fast food chains and advertisements to make kids want every meal to
be a Happy Meal.

Behind the counter, Schlosser finds underpaid teens and illegal immigrants consistently
working overtime. At times unsavory, the employees give Schlosser a behind-the-scenes
look at just how the food arrives and then is prepared, often by people with little training
and poor hygiene.

Next, Schlosser investigates the food itself. He is surprised to discover that the “natural
flavoring” of the fries is ironically not so natural after all. The beef is made from cattle,
which are fed grain instead of grass to fatten them up more quickly. The most gruesome
part of the entire book is an expedition through the slaughterhouse, where countless
workers are injured on the job everyday and shown little remorse from their employers.
Even scarier, is the amount of meat that makes it through processing centers tainted with
potentially life threatening E.coli and other pathogens.

Unfortunately, at present the US government has little power over the meatpacking and
fast food industries and their practices. Schlosser runs through laundry lists of failed
legislation and federal investigations ultimately leading to minimal change in the

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legislation and federal investigations ultimately leading to minimal change in the
operations of fast food companies.

Schlosser writes with dexterity to flush out a compelling and persuasive investigation.
Schlosser sympathizes with the dilemma consumers face wanting cheap eats and
convenience at the same time. The powerful nature of the industry on the nation and
globally makes it difficult to implement positive change quickly through governmental
means. He urges fast food companies to look within themselves to change and tells
consumers they are the most powerful forces of change. Simply put, consumer demands
drive sales.

The book is divided into two main sections. Chapters 1-4 fall under “The American Way,”
a historical perspective on how the fast food industry developed and became powerful.
Chapters 5-10 are listed under the heading of “Meat and Potatoes,” a revealing
perspective on how fast food is created and processed.

Schlosser’s account of the industry is enriched with facts, statistics, and quotations from a
myriad of sources. It is difficult not to get an uneasy feeling the next time you consider
eating a fast food hamburger.

Become a Hyperink reader. Get a special surprise.

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Discussion and

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Chapter-by-Chapter Summary and


“The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly
unexceptional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or
stopping for a red light. It has become a social custom as American as a small,
rectangular, hand-held, frozen, and reheated apple pie.”

Schlosser descriptively sets the scene for the backdrop of his book, the city of Colorado
Springs, Colorado. Cheyenne Mountain looks like any other beautiful Rocky Mountain
vista, but in reality, it surreptitiously houses the North American Aerospace Command.
During the 1950s, the US government feared their air defenses were vulnerable to attack
and chose Cheyenne Mountain to be the underground combat operations center.
Hollowed out, the mountain contains 15 three-story buildings inside and 1,500 people
work inside everyday. The complex even has its own cafeteria, fitness center, dentist,
chapel and barber shop. Whenever the people stationed at the base want something new
to eat, someone is often called to deliver Domino’s or pick up fast food from the nearby

The author playfully muses that, should America be attacked in the future, Cheyenne
Mountain may be the only place with artifacts of our civilization – “Burger King wrappers,
hardened crusts of Cheesy Bread, Barbeque Wings bones, and the red, white, and blue of
a Domino’s pizza box.”

What started as a small food stand in southern California has now spread all over the
nation. Schlosser says fast food “has infiltrated every nook and cranny of American

Shockingly, Americans spend more today on fast food than higher education, computers,
or new cars. Schlosser estimates, “On any given day in the United States about one-
quarter of the country’s adult population visits a fast food restaurant.”

The author argues that the powerful rise of fast food industry happened quickly and “not

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only transformed the American diet, but also out landscape, economy, workforce, and
popular culture.”

Importantly, Schlosser draws parallels between Cheyenne Mountain and today’s fast food
industry. Both “conceal remarkable technological advances behind an ordinary-looking
facade.” Colorado Springs was chosen as a focal point for book because the changes in
this city reflect those of the fast food industry. Schlosser says the city’s population has
more than doubled in the last few decades and “the Rocky Mountain region as a whole
has the fastest-growing economy in the United States, mixing high-tech and service
industries in a way that may define America’s workforce to come.”

Schlosser admits that during the writing process of this book, he ate a lot of fast food and
that he does not look down on it in an “elitist” or “aesthetic” way. His greater concern is
the way fast food is marketed to children and is prepared by people that are only a few
years older.

He feels consumers are attracted to fast food for three simple reasons:

it tastes good

it is inexpensive

it is convenient

Chapter 1: Founding Fathers

“What had begun as a series of small, regional businesses became a fast food industry, a
major component of the American economy.”

This chapter describes the rise of today’s largest fast food restaurants. He begins with
Carl N. Karcher, whose modest beginning on a farm in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, led to the
birth of fast food. Karcher was born in 1917 and dropped out of school in the eighth
grade to work full time on his father’s farm.

Eventually, he was offered a job by one of his uncles in Anaheim, California. Karcher
worked at his uncle’s Feed and Seed Store selling goods to local farmers and also took a
job delivering bread for bakery. He was amazed by the number of local hot dog
stands popping up everywhere. When he heard one was for sale nearby, he decided to
buy it. At the same time, Los Angeles was growing rapidly and cars were becoming the
main form of transportation. Car culture led to the world’s first motel, drive-in bank and
curb-side service restaurant.

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By 1944, Karcher owned four hot dog carts in Los Angeles. When a restaurant went up
for sale across from his wife’s family farm, he decided to buy it, becoming the first Carl’s
Jr. restaurant in 1956. Initially, the restaurant was a drive-in barbecue place, but when
Karcher learned of a restaurant using a self-service system, which did not require
expensive skilled and short order cooks, he converted his restaurant too.

The McDonald’s self-service system was devised by Richard and Maurice McDonald, two
brothers who moved to California from New Hampshire during the depression for a better
life. They also created the memorable and most famous corporate logos in the world: the
letter ‘M’ in golden arches.

The Speedee Service System was later emulated by future fast food chains like Dunkin’
Donuts, Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy’s Old-Fashioned Hamburgers, Domino’s, Kentucky
Fried Chicken, and many others. The biggest fast food chains spread across the nation
from 1960-1973. In that time span, the number of McDonald’s grew from approximately
250 to 3,000 restaurants.

With admiration, Schlosser reflects upon these founders as fulfilling the American dream.
At the same time, he acknowledges that fast food founders did not know what the
unintended consequences of their work would be. Schlosser remarks, “It is the fast food
parable about how the industry started and where it can lead.”

Chapter 2: Your Trusted Friends

“Now you can buy a Happy Meal at the Happiest Place on Earth.”

This chapter begins with a panorama of the Ray A. Kroc museum. Schlosser emphasizes
the “Disneyesque tone” of the museum. The author’s goal is to draw parallels between
the two corporations and their founders:

Both Ray Kroc and Walt Disney were born in Illinois and born one year apart.

They served together in the same World War I ambulance corps.

They both left the midwest for southern California, where they played integral roles in
two American industries.

Both leaders dropped out of high school, yet added “formal education” style schools to
their companies. For example, Disney trains its theme-park employees at Disneyland
University and the McDonald’s Hamburger University trains future managers,
executives, and franchisees for a “Degree in Hamburgerology.”

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Schlosser notes that more than being great businessmen and entrepreneurs, both
men were “masterful salesmen.” They figured out how to market their companies well
to children.

Ray Kroc’s name to fame came while selling milk-shake mixers in 1954 in San
Bernardino, California. The McDonald’s brothers were two of Kroc’s biggest customers.
Their McDonald’s Self-Service Restaurant used Kroc’s unit that could make five
milkshakes at once. Kroc was amazed by their self-service system and envisioned the
expansion of the restaurant around the country. However, the brothers were less
ambitious and content with their current success. They had no wish to travel elsewhere.
Kroc convinced them to sell him the right to franchise the restaurant nationwide.

After an agreement was settled, Kroc reached out to Disney to see if there was an
opportunity for McDonald’s in the Disneyland Development. Kroc had high hopes, but his
proposal went nowhere. Disney’s company progressed much more quickly than
McDonald’s and served as an example for Kroc.

Meanwhile, Walt Disney founded the marketing strategy known as synergy. He allowed
other companies to use Disney-licensed characters, like Mickey, with their products and
advertisements. Later on, Kroc used similar techniques to expand his franchise.

During the Baby Boom era, Kroc wanted to market the restaurant to families and create
a safe All-American place for children. In 1960, one McDonald’s franchise cleverly
sponsored Bozo’s Circus, a local television show in the Washington D.C. area. The clown’s
appearance in the restaurant often drew large crowds, eventually leading to the creation
of McDonald’s own Ronald McDonald clown. Kroc added Playlands “playgrounds” to
the franchises to increase kid and family appeal.

Next, Schlosser discusses how companies began to market to children in the 1980s. The
fast food industry created promotional partnerships with toy manufacturers to gain more
customers. The idea was give away simple toys with children’s meals and sell fancier
ones at a discount. Kids would encourage their parents to take them frequently so that
they can collect the entire set being advertised on TV. In 1996, Disney signed a ten-year
marketing deal with McDonald’s and achieved synergy between the two companies.

Schlosser also discusses McDonald’s “Trusted Friend” campaign, which attempted to
make consumers feel that the restaurant truly cares about them. The company wanted
parents to feel like they are being good parents when they take them to McDonald’s.

The last section of the chapter discusses how fast food has been incorporated into
schools. Many fast food chains have offered finances to needy schools in exchange for

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advertising and marketing of their products throughout the school. Schlosser says most
school advertising campaigns are “subtle.” He cites a 1998 study that found that teaching
materials provided by Consumers Union contained slanted information that favored the
sponsor's product or views. Today, about 30 percent of public high schools in the US
provide branded fast food in their school cafeteria.

Chapter 3: Behind the Counter

“Smile with a greeting and make a positive first impression,” a Burger King training
manual suggests. “Show them you are GLAD TO SEE THEM. Include eye contact with the
cheerful greeting.”

The author takes the readers back to Colorado Springs onto Academy Boulevard, a new
sprawling development where fast food joints repeat every few miles. Full of new housing
developments, the area is populated with people that moved from the west coast to the
Rockies. Schlosser gives a sense that the place is like Los Angeles in the 1950s, once a
“sleepy tourist town” and ripe for economic opportunity.

At the outbreak of World War II, the city relied on military spending with the opening of
Camp Carson and Peterson Army Air Base in the area. After the war ended, the city
gained more military bases. Just the number of army and military personnel grew to
larger than the entire city’s population before the war. Many defense contractors were
also moved from southern California to Colorado Springs. The influx of new people, also
brought new attitudes that made the city “a magnet for evangelical Christian groups.”

Schlosser stresses that despite the vast tech and aerospace industry, the state’s largest
private employer is the restaurant industry. Kroc started growing his franchise by
selecting sites that were nearby schools. Years later, McDonald’s began using
helicopters to find areas with large growth patterns and cheap land that would end up
being close to future suburban communities.

In the next section, the author discusses how adolescents play an essential role in the
workforce of the fast food industry. Schlosser notes that about two-thirds of the nation’s
fast food workers are under the age of 20.

“Instead of relying upon a small, stable, well-paid, and well‑trained workforce, the fast
food industry seeks out part‑time, unskilled workers who are willing to accept low pay.
Teenagers have been the perfect candidates for these jobs, not only because they are
less expensive to hire than adults, but also because their youthful inexperience makes
them easier to control.”

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Schlosser attributes business historian Alfred D. Chandler to argue that a high rate of
“throughput” was the most important aspect of mass labor production systems. To
clarify, a factory’s throughput is determined that the speed and volume of its flow,
rather than now many people work there or the quality of their machinery. The
McDonald’s brothers may not have used this particular term, but certainly applied these
principles with their speedy self-service system.

Another aspect of successful throughput is strict regimentation at fast food restaurants.
Corporations impose strict rules on how a task is to be performed and make tasks so they
require as little skill as possible. Consequently, it is easy to replace workers with new
hires, cheaply and efficiently. Schlosser attacks the industry for collecting government
subsidies for employee training and using the funding instead to create more
technologies to eliminate training for workers.

Schlosser also suggests stroking is also another important aspect of the fast food
industry. Stroking is a form of positive reinforcement to make workers feel they are
valued. For some people, especially teenagers, this “deliberate praise” might be
something that they may not receive at home or in school for their contributions.
Schlosser says this technique is used because it is cheaper than paying overtime or
raising wages.

The restaurant industry hires the highest amount of low wage workers with the highest
turnover. Schlosser notes that most of the young workers in Colorado Springs never
thought of organizing a union. Teens who did not like their working conditions would quit
and find another job elsewhere and “the cycle goes on and on.”

Next, Schlosser discusses crime in fast food chains. Schlosser says four to five people are
murdered every month during a restaurant robbery. Surprisingly, the people who are
employed in these restaurants are the same demographic that is responsible for these
violent crimes. In fact, there have been many instances where previous restaurant
employees have robbed their place of previous employment.

Chapter 4: Success

“Becoming a franchisee is an odd combination of starting your own business and going to
work for someone else.”

Schlosser decides to take a ride with pizza delivery guy, Matthew Kabong, in Pueblo,
Colorado. Kabong works for Little Caesars and studies electrical engineering at the local
college. Kabong explains that Pueblo is the rundown, working class part of Colorado
Springs. Despite the socio-economic distinction, the emergence of restaurant chains and

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big name stores has leveled out the playing field to make Pueblo more like the rest of its
surrounding towns.

The Little Caesars, where Kabong works, is owned by Dave Feemster, a previous National
Hockey League Player. After a sustaining a serious injury, Feemster was forced to stop
playing and leave his team. A friend suggested that he became a Little Caesars
franchisee. He trained as an assistant manager for $300 a week. The franchise fee was
$15,000. Once he bought his first franchise, he had to give the company back 5 percent
of his revenues and contribute 4 percent to advertising. The franchises also require that
the franchisees also provide the capital for the construction of their own restaurant.
Schlosser says that before his business even sold a single pizza, Feemster was already
$200,000 in debt. It took him over three years to pay off that debt.

Schlosser criticizes the franchise system used by many fast food restaurant chains for
misleading franchisees into believing that starting a business as a franchise was less risky
than self-starting a business.

“In 1998 an IFA Survey claimed 92 percent of all franchisees said they were ‘successful.’
The survey was based on a somewhat limited sample: franchisees who were still in
business. Franchisees who’d gone bankrupt were never asked if they felt unsuccessful.”

Schlosser defends his point, citing Timothy Bates, a professor of economics at Wayne
State University, who believes that the International Franchise Association has vastly
overstated the benefits of franchising. Bates conducted a study for a federal loan agency
that found that “within four to five years of opening, 38.1 percent of new franchised
business had failed.”

Schlosser finds there is very little to protect franchisees and their employees. Federal law
requires full disclosure prior to a sale but cannot dictate how they are governed after.
Schlosser notes:

“It is perfectly legal under federal law for a fast food chain to take kickback (known as
“rebates”) from its suppliers, to open a new restaurant next door to an existing franchise,
and to evict a franchisee without giving cause or paying any compensation.”

Chapter 5: Why the Fries Taste Good

“The fries on the plate looked wildly out of place in this laboratory setting, this surreal
food factory with its computer screens, digital readouts, shiny steel platforms, and
evacuation plans in case of ammonia gas leaks.”

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The second half of this book, “Meat and Potatoes,” focuses on the food served in fast
foods restaurants. This chapter in particular is about fries, how they are made, and how
they are processed for fast food restaurants.

The author travels to Aberdeen, Idaho to the potato plant of J.R. Simplot. The plant, built
in the 1950s, is considered small today, yet it still processes about a million pounds of
potatoes every day.

Simplot was born in 1909 and grew up working on his father’s farm. He dropped out of
school and began working at a potato warehouse to eventually become a potato farmer.
Over time, he learned and perfected a new method for drying onions and potatoes.
During the war, Simplot sold dried onions and potatoes to American military food
suppliers. He used his profits from the military contracts to buy more potato farms and
cattle ranches. By his mid-thirties, Simplot was a success at growing his own potatoes and
processing them at his own factories.

After the war ended, Simplot invested in frozen food, believing it would be the primary
means of providing meals in the future. Simplot began selling frozen french fries in 1953.
Sales were initially down, because frying them at home did not appeal to busy
homemakers. He realized that restaurant owners would see the appeal of frozen fries as
time-saving and help maintain the consistency and quality of fries in all locations. Simplot
met with Ray Kroc in 1965 and the following year Simplot became the main supplier of
french fries to McDonald’s.

Only two companies are larger than J.R. Simplot Company in frozen fries production in
the United States: Lamb Weston, and McCain, who became number two after buying Ore-
Ida in 1997. Schlosser says these three companies control approximately 80 percent of
the frozen fries market in America. Because fries have become a bulk commodity,
Schlosser says they can be manufactured in high volumes at a low profit margin. This is a
tremendous benefit to fast food chains by lowering their wholesale costs.

“Out of every $1.50 spent on a large order of fries at a fast food restaurant, perhaps 2
cents goes to the farmer who grew the potatoes.”

Next, Schlosser explains why the fries at fast food chains taste so good. McDonald’s used
to fry its fries in 7 percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow. After receiving
much criticism about the cholesterol content in their fries, the chain switched to pure
vegetable oil. Now the restaurant was challenged to make the fries taste the same
without using the tallow. Today’s list of ingredients shows “natural flavor” as the secret

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What exactly is natural flavor? Schlosser says they are “man-made ingredients that
give most processed food its taste.” An entire flavor industry is built around giving
processed food (anything that has been canned, frozen, dehydrated, etc.) a flavorful
taste again. Schlosser quotes Terry Acree, a professor of food science technology at
Cornell University, “A natural flavor is a flavor that’s been derived with an out-of-date
technology.” Schlosser stresses that natural flavors are not necessarily healthier, they
are simply derived from a different process than artificial flavors.

The New Jersey Turnpike is home to the largest companies in the flavor district of
America. Schlosser visits the International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), which is the largest
flavor company in the nation. He was not invited to see the manufacturing areas of the
plant, but Schlosser did have an opportunity to sample the flavors.

To Schlosser’s surprise there was nothing to taste. Small glass bottles were brought to
him and he was asked to dip testing filter strips and smell them. “After closing my eyes, I
suddenly smelled a grilled hamburger. The aroma was uncanny, almost miraculous. It
smelled like someone in the room was flipping burgers on a hot grill. But when I opened
my eyes, there was just a narrow strip of white paper and a smiling flavorist.”

Chapter 6: On the Range

“Hank wanted me to see the difference between his form of ranching and ‘raping the

Schlosser opens the chapter describing the first person he met in Colorado Springs, a
local rancher the named Hank. He wanted to learn from Hank how development in the
area and the fast food industry mandates were affecting local cattle business. Hank
showed Schlosser the new subdivisions that are being built on areas where cattle used to

Hank raised his cattle by moving them from one pasture to the next. The cattle grazed on
the greens and then were herded to a new fresh pasture of greens. This method allows
for the indigenous flora and fauna to regrow and recover.

As they drove by more of the nearby ranches, Schlosser realized that the city grew
without much official planning or zoning restrictions. Schlosser outlines numerous
problems ranchers are tackling today including, rising land prices, stagnant beef prices,
developmental pressures, oversupply of cattle, as well as health concerns and anxiety
about the consumption of beef. The most significant problem lies with the rapid growth of
the fast food industry and the consolidation of the the meatpacking industry.

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For example, McDonald’s wanted to increase the uniformity of its product and
consequently decided to reduce its number of beef suppliers to five. Many ranchers feel
that large corporations are imposing mandates on the market and use unfair methods to
lower the price of cattle.

In the next section, Schlosser describes the methods used to create the chicken nugget.
Tyson actually developed a new breed of chickens to enable the production of
McNugget. The “Mr. McDonald” chicken was characteristic for having very large breasts.
Ultimately, the new breed changed the system for raising and processing poultry.

“Twenty years ago, most chicken was sold whole; today about 90 percent of the chicken
sold in the United States has been cut into pieces, cutlets, or nuggets.”

Schlosser notes that as a result of the McNugget contract, Tyson Foods became the
largest producer of chicken in the world.

Chapter 7: Cogs in the Great Machine

“The smell is hard to forget but not easy to describe, a combination of live
animals, manure, and dead animals being rendered into dog food. The smell is
worst during the summer months, blanketing Greeley day and night like an
invisible fog. Many people who live there no longer notice the smell; it recedes
into the background, present but not present, like the sound of traffic for New
Yorkers. Others can't stop thinking about the smell, even after years; it
permeates everything, gives them headaches, makes them nauseous,
interferes with their sleep.”

Greeley, Colorado is a meatpacking factory town home to ConAgra Beef Company, the
country’s largest meatpacking complex. ConAgra also operates feedlots and several
slaughterhouses nearby. Three months before slaughter, the cattle are fed grain instead
of blue grama to fatten them up quickly. A steer will eat more than 3,000 pounds of
grain while he is in the feedlot.

This method was developed during the depression, when a local school teacher, Warren
Monfort, started to feed his cattle grain instead of grass. He soon became the nation's
first large-scale cattle feeder. He was able to feed his cattle year-round and time his
livestock sales to receive the best prices. He also found that the meat of the grain fed
cattle was tender and fattier than meat of the grass-fed cattle. The other advantage was
that the beef did not need to be aged and could be eaten within a few days of slaughter.

Monfort’s method was perfect for the fast food industry demands. Monfort and his son
opened the first slaughterhouse in Greeley in 1960. Before coming to rural towns like
Greeley, Chicago was considered the meatpacking capital of the United States and home

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to the Beef Trust. These meatpacking firms were infamous for their working conditions.

“In The Jungle (1906) Upton Sinclair described a litany of horrors: severe back and
shoulder injuries, lacerations, amputations, exposure to dangerous chemicals, and
memorably, a workplace accident in which a man fell into a vat and got turned into lard.
The plant kept running and the lard was sold to unsuspecting consumers. Human beings,
Sinclair argued, had been made “cogs in the great packing machine,” easily replaced and
entirely disposable.”

The book’s accuracy was later verified by several federal investigations, which eventually
led to the creation of food safety legislation in 1906. According to Schlosser, after World
War II, meatpackers wages were increased and it proved to be a ”desirable” and “stable

In the 1960s, a slaughterhouse named the Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) opened, which
applied the same techniques as the Speedee Service System of McDonald’s. The IBP
plant featured a disassembly line, which dismissed the need for skilled workers for
various tasks. Each worker was responsible for making one cut over and over again in the
line. They also added feedlots near the slaughterhouses and moved everything over to
more rural areas to avoid the urban labor union ideals. Currier J. Holman, one of the
founders of IBP, was later tried and convicted for bribing union leaders and meat

The low-cost production of beef from IBP forced Chicago meatpackers to also move West
into more rural “anti-labor union” areas.The new plants paid 50 percent lower wages
than what Chicago's union workers were paid.

In the 1980s at the slaughterhouse in Greeley, Monfort started hiring immigrants at the
beef plant. Schlosser believes that the idea was to create a high turnover rate to help
create a “workforce that is harder unionize and much easier to control.”

IBP was the first company to realize that immigrants are willing to work for lower wages
than US citizens. IBP actually sends recruitment teams to poor communities to offer them
low-wage employment. IBP hires buses to bring these workers from distant places to
work in their slaughterhouses.

Chapter 8: The Most Dangerous Job

“I’m now struck by how many workers there are, hundreds of them, pressed close
together, constantly moving, slicing, You see hardhats, white coats, flashes of steel.
Nobody is smiling or chatting, they’re too busy, anxiously trying not to fall behind.”

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In this chapter, Schlosser takes readers into the slaughterhouse. He finds someone with
access to the plant who is upset by the working conditions to give him a tour. Schlosser
sees the entire gruesome process of cattle slaughter from the stunning of cattle to the
cutting. Importantly, he observes the workers’ conditions inside.

Schlosser says meatpacking is most dangerous job in America. One of the most
dangerous aspects of the job are the knives people use to make cuts every two to three
seconds. Many often accidentally stab themselves or someone around them.

Schlosser criticizes the “IBP revolution” for hazardous conditions meatpacking workers
confront on a daily basis. Injury rates are directly linked with the speed of the disassembly
line. The faster the line runs the more likely that workers sustain injuries. In order to cope
with pressure, many workers use methamphetamine to help them feel more
self-confident and ready for the job.

The worst job in the slaughterhouse belongs to the late-night cleaning crews. They are
in charge of cleaning the mess left behind from the slaughtering of 3,000-4,000 cattle
everyday. Their primary cleaning tool is a high-pressure hose that sprays a mixture of
chlorine and water, heated to about 180 degrees. During the cleaning process, a thick fog
engulfs the plant and visibility is reduced to less than five feet. The smell is overwhelming
and many vomit on the job.

Even worse is cleaning the vents of the slaughterhouse. During the winter, when the
vents are clogged with grease and dried blood, the area becomes icy and the winds are
brutal. Many workers fear being blown off the roof into the darkness. The death rate
among sanitation workers is very high. Schlosser grimly adds, “The nation’s worst job can
end up in just about the worst way. Sometimes these workers are literally ground up and
reduced to nothing.”

During the course of his research, Schlosser observed that as the disassembly lines
became faster and more illegal immigrants replaced skilled workers. The federal
government also reduced its enforcement by the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA). In the 1980s, the number of meatpacking injuries rose, yet the
number of OSHA inspections fell.

In 1919, Colorado was one of the first states to offer workers’ compensation to enable
urgent care and income for injured workers. However, in 1991, Colorado began to
impose harsh restrictions on workers’ comp payments. Benefits were reduced for injured
employees. At present, it can take a long time for an injured person to receive their

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workers’ comp benefits. When an injury is easily visible the company agrees to pay
immediately, but if the injury is listed as cumulative trauma, the compensation process is
often prolonged with litigation.

Chapter 9: What’s In the Meat

“A series of tests conducted by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the
University of Arizona, discovered far more fecal bacteria in the average
American kitchen sink than on the average American toilet seat. According to
Gerba, ‘You'd be better off eating a carrot stick that fell in your toilet than one
that fell in your sink.’”

This chapter opens with a story about a man named Lee Harding. In August of 1997, he
became the victim of food poisoning from frozen hamburger patties, which contained
E. coli 0157:H7. The meat came from a fairly new, state-of-the-art Hudson Foods plant in
Columbus. Public officials announced a recall on beef as soon as it was traced to the
plant, but it was too late. 25 million pounds of the ground beef had already been eaten.

Schlosser attributes the recent increase in foodborne illness to the way American food is
produced. Because American meat production is so “centralized,” more people are
affected whenever contamination occurs. The uniform system required by corporations
like McDonald’s has nurtured an “extremely efficient system for spreading the disease,”
says Schlosser.

Just in the last two decades, more foodborne pathogens have been discovered. The new
pathogens are suspected to be coming from healthy animals. Food tainted with these
pathogens have most likely come in contact with the infected animal’s stomach contents
or manure during slaughter and processing.

Schlosser cites an appalling USDA study to make his case, “78.6 percent of the ground
beef contained microbes that are spread primarily by fecal matter.”

The next section deals with the refusal of the meat packing industry to implement a
science-based inspection system. This involves testing the meat frequently for
potentially harmful microbes. After Jack in the Box’s infamous outbreak in 1993, the
company made great strides to improve the safety of its food at all levels of its

David Theno, the master behind the safety system at Jack in the Box, is loved by
consumer groups and heralded as the “Antichrist,” by those in the meatpacking industry.
Theno is an advocate of seeing a “performance-based grading” for slaughterhouses. The
ones that produces consistently clean meat would receive a ‘A’ and plants that

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performed moderately receive a ‘B’ and so on. The grades would be based on microbial
testing. He believes that the E.coli problem can be solved easily and quickly saying it “is a
matter of will not technology.”

Schlosser notes that the Jack in the Box food safety program raises the cost of the chain’s
ground beef by about only one penny per pound.

Another meatpacking industry issue of concern is the slow pace of recall or lack of recall
when an outbreak occurs. Schlosser states that under current law, the USDA has no
authority to demand a recall. When something happens, the USDA and the meatpacking
company go into negotiations about the timing and scale of the recall. Schlosser
emphasizes that every day that passes in this negotiation period is another day people
are eating contaminated meat. He supports his point by examining the Hudson Foods
outbreak in 1997 and the amount of time it took to inform the public. He also notes that
companies are not obligated to inform the public or even state health officials about

The Clinton Administration backed legislation to give the USDA authority to impose civil
fines on meatpackers and demand meat recalls. But Congress failed to enact this bill and
similar legislation presented later.

Schlosser does not blame contamination solely on the meat industry. Often the people
preparing the food at restaurants are responsible too. He notes the several interviews
with fast food employees who told him horror stories about the food served. Many of the
workers said they would not eat the food unless they prepared it themselves.

Chapter 10: Global Realization

“[Activist Dave Morris] spoke intensely about McDonald’s, but stressed that its arrogant
behavior was just one manifestation of a much larger problem now confronting the world:
the rise of powerful multinationals that shift capital across borders with few qualms, that
feel no allegiance to any nation, no loyalty to any group of farmers, workers, or

In this chapter, Schlosser discusses the expansion of fast food chains around the world.
The McDonald’s Corporation called this growth, “global realization.”

Today McDonald’s gains the majority of its profits from outside the United States. Their
brand is more widely known than Coca-Cola. As more fast food chains moved overseas,
their suppliers also set up shop in foreign countries at the same time. To avoid suspicions
of imperialism, chains try to purchase as many of their supplies from the countries they

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operate in. The idea is to set up similar agricultural systems in the country, instead of
importing all the food from the United States. For example, in 1993, J.R. Simplot started
growing potatoes and opened the first french fries factory in China to supply Chinese

Another issue of importance is the increased rate of obesity in the last few decades due
to fast food consumption. Schlosser remarks, “By eating like Americans, people all over
the world are beginning to look like Americans.” Schlosser supports his claim with quotes,
facts and figures from nutritionists, medical literature, and scientific research studies.

Fast food chains have tried to create and promote healthier menu items but, most
attempts fail. Campaigns in the last few decades to double, triple, or mega size food
orders haven’t helped consumers control portion size and caloric intake.

Fast food may give consumers a lot of bang for their buck, in reality, the annual health
care costs arising from obesity are close to $240 billion, according to a 1999 Reuters
article cited by Schlosser. He also finds, “Americans today spend more than $33 billion on
various weight-loss schemes and diet products.”

The obesity epidemic is spreading to the rest of the world. Great Britain is the largest
consumer of fast food after the United States. They also have the highest obesity rate in
Western Europe. Schlosser says China and Japan have also seen increased rates of
obesity due to fast food chains changing the Asian diet.

While many embrace fast food culture, many around the world continue to oppose it.
During the 1990s, American fast food chains were often targets of overseas
demonstrations. These restaurants became a symbol of “American Imperialism.” For
example, in 1996, Indian farmers in Bangalore attacked a Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
because they felt the chain threatened their traditional agricultural practices. Schlosser
goes on to list a number of angry occurrences around the world against chains like

In the next section, Schlosser talks about the infamous “McLibel” trial in Great Britain and
how it became the “longest trial in British history and a public relations disaster for
McDonald’s.” Two London Greenpeace activists had handed out a leaflet entitled, “What
Wrong with McDonald’s?”. It accused the fast food chain of promoting poverty, selling
unhealthy food, exploiting workers, torturing animals and more. Helen Steel and Dave
Morris did not write the leaflet; they just handed it out. McDonald’s had plenty of
resources and decided to sue the two for libel. Morris and Steel had their work cut out for
them. They had to find witnesses and locate numerous official documents to support the

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claims in the leaflet.

McDonald’s was confident it would win the case and made the error of assuming that
everything in the leaflet was libelous. Even though Steel and Morris were able to defend
only some of the leaflet’s content, the trial led to a public examination of the chain’s labor
policies. The trial made front-page news in British media. In an attempt to save their
case, McDonald’s had spies attend Greenpeace meetings from 1989-1991.

"The spying had begun in 1989 and did not end until 1991, nearly a year after the libel
suit had been filed. McDonald's had used subterfuge not only to find out who'd distributed
the leaflets, but also to learn how Morris and Steel planned to defend themselves in

Epilogue: Have It Your Way

“The executives that run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen.
They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell
whatever sells at a profit.”

The author circles back to Colorado to tie up loose ends. Schlosser attempts to show
readers examples of successful places that haven’t been corrupted by corporate greed
and still serve quality food.

Instead of taking readers back into the world of fast food, Schlosser visits Dale Lasater, a
Rockies rancher, located the the small town of Matheson. Lasater’s philosophy on raising
cattle is to let nature do most of the work. The cattle are fed grass instead of grain.
Lasater recently started a company to sell organic, free-range grass beef. As a result, his
meat is lower in fat content, and has a “stronger, more distinctive flavor.”

About sixty miles away from the Lasater Ranch is a place called Red Top Restaurant
owned by Rich Conway. Conway’s small Red Top chain managed to survive in Colorado
Springs despite the influx of fast food chains in the 1970s. The family business is known
for hamburger patties that are made by hand with fresh beef and fries made by peeled
potatoes everyday. The restaurant is a fraction more expensive than the Wendy’s across
the street. The challenge Red Top faces is how to “expand the business without
compromising the values responsible for its success,” says Schlosser.

In-N-Out Burger is another family-owned successful chain. Owners Harry and Esther
Snyder opened the first restaurant in 1948 and declined many offers to sell the chain.
Schlosser believes the chain has “always followed their own path”, paying the highest
wages in the fast food industry. Full-time workers receive benefits that include medical,

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dental, vision, and life insurance. Schlosser says, “The managers have, on average, been
with the chain for more than thirteen years.”

Even with high wages, In-N-Out doesn’t have higher food prices or lower quality food. In
fact, the opposite is true; the chain has ranked the highest in food quality, value, service,
atmosphere, and cleanliness. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Schlosser cites a poll
from Restaurants and Institutions in 2000, for rating McDonald’s with the lowest-quality
food served at a major hamburger chain.

Schlosser urges readers about “what to do” and “how to do it.” Schlosser thinks Congress
should ban all advertisements directed at children to promote unhealthy foods. In
effect, children would be discouraged from bad eating habits at an early age, and fast
food chains would be encouraged to create healthier recipes for their menus. A similar
campaign against cigarette advertising proved highly successful and sales of cigarettes
have “declined ever since.”

He outlines and elaborates on the various issues fast food industry needs to amend. In
summary Schlosser writes:

“Congress should ban advertising that preys upon children, it should stop subsidizing
dead-end jobs, it should pass tougher food safety laws, it should protect American
workers from serious harm, it should fight against dangerous concentrations of economic
power, but it isn’t likely to do any of the soon. The political influence of the fast food
industry and its agribusiness suppliers makes a discussion what congress should do
largely academic.”

Schlosser urges Congress to resist fast food lobbies and apply pressure directly to the
fast food industry. He compares today’s US agricultural practices to the centralized
system of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. At one point, the American decentralized
system of agriculture depended on millions of independent producers and was depicted
as the “most productive system in the world.”

Faster than any legislation Congress can pass, the power to change the fast food industry
is in the hands of consumers and the chains themselves. If McDonald’s were to demand
higher wages and safer conditions for its meatpacking workers, the suppliers would have
to provide them. Schlosser says, “Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food.”

If consumers demand better quality food, fast food chains would have to provide or risk
losing their consumers to other places that are providing better food.

“Pull open the glass door, feel the rush of cool air, walk inside, get in line, and look around

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you, look at the kids working in the kitchen, at the customers in their seats, at the ads for
the latest toys, study the backlit color photographs above the counter, think about where
the food came from, about how and where it was made, about what is set in motion by
every single fast food purchase, the ripple effect near and far, think about it. Then place
your order. Or turn and walk out the door. It's not too late. Even in this fast food nation,
you can still have it your way.”


This section was recently added to the 2012 editions of Fast Food Nation. Schlosser
reminisces over the past decade since the initial publication of the book. He wishes that
the book was out-of-date, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. The issues discussed in
this book are just as relevant today as they were decade ago. Upton Sinclair would be
amazed at just how little has changed in the last century.

Despite the problems that still exist, he acknowledges that a healthy food movement has
taken place and a number of authors, filmmakers, chefs and activists are responsible.
There is a new culture, which rejects highly processed foods, genetically modified foods,
and industrial food production. People are the embracing the back to basics attitude
towards food, with many restaurants using only locally sourced and sustainable
ingredients on their menus. Parents have also taken up the cause, urging school systems
around the country to ban fast food, junk food like sodas and candy on school campuses.

Schlosser also discusses the various positive and negative responses he received to the
publication of this book. He is thankful that none of the industry attacks on the book have
been based on factual errors in the text.

“Everything that I’ve learned since Fast Food Nation was published has made me more,
not less, optimistic about the possibilities for change. I believe, more than ever before,
that nothing about our current food system was inevitable. And when things aren’t
inevitable, that means things don’t have to be the way they are. I hope that 10 years
from now this book really is irrelevant—and that the world it describes, so full of greed
and lacking in compassion, is just a bad memory.”

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Key Information

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List of Important People

The following is a list of significant personalities who come up in the book:

Carl N.Karcher: founder of Carl’s Jr. restaurant

Glen W. Bell: a World World II veteran, who liked McDonald’s and decided to copy the
system to make Mexican food; eventual founder of Taco Bell

Ray Kroc: founder of McDonald’s Corporation and franchise

Richard and Maurice McDonald: brothers who founded McDonald’s Famous

William Rosenberg: opened a small doughnut shop in 1948, which later became
known as Dunkin’ Donuts

Keith G. Cramer: opened the first Insta-Burger King in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida;
the chain was later renamed Burger King

Dave Thomas: founder of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers in Columbus, Ohio

Thomas S. Monaghan: founder of Domino’s pizza

Harland Sanders: opened the first Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in 1952 near Salt
Lake City, Utah

J.R. Simplot: a potato farmer who created the first frozen fries sold to McDonald’s

Harry and Esther Snyder: opened the first In-N-Out Burger in 1948

Upton Sinclair: author of The Jungle, a muckraking expose written in 1906 about
horrible working conditions in the meatpacking industry particularly in the city of

USDA: United States Department of Agriculture

CDC: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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IBP: Iowa Beef Packers founded in 190 by Currier J. Holdman and A.D. Anderson

OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration

P&SA: Packers and Stockyards Administration, a federal agency with broad authority
to prevent price-fixing and monopolistic behavior

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Notable Terms and Definitions

Beef tallow: a form of rendered beef fat once used by McDonald’s to fry its french

Collectivism: a political or economic theory advocating centralized, collected control
especially over production and distribution. Schlosser stresses the collectivism of the
meatpacking industry negatively affected smaller independent farmers and ranchers.

Dehydration: the process of removing bound water or hydrogen and oxygen from (a
chemical compound) in the proportion in which they form water. Simplot perfected
this technique on the use of onions and potatoes

E.coli 0157:H7: a virulent and potentially lethal foodborne pathogen. Schlosser’s
found often meat from slaughter houses is tainted with pathogen.

Franchise: the right or license granted to an individual or business to market a
company's goods or services in a particular area. Ray Kroc asked the McDonald’s
brothers if he could franchise their restaurant around the nation

Happy Meals: kid-portioned meals served at McDonald’s which included a
promotional toy giveaway

Salmonella: a bacterial infection, people infected develop diarrhea, fever, and
abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after infection. The illness usually lasts 4 to 7 days,
and most persons recover without treatment.

Scrip: provisional certificate of money subscribed to a bank or company, entitling the
holder to a formal certificate and dividends.

Speedee Service System: the new division of labor system developed by the
McDonald’s brothers where workers only need to know how to do one task

Steer: male bovine animal less than four years old

Stroking: a form of positive reinforcement, deliberate praise, and recognition given
to keep workers content without having to raise their wages

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Interesting Related Facts

English has become the second language of at least one-sixth of the nation’s
restaurant workers, and about one-third of that group speaks no English at all. Many
only know the names of menu items.

Every month about 90 percent of American children between the ages of three and
nine visit a McDonald’s.

McDonald’s Teenie Beanie Baby giveaway of 1997 is considered one of the best
promotions in the restaurant's history. At the time, McDonald’s sold on average 10
million Happy Meals a week. During the Teenie Beanie Baby promotion, the restaurant
sold 100 million Happy Meals in a week.

Over the past 25 years, Idaho has lost about half of its potato farmers due to the
corporate farms taking over family farms.

International Flavors & Fragrances manufactures the smell of six of the ten best selling
fine perfumes in the US. It makes the smell of Estee Lauder’s Beautiful, Clinique's
Happy, Ralph Lauren’s Polo, and Calvin Klein’s Eternity.

In-N-Out Burger prints verses from the Bible on their soda cups.

Eric Schlosser co-produced the documentary Food Inc.

The CDC estimates that about 280,000 Americans die every year as a direct result of
being overweight.

Dave Morris, one of the Greenpeace activists involved in the McLibel trial,
told Schlosser that perhaps the most disturbing moment of the trial was
hearing how McDonald's had obtained his home address. One of its spies
admitted in court that a gift of baby clothes had been a ruse to find out
where Morris lived. Morris had unwittingly accepted the gift, believing it to
be an act of friendship-and was disgusted to learn that his infant son had
for months worn outfits supplied by McDonald's as part of its surveillance.

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The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch, Catching Up with Eric Schlosser: A
CMD Interview

The New York Times, No Accounting for Mouthfeel

Public Broadcasting Station, About Eric Schlosser and Michael Pollan

The Guardian, The bitter truth about fast food

The Wall Street Journal, Flak Over ‘Fast Food Nation’

The Economist, Mac Attack

Rolling Stone, Fast Food Nation: The True Cost of America’s Diet

The Telegraph, A Writer’s Life: Eric Schlosser

Steven Barclay Agency Lectures & Readings, Eric Schlosser

Drury University, Eric Schlosser’s Biography

USA Today, Read this and you won't want fries — or anything

The Atlantic, Unhappy Meals

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Additional Reading

WebMD, E. Coli Bacterical Infection.

Restaurants & Institutions, Chains Spin Off Fast-Casual Concepts

The Ecologist, Behind the Brand: McDonald’s.

US News and World Report, The Next Beef Scandal?

Health Affairs, The Politics Of Obesity: Seven Steps To Government Action.

Slate, McRage

The Atlantic, Jihad Vs. McWorld

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About The Author

Chandni Rathod
Chandni Rathod is an experienced author and researcher, and a member
of the Hyperink publishing team.

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