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

You are what you eat, and how you eat. You may grow a garden, you may preserve, you may eat veggies only or raw foods predominantly, but as a culture, do you know where your food comes from? It’s not just a matter of personal taste, it’s a matter of social justice, it’s a matter of the environment, it’s a matter of life and death for many, even yourself. Think of that next time you go to A&P.

My favourite chapter in the well-researched, well-written Fast Food Nation is titled ‘The Most Dangerous Job’. No, it’s not in a forest felling trees. It’s not on a farm farming. It’s what goes on in a modern slaughterhouse, or should I say slaughterfactory? I’ve talked to former knife-wielders of Swiss Chalet and KFC and that was scary enough. But Schlosser takes us inside a slaughterhouse to see where our meat comes from. Live animals in, dead meat out. Live, whole bodied poor people in, usually live but sometimes ghastly injured and still poor people out.

Bruce Cockburn calls cows in the song ‘If a Tree Falls’  ‘methane-producers’. Methane is twenty-four times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Rain forest is destroyed for grazing. Aboriginal people and the richness of their languages and cultures are disappearing forever. We eat a lot of beef. That’s a lot of cows on a lot of former, irretrievable rainforest. That’s a lot of methane. That’s a lot of heat in the air and in the oceans. And we’re poorer because a language, a culture, can’t be revived just as a person can’t be revived. Funny how we in the mid-latitudes eat the beef that destroys equatorial rainforest AND melts the ice near the Poles, as well as destroying and melting ourselves. Yep, fast food has a dark side, alright.

What about the rest of your meal? It’s called fast food, ready in a jiffy for people in a hurry, or with no imagination. What do you need time or imagination for, when you’re just a cog, and after some fast-food, a well-oiled cog? The fries–there’s nothing French about them, the shake–there’s nothing milk about it–are there but where is the love? Love? You’re lucky if you get a smile, even if it is phony and part of the job.

‘Himynameis ________. Howmayiserveyou?’

‘Hi, yeah, I’d like a break today. You know, all morning long I’ve been making decisions, and I could use a little love–are you listening to me?’

What you see is just the tip of the iceberg.

My cousin is the manager of a fast food restaurant, so he sees a bit more of the human story. He used to cook for a living, he used to make food, but now his is a baby-sitting job, and sometimes the babies don’t grow up. They just grow older. But at least they don’t work in a slaughterhouse, or stand in their own shit in a feedlot and have to get pumped full of disease suppressants.

It didn’t used to be this way yesterday; it doesn’t have to be this way tomorrow. Written over a decade ago, Fast Food Nation ends with a stern warning about having it you way. But your way is changing: now there are front yard gardens, community gardens, healthier choices for the rich and the poor, farmers’ markets, local food, slow food, raw food, even urban bees and urban chickens…. We still have a long way to go. There are still line-ups at the checkout at A&P. It’s still worthwhile to read Fast Food Nation, though hopefully someday it’ll collect dust.

Schlosser, by the way, is not a vegetarian, but he knows where’s the beef.

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