Fast Food Nation cover art

This review is of Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser. My local public library had 139 copies of it, and only lets it out for two weeks, and I still had to wait almost five months before my name came to the top of the holding queue. You might want to just buy it if you aren't as patient as I am.

Before I say more, let me preface my remarks by saying that I seldom buy fast food, and never at McDonalds, and rarely hamburgers. After reading this book, I may never buy fast food again. Except maybe French fries. All throughout this book, I kept craving French fries. They seem the only safe thing left on the fast food menu.

Mr. Schlosser details the horrible conditions in meat-packing plants, and the huge risk of illness and death that most people are running when they buy hamburger (the raw meat, fresh or frozen, or cooked at a restaurant) from many sources. He discusses how much healthier organic, range-fed beef is, and how much more sanitary our slaughterhouses and meat-packing plants could be. Now, this may not sound like your cup of tea, but Mr. Schlosser has a straightforward way of telling his story that grips you and pulls you in, a willing companion on his verbal journey. He also has a great deal to say about how we are not victims of circumstance, and how so much of the grim realities he describes in this book could be avoided if enough people become aware of how effective they can be as individuals.

Some of the grim realities covered in this book concern my earlier comments on corporations gone bad. Mr. Schlosser covers the rise of the fast-food empires and describes how far-reaching and pervasive the influence of these companies is.

Now, as I said in a previous Web log entry (I just find it so hard to say “blog.” It sounds like something amorphous that will lump over and swallow me down whole, like that classic Steve McQueen horror film from the 1960s called The Blob), there are some positive things to see when one looks at corporations. And one of the positive conclusions that Mr. Schlosser draws is that we are not at the helpless mercy of the corporations. As he says, there are only three CEOs of the three major fast-food chains (Burger King, KFC, and McDonalds), and there are hundreds of millions of us, the consumers. Imagine the CEOs getting hundreds of millions of letters saying what we do and don’t like about their business practices. Or imagine hundreds of millions of people just saying no until the corporations change their policies and what they serve us.

(I'll pause a moment while the power you hold in your hands sinks in.)

After all, says Mr. Schlosser, they are businesses, out to make a profit, and they will do whatever the market wants them to. Sure, they will try to manipulate and gull us into a lethargic acceptance of whatever they want to feed us (both literally and mentally). But we don't have to allow them to do it. And, as he says,

“Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first step to meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who 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.” (Fast Food Nation, hardcover edition, page 269.)

For example, in the spring of the year 2000, McDonalds told its suppliers that it would no longer purchase genetically engineered potatoes. Those suppliers in turn told their growers to stop planting genetically engineered potatoes, “and the sales of Monsanto's New Leaf, the nation's only biotech potato, instantly plummeted.” (Fast Food Nation, hardcover edition, page 269.) Go us!

There is much, much more in the book. Mr. Schlosser's research is careful, his writing is accessible, and his conclusions are fairly straightforward and for the most part, inarguable. I am sure your library has this book, or you may be able to purchase it used, either locally or through Or, if you like your books shiny and crisp, and you want to help support this Web site, you can certainly get this book new at

Review Copyright © Marina Michaels, March 23, 2002