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Dec 15, 2000 10:06 AM

"Fast Food Nation" coming in January -- an expose

  • j

A couple of years ago I read an amazing article in Rolling Stone about fast food -- about french fries and the effect that fast, cheap food has had on the way people eat and work.

He has completed a book on the subject entitled "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal." I'm guessing it will be pretty shocking.

There is an interesting interview with him at The Atlantic Monthly's Web site (link below).

A passage from the book (quoted for review purposes):

"The safety of the food seemed to be determined more by the personality of the manager on duty than by the written policies of the chain. Many workers would not eat anything at their restaurant unless they'd made it themselves. A Taco Bell employee said that food dropped on the floor was often picked up and served. An Arby's employee told me that one kitchen worker never washed his hands at work after doing engine repairs on his car. And several employees at the same McDonald's restaurant in Colorado Springs independently provided details about a cockroach infestation in the milk-shake machine and about armies of mice that urinated and defecated on hamburger rolls left out to thaw in the kitchen every night."



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  1. Here's the original Rolling Stone piece (actually, a two-parter), in which he revealed that the only fictional character with a higher degree of recognition than Ronald McDonald (among American schoolchildren) was Santa Claus.


    20 Replies
    1. re: John Tracey

      I just finished reading the two-part article that you were gracious enough to provide a link to.

      All I can say is, "everybody who cares about the foods that you, {or your children), are ingesting at 'fast food' places, should read this article."

      As a faithful subscriber to "Rolling Stone" for the last 18 years, I'm dismayed that I missed this story when it was in first print. This will teach me a valuable lesson about "skimming".


      1. re: Andy P.

        Just read the Rolling Stone article as well as the interview -fascinating stuff. Plus ca change...shows how far we HAVEN't come since The Grapes of Wrath! Incredible. Also I've always wondered why the US has been "spared" from far.

        However, other than avoiding McDo's, BK and their ilk, what can the average Joe do to influence the fast food companies to clean up their act - and in a larger sense, the US economy which everyone thinks is so great?

        There are a zillion people voting with their wallets FOR fast food, and when the food companies are funding the physical plant of our schools where the government cannot...and the lobby for low-wage jobs at any cost is evidently very strong no matter how detrimental to the long-term socio-economic health of the's hard to blame the companies when they are just giving the People what they obviously want. That's what Democracy is about...

        1. re: magnolia

          I think about that a lot -- what can we do? You can't help but feel like you're throwing pebbles in the ocean, though: I don't know if my decision to skip an order of fries really matters when the McDonald's I "boycott" has ten cars in line at the drive-through.

          And really, if we think much at all about a great deal of the food we buy -- crisp, clean lettuce; perfect strawberries; disease-free potatoes -- we could probably find similar reasons for anger.

          But the fast food industry is so blatant, and unrepentant. The meat-packing industry as well. Of COURSE McDonald's wouldn't talk to Schlosser. Of course.

          Maybe we just take small measures: no sneakers made in sweatshops staffed by children -- and, maybe, no more French Fries and Big Macs. A feeble protest is better than no protest at all, right? Right?

          1. re: John Tracey

            I am surprised at how readily this group seems to be buying into propaganda by the anti-food lobby. Don't fail to recognize that the writer's of such articles have their own axe to grind, and their agenda is decidedly un-chowhound.

            Just as the neo-prohibitionists use scare mongering to vilify wine and alcohol, the food police -- made up variously of radical animal rights advocates who bemoan the eating of animals, knee-jerk environmentalists upset at the so-called exploitation of the earth that our eating hobby creates, collectivists who find it outrageous that we can enjoy our food while hunger continues in the world, and plain old curmudgeons who are offended at anything that gives anything so frivolous as pleasure -- use these scare tactics to slander food. Make no mistake, although they attack McDonalds and the like now, it is not fast food per se that they wish to fight, but rather the entire concept of eating for joy and pleasure instead of for simple sustenance.

            Not to be overly dramatic, but the battle of the food-police is being waged all over the place. In Europe at the moment, the anti-food lobby has terrified people sufficiently with the mad-cow scare to put half the Continent off of beef -- dispite the fact that this has got to be amongst the least infectious diseases in the history of man, with a handful of possible cases of human BSE allegedly caused by billions of meals of beef over the last generation -- and use pseudo-science to promulgate the "frankenfoods" scare and handicap genetic technology to improve the taste and affordability of food. Its happening in America too, where each terribly tragic but exceptionally rare death of a child from listeria or salmonella is used as an excuse to deprive us of real cheese, runny eggs, or rare hamburgers.

            Be wary of such propaganda, and question how the agenda of the writer differs from our own interests as enthusiastic eaters. Food is NOT dangerous, but if people can be convinced that it is, we have no hope of convincing the state to allow us to produce and purchase the food we enjoy.

            1. re: Rob

              Have you read the article in question? It's about the corporate practices of the fast-food industry, including the compromises they make re food quality and safety and their treatment of workers. It's not anti-food, anti-meat, or anti-enjoyment. Rather, it's suggesting that such needs and desires could and should be better fulfilled by a different (corporate) ethic and environment.

              1. re: Caitlin

                Yes, I have indeed read it, and stand by my assessment. The article clearly bemoans a value system whereby peoples' anti-social desire to eat what they want and enjoy, is without head to the putative negative ramifications to society as a whole. This article would have one believe that there is a causal link between a kid wanting a Big Mac, and the perpetuation of class division. The article attacks food and enjoyment of food. The solution, according to the author is clear -- those who eat without regard to the costs to society must be lectured to so that they will gain a sensativity to the havoc they cause.

                Rolling Stone should realize that creating a causal link between food and social ills is no different than Tipper Gore and her ilk attempting to create a link between pop music and violence.

              2. re: Rob

                funny--- what i heard in your mail was as much a knee-jerk as any environmentalist.

                Do you think the reporter just made this stuff up? He's not a vegetarian. I recently read a book called the 'Food and Drink Police.' It made the same arguments you are. While I can see its/your point (the account of Jeremy Rifkin eating out was hilarious), I think you have your own axe to grind, too. Why not accept that the fast food industry (like any high- dollar industry) does not care about its customers? Is that so hard to accept?

                Bad food might be p[erfectly enjoyable. But enjoying bad food doesn't change the reality that McWorkers are treated like drones, the food is lousy, and McD's just wants money. Visit a meat packing plant before you rally to their defense--- better yet, work in one.

                If you disregard the rest of this message, please anwer this one question, Rob: what's wrong with subjecting the food business to a little scutiny? It's healthier and more interesting than complete ignorance.

                1. re: andy huse

                  There is nothing wrong with subjecting the food industry to scrutiny. However, there is often a hidden anti-corporate "small is beautiful" agenda in such criticism. A lot of small restaurants and businesses treat their workers far worse than Mcdonald's treats theirs-I know from relatives in the business-and the food quality and sanitation practices are not necessarily that good either.

                  1. re: rich

                    Please join your fellow participants in this thread in the continuation of the discussion on our Not About Food board.


            2. re: magnolia

              The reality also is that even when companies like McDonald's put healthier items on the menu, they have flopped with the consumer. The situation is not going to change until the great mass of Americans wants something different and is willing to pay more for it.

              1. re: magnolia

                "There are a zillion people voting with their wallets FOR fast food, and when the food companies are funding the physical plant of our schools where the government cannot..."

                will not.

                to fund schools based on property taxes verges in my mind on the criminally anachronistic. there are schools in this country that serve exclusively organic produce and free-range poultry; there are others that can't afford to provide their students with books or teachers.

                i worked in the marketing department at scholastic publishing and saw some sickening programs: lesson plans being written by reynolds wrap and fugi film and dunkin' donuts and, yes, macdonald's. they're nothing but very thinly veiled advertisements. poorly trained teachers with overpopulated classes are only too happy to use these "free" materials. we're teaching our children how to be consumers, but i guess that's about all you have to know how to do anymore.

                i think if we don't want kids to pray in schools, we shouldn't teach them to worship corporate america either.

                crap, i'm sounding like a green party member. i'm not. i'm canadian.

                "and the lobby for low-wage jobs at any cost is evidently very strong no matter how detrimental to the long-term socio-economic health of the's hard to blame the companies when they are just giving the People what they obviously want. That's what Democracy is about..."

                one of the most trenchant features of this trend in business and culture is marketing. the fact that these companies consciously market their product, a product that is linked in some very real ways to death and disease and poverty, to children between 3 and 9 years old in order to generate brand recognition and loyalty, to create lifelong customers, addicts in essence (did you notice they referred to their most frequent customers as "users"?) is a clue that this is not a case of simple supply and demand economics. this is more like crack or freebase dealing. talk to anyone who's gone to business school or who's involved with marketing and they'll tell you, perhaps reluctantly, that companies have to _create_ markets, they have to _create_ _needs_. there's a reason advertising is everywhere: it works.

                the harper's article on the socio-economic significance of fast food is fascinating and infuriating. this is a social and political issue. i believe it was that article that proposed filing the same kinds of lawsuits against fast food companies that have been won against big tobacco. the parallels between the two industries are striking.

                1. re: emily

                  Please everyone...if we must initiate discussion of politics and economics, can we please do so on our Not About Food board?

                  If anyone feels a pressing need to reply to Emily's message (which should have been posted there), please do so by posting a quick reply here stating the name of your new thread on that board, so that respondents in the thread will be advised as to its continuation there.

                  This General Topics board is quite overstuffed enough without its veering into such far-reaching non-food discussion.

                  Thank you


                  1. re: Harrison


                    I'm sorry but I really enjoyed Emily and Mangnolia's posts and do indeed think they belong here. What they are writing about is what is happening at the intersection of food and politics. More anger and discussion can only help to rectify the situation.

                    Joe Moryl

                    1. re: Joe Moryl

                      Hello, Joe

                      Indeed, there are a thousand issues worthy of discussion and rectification, and this is certainly one of them. And I by NO means intended to imply negative criticism re: the quality or merits of this discussion. It's strictly a question of context and thread organization, which are my responsibility as moderator to maintain and enforce.

                      This message board is about food itself (as in eating and cooking), not politics, and thus I really must insist that the issue be discussed on Not About Food, which is really quite a nice board--in fact indistinguishable from this one in every way except for its more appropriate organizational context.

                      If you have questions/comments/feedback on the moderation of this site, such exchanges belong on the Site Talk board.

                      I thank you and everyone generally for following our lead re: keeping threads diligently organized for the good of all.


                      1. re: Harrison

                        I guess the question is, where do you draw the line? Should we not discuss cookbooks or articles about food here? What about wine snobbery? What about import and export laws regarding unpasturized cheeses? Some conversations naturally evolve and change as you go along. I would make the argument that this is still very much a discussion about food. It may not be about the perfect froi gras or grilled cheese sandwich, but it is still about eating, food and food policy. I agree that there comes a point when a conversation has drifted so far off-topic that this is no longer an appropriate venue for it; I would just argue that this conversation has not yet reached that point.

                        1. re: fladd

                          Hello, Flad

                          Yes, it certainly is a "where do you draw the line" issue. And the answer is: the line is drawn where the moderator draws it. In fact, that's the very job of a moderator. Arbitrary? Yes, but someone's got to do it.

                          As for discussion changing as it goes along, we request that as subjects drift into areas that are inappropriate for a given board, users self-police by transplanting discussion elsewhere. If they don't do so, it's my job to urge them to do so. If the urgings are ignored, I must take a scalpel to the discussion. Which I'd really rather not do.

                          This is simply how we do things here, and we ask for everyone's cooperation. So once again, I'll ask all users to please respect the request to:

                          1. discuss political issues on the Not About Food board, and

                          2. discuss our moderation policies (or any other policies of this site) on our Site Talk board.

                          If these requests continue to be ignored, I'll have no choice but to expunge.


                          1. re: Harrison

                            We must agree to disagree, Harrison. A topic should be allowed to develop naturally. All conversations (especially when they involve 20 people) have twists and turns, and they usually go back to where they started (in this case, food and fries).

                            While I/we respect your wishes, it seems like more a power play than an issue of principals. You are the moderator, and your role is naturally arbitrary. But so is ours. People who can't converse freely don't tend to talk much. If one cannot talk about the medical/political/social ramifications of any given food issue (whether it be BBQ, fast food, imported food, history, etc) then what exactly are we doing here, swapping recipes and making small talk about hummus? I can do that anywhere.

                            What makes this site so gratifying is its lack of compartmentalization. I can see threads about fast food, exotic recipes, desserts, wine, and beers all on the same page. Dashing from one place to another just to follow one lousy thread is... less than desirable.

                            but then again, someone has to be the party pooper. as long as it's not me.

                            1. re: andy huse

                              See the thread "Politics Belongs on Not About Food" on the Site Talk board, where this matter will be addressed one more time.

                              What will NOT be addressed one more time is the necessity of discussing site policy on the Site Talk board and not here, where hounds come to read about food, not moderating policy.

                              Any further discussion on this board of our moderating policy or anything else pertinent to this site and its management will be deleted. Such issues are NOT the purview of this board.

                              Harrison is trying hard to keep these boards on track, I applaud him for this, and I've instructed him to cut away if posters continue to ignore his requests.


                      2. re: Joe Moryl

                        Hear no, see no, speak no...

                        "This is a message board about food"? Come on. Pull you head out of the sand. Access to food has always been a political issue. Civilizations can't grow without them, wealth cannot be accumulated, and political power cannot be wrought. Initiatives from international organizations and goverments with regard to food production in the "developing" world have had major effects on subject populations. Food staples have changed, mono-cultures have developed, and famines have come more frequently to hundreds of millions of people as a result of politics. If it wasn't for politics, Italians wouldn't be eating tomatoes, Indians (in India) wouldn't be adding chili pepper to their masalas, and there wouldn't have been a potato famine. Bringing it down to a level that you can understand - cuisines have been tranformed. People interested in dining ought to know that so-called "authentic" dishes from various cultures are a reflection of the political and social transformations that have occured in these places up until today. Discussing social trends that effect the ways our society thinks about food is not only healthy, but necessary for those of us who care about what we put into our bodies. It isn't as though we're talking about the archaic way we elect our president.

              2. John--thanks, I'll get a review copy ASAP


                3 Replies
                1. re: Jim Leff

                  Don't forget mine! :)

                  1. re: Jim Leff

                    Eric Schlosser has written some excellent articles for the Atlantic about a number of things, including the prison business and marijuana law. From what I've read, I'd say he's a top-notch reporter.

                    1. re: Caitlin

                      Yes, and a pretty shocking article about the strawberry industry. Upsetting stuff. A lot of stuff happens to get that pint of fresh strawberries the the local market.

                  2. Damn! So now my McDonald's stock will tank along
                    with the rest of my portfolio!

                    1. This brings to mind another fascinating article that appeared recently in Harper's Magazine on the inter-relationship between obesity, fast food and low income and 'minority' people in the US. Harper's unfortunately does not provide a link on line to any of its past editorial but I'm trying to track down the issue date, title & author. This article, understandably, sparked a great deal of feedback.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: magnolia
                        Christine DiBona

                        Harpers Magazine, March 2000; Let Them Eat Fat; The heavy truths about American obesity, by Greg Critser.

                        1. re: Christine DiBona
                          Christine DiBona

                          sorry about that; here's the source:

                          Harpers Magazine, March 2000; Let Them Eat Fat; The heavy truths about American obesity, by Greg Critser