The book is divided into two sections. In the first section, The American Way, Schlosser examines the beginnings of the fast food industry in America post-World War II. The second section, Meat and Potatoes, looks at the specific mechanisms of the fast food industry, including the chemical flavoring of food, the production of chicken and cattle, the working conditions within the beef industry, the dangers of eating meat, and the global implications of exporting fast food as a representation of American culture.
The American Way
In the first part of the book, Schlosser discusses how McDonald’s came to be and how Carl Karcher and the McDonalds brothers pioneered the fast-food industry in southern California. He then examines how Ray Kroc (who brought McDonald’s to fame and fortune) and Walt Disney both rose to fame at a time when their relationship with each other was complicated. Schlosser also spends time considering the intricate and profitable methods of advertising to children that is done by both McDonald’s and Disney.
Schlosser then visits Colorado Springs, CO to investigate the life and working conditions of the typical fast-food employee. For instance, out of all industries, the fast food industry employs the highest rate of low-wage workers, has the highest employee turnover rates, and pays minimum wage to more of its employees than any other industry. He examines why this is and how it affects the employees.
Schlosser then finishes the first section of the book by discussing how the enormous success of McDonald’s has generated numerous imitators, not only in the fast food industry, but throughout America’s retain industry. He examines how franchises work and how they become successful, from fast food restaurants to clothing stores to weight loss companies.
Meat and Potatoes
The second part of Fast Food Nation delves deeper into the fast food industry and uncovers some dirty little secrets that the industry workers would probably not like consumers to know. For instance, Schlosser discusses the use of chemical components in the food that make it taste good and look good.
Next, Schlosser examines the life of a typical rancher and how the fast food industry has changed and shaped the way they raise and sell their cattle. From there he critiques the meatpacking industry, which has become extremely dangerous to both the workers and to the consumers since the fast food industry has come to dominate them. As the focus inside slaughterhouses turns to quantity over quality, the accident and death rate among workers has increased substantially. Also, since the fast food industry has dominated these slaughterhouses, the meat produced there has become exponentially more hazardous to consumers’ health. For instance, the way cattle are raised, slaughtered, and processed provides ripe conditions for E coli to spread.
Schlosser concludes the book by discussing fast food as an American cultural export and what affect America’s export of the fast food industry has on other nations as well as on America. In the epilogue, Schlosser discusses some things that we, as consumers, and congress can do to change some of the practices he discusses in the book, such as advertising to children and the unsafe work environments in the slaughterhouses.
Schlosser, E. (2002). Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.