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

by Eric Schlosser

Hardcover, 2001

Call number




Houghton Mifflin Company (2001), Edition: 1, 368 pages


An exploration of the fast food industry in the United States, from its roots to its long-term consequences.

Media reviews

''Fast Food Nation'' provides the reader with a vivid sense of how fast food has permeated contemporary life and a fascinating (and sometimes grisly) account of the process whereby cattle and potatoes are transformed into the burgers and fries served up by local fast food franchises.
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This is a fine piece of muckraking, alarming without being alarmist.
It is a serious piece of investigative journalism into an industry that has helped concentrate corporate ownership of American agribusiness, while engaging in labor practices that are often shameful.

User reviews

LibraryThing member GregMiller
Nearly 100 years after Upton Sinclair first alerted Americans to the dangers of mass-produced food, Eric Schlosser demonstrates that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Schlosser examined not only the effects of fast food on the health of consumers (a major contributing factory to the growind obesity problem in the United States), but the effects of fast food on the landscape, and on the workforce that prepares the food at all stages. Schlosser shows that workers in slaughterhouses suffer numerous injuries from repetitive motions, as well as cuts and the loss of digits (or more), from handling dulled knives because they don't have time to keep them sharp. The slaughterhouses themselves have moved out of "The Jungle" of urban areas, and into rural areas--that have few resources to deal with the large number of immigrant families that are attracted by the promise of steady work.… (more)
LibraryThing member JaneSteen
Where I got the book: purchased on Kindle.

I’ve pretty much given up fast food over the years, with a very sharp decline in visits to such restaurants in about the last three years. This was due to my chronic gastric problems and the gradual realization that they were linked to preservatives and additives in food—fast food doesn’t sit well with the moves I’ve been making toward eating quality, preferably organic, food. Discovering that American bread was one of the culprits in my case also made it difficult to eat hamburgers, and since I’ve now been told by my holistic doctor that I need to avoid grains and dairy altogether, I’m pretty much done.

And a good thing, too. Because after reading Fast Food Nation, I don’t think I’ll ever eat a fast food hamburger again. Schlosser’s book is as much about the cultural and economic effects of fast food as about the food itself, but the long chapter on food poisoning (introduced into the beef chain by the conditions under which the animals are kept (which also raises many ethical issues) is pretty much enough to turn you vegetarian.

Schlosser describes the development of the fast food industry from the growing popularity of hot dog carts in the newly mobile California of the 1930s and 1940s, through drive-in restaurants, to the moment in 1948 when the McDonald brothers decided to eliminate carhops and silverware and sell hamburgers created on an assembly-line basis, giving working-class families their first shot at affordable restaurant food. The beginnings of the world’s largest restaurant chains were, it seems, marvels of innovation and inventiveness, and over the next 40 years entrepreneurs applied the new ways of thinking to other easy-to-eat foods such as pizzas and fried chicken. One of the great innovations was marketing these products to children, who would then carry their love for these trusted brands into adulthood. I feel like I should cue the Jaws music here, because we all know where this is going—supersized people sipping from 40oz buckets of flavored, diluted corn syrup as they waddle around Wal-Mart . . . .

Schlosser goes on from his recounting of what, after all, were some pretty amazing examples of how to grow a business to get into what fast food has done for American industry. Among other things, it’s consolidated food processing to the point where most of our meat comes from a very few processing plants, created a huge workforce of mostly teenaged employees, resisted unionization so effectively that most employees barely earn enough to eat (and resort to robbing their own workplaces to supplement their income) and industrialized the production of food to the point where we’re eating a frightening combination of low-quality carbohydrates and proteins masked in chemical flavors. What’s more, this commercialization of eating is supported by public money—and has driven the traditional kind of farmer off the land.

And then things get truly gross. Schlosser describes conditions in meat processing plants (one of the things I learned was that while chickens, that can be grown to uniform size, are processed by machine, cattle have to be slaughtered and butchered by hand by people up to their ankles in blood and shit) that raised the hair on my head. These jobs, mostly held by immigrants (not all legal) are some of the most dangerous you’ll ever read about, and cleaning up the plant at night is just as risky as swinging a knife by day as the cattle rattle by at speeds of up to 400 per hour. Having shown how the meat is processed, he then goes on to describe what happens when you eat a hamburger with shit in it as a result of these processing methods, and that’s the point, dear reader, where you might toss your cookies. I have a strong stomach, but that chapter was hard to take.

And finally, Schlosser describes how America’s fast food corporations are exporting all of the above issues, including obesity, to countries around the world. Fortunately, the world does appear to be a bit more resistant to American corporations than are Americans themselves, and there are stories of triumph.

This book was published in 2001, so the examples tend to be from the 90s—but Schlosser notes in his recent afterword that not much has changed since. He does, however, cover some stories of hope—the growing interest in quality, organic, locally-sourced food and particularly in combating childhood obesity is providing farmers who resist the corporate lure with a way to survive. But I think we all know that the corporate greed that’s at the root of everything Schlosser describes is still there, and that Americans, en masse, don’t seem to be able to resist buying food that they know is bad for them. That’s a pretty dangerous combination.
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LibraryThing member megacoupe
Not just a great book, but a life-changing book. It's been several years since I've read it, but I still cannot bring myself to eat at a McDonald's-type fast food place, for health as well as moral reasons.

Schlosser describes in great detail just what it is you support every time you give your money to a corrupt company as influential as McDonald's. I don't want to name all of the things, but the most important ones include:

-the unhygienic treatment of cows and chickens (bad for your health and cruel to the animals)
-substandard quality of food you put in your body (yes, there are feces in your hamburger)
-dangerous and unsanitary working conditions at meat factories and slaughterhouses
-pressure from food corporations on Congress to keep worker wages down and leave profits high

Reading this book made me realize how much damage I was causing in supporting fast food restaurants that utilize the infrastructure that uses poor people and forces low-quality food on us. McDonald's and the like will never get another dollar of my cash to damage this country further.

I haven't given up on meat by any means, I just make sure that I'm eating animals that were treated well, fed real food, not pumped full of antibiotics, and handled properly when slaughtered to avoid contamination. To eat any other way is just scary to comprehend.
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LibraryThing member csweder
Something occurred to me while finishing this book. While I was reading Fast Food Nation, I was also finishing the seventh Harry Potter. Everyone who had already read HP told me how good it is, how they cried, etc. And yes, HP was endearing. But FFN was to an even greater extent I feel.

While most readers engage themselves in fiction, nonfiction is highly ignored—and I’m guilty of this maybe more than anyone else. But reading FFN gave me all of the same strong emotions that reading fiction does. I am angered at the villain (in this case large corporations that will do anything for money, including lie to their clients), and I feel emotionally attached to the victims—the rancher, the meatpacker, the fast food franchisee, and the consumer of this meat. But then the realization hits me—this is real.

These huge corporations are really recruiting poor, unskilled laborers, often immigrants to perform very dangerous jobs, refusing them decent wages, insurance, or worse yet, workers compensation when they hurt themselves. While it is true that the evidence is anecdotal, it is perhaps the only evidence that will ever be available, since these companies have a long unpunished history of lying. Lying to their workers, lying to the government, and lying to their customers.

At first I was simply horrified by the human aspect. How terribly these companies treat their workers. It is extremely despicable, but even I cannot capture all of the terrors. You’ll have to read the book to understand.

But after the human aspect, FFN took a twist toward The Jungle. Sinclair would be truly pleased. The fact that these companies are so powerful, they don’t have to test their meats for salmonella or e. coli is awesome: unless you’re one of the millions of unsuspecting meat eaters in the world. It’s truly sickening how much power these companies have. The government has the power to recall all kinds of defective merchandise, but not potentially lethal meat.

Obviously this book has a very liberal bias. But so do I, so I don’t mind much. It took a LONG time to read, but is worth it I feel.
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LibraryThing member bostonbibliophile
A fascinating, highly readable evisceration of the fast food industry. The book covers a lot of ground- nutrition, politics, economics, marketing, chemistry, industry, and the human cost as well- with cutting humor and vitriol. A terrific read and eye-opener.
LibraryThing member KLSimpson
Awesome book! Another one of my first animal rights books, and still one of my favorites. The book outlines the hideous treatment of not only animals, but the humans that "care" for them in factory farms. What an awful industry! Very inspiring, and enabled me to stop eating fast food.
LibraryThing member auntieknickers
I put this book on the "sustainability" shelf although it's more about UNsustainability. It's a while since I read it, but I do know that it helped me cut way down on my consumption of fast food! (Even before I saw Super Size Me!)

My real concern about fast food is what it may be doing to people in the lower socio-economic groups of our nation. In my previous life in the big city, I rode the bus a lot, and many of my fellow riders fell into this category. I overheard many conversations that showed the influence of fast-food advertising on them; as we'd pass billboards showing the latest sandwich from Burger King or MacDonald's there would be serious conversations about how they "had to get one of those." One could argue that fast food is perpetrating racial and economic genocide on certain populations by habituating them to salty, greasy, high-calorie foods. Everyone should read this book.

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LibraryThing member verenka
Wow, I must say I think this is a great book! I received it through a bookcrossing bookring and have been recommending it ever since. When I signed up for the bookring I thought the book would be like "Supersize Me", so I was pleasantly surprised, when it actually was much more than that. It didn't only cover topics like health and food quality, but all the aspects of fast food chains. I just wasn't aware about the impact they have on the labour market, the supplying companies, even real estate. I was really impressed by this book, you could tell from the fact that all my co-workers, friends, and family members now know all about it. While the information in "Supersize Me" made me decide not to go to McDonald's anymore, since reading "Fast Food Nation" I want to avoid all kinds of Franchise Chain Stores and Restaurants. I think a conscious decision not to support them anymore is the only way to change anything in the system.… (more)
LibraryThing member eheleneb3
Essential, essential, essential book. I will say that if you’re not reading this for an academic or work-related purpose, the book on tape is great. That’s the way I first “read” the book, then I bought and read it when I used it as a source for a paper last year. My paperback copy is now underlined and starred on almost every page—that’s how much pertinent information this book holds. Schlosser really gets into the meat (pardon the pun) of fast food—why there was a need for it, how it came about, the way it has evolved from small, family-owned franchises in southern California to a monster that’s taking over our country, etc. He also covers the politics of food: the way it’s produced, manufactured and advertised, the lobbyists for corn, beef and various other types of food, how this fast food mentality is affecting our children, among many other topics. This man has done his research, and it is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Every American should read this. You’ll think twice before eating a chicken nugget ever again, I can promise you that!… (more)
LibraryThing member the1butterfly
This is one of those books that I think everyone should read- we honestly know so little about how our food is produced, it's disturbing. This has joined "Food Inc." and "Fresh: The Movie" in my personal journey to know more about my food choices. Yes, I gave up McDonalds, and no, I don't feel any loss. One thing I've definitely gotten from this book is a sense of how our government is so in control of special interests.… (more)
LibraryThing member Anne_Green
There was nothing in this book that came as a revelation, given it was written in 2004 and since then we've learned a lot about the damage inflicted on society by the fast food industry. In terms of cost to human health, nutrition, small business, animal and worker welfare, you can hardly over-estimate the abuses that have been perpetrated on not just America but the rest of the world to which this insidious virus has spread. Although being aware of some of these, the book did highlight aspects of the industrialised meat processing and packing industries that I was either not fully aware of or pretended not to know about. Some of these are shocking, but what's even worse is that they've been condoned by successive governments and I suspect in some cases continue to be. As Schlosser says "...the political influence of the fast food industry and its agribusiness suppliers makes a discussion of what Congress should do largely academic" and ..."the fast food industry spends millions of dollars every year on lobbying and billions on mass marketing. The wealth and power of the major chains make them seem impossible to defeat. And yet those companies must obey the demands of one group - consumers". That's what it's really all about. If we object to the practices of this industry and the horrendous things carried out to ensure its profitability, we have one choice ... to vote with our feet. Great book and one that every thinking person should read before they even think about another Big Mac.… (more)
LibraryThing member naomaru
The definition of a great book is you are a different person after reading it. This book definitely changed me. After reading it, I seriously started thinking about what I eat. Eventually, I gave up on meat and became a vegetarian. A powerful book.
LibraryThing member marmot
An entertaining and compelling story. When recommending this book to friends, many expressed reluctance to dive into another guilt-inducing exposé of the injustices of everyday consumerist life. Best not to ask how the sausage is made, they seemed to say, just eat it.
But the book is far more hopeful and interesting than all that. Fast food is a convenient lens to examine the assumptions of consumerism, the state of the workplace today, the future of rural America.
Fast food corporations would have you believe that hamburgers are the real identity of America, our gastronomic symbol around the world, which most citizens never question. But this book discovers a deeper democratic identity that can still be recovered. Ultimately it is an optimistic and fascinating read.
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LibraryThing member Mendoza
I realize that fast food - in all it's manifestations - is nearly impossible to seperate from an American's lifestyle. But, having said this, I challange anyone to read this book and then go out and eat at a McDonalds without thinking about all the ramifications.

It is truly an eye opener and having been one of the few to break that fast food cycle in my life I am at odds on how to react when I look in the back seat of my daughters car and it is filled with McDonalds and Burger King bags. She shoudl be smarter than that.

But, really, how can the average person break away from all that advertising and immersion? I still think about a whopper and how good it tastes and really, what harm can one do????? I give in, and then less than an hour later am in the bathroom and it's not pretty.
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LibraryThing member wenestvedt
This book covers a lot of ground: diet and obeseity, factory farms, migrant workers in the meat-packing inductry (ugh), and fast food. It's not a tract -- in fact, it's well-written and downright entertaining at times -- but the lessons about over-eating and mass-produced foods are pretty clear. I lent it to my brother-in-law, and I do believe he swore off McDonald's for good.… (more)
LibraryThing member buddhainabucket
This book made me a vegetarian for nearly two years. I'm back to meat again, but trust me, you'll never see me in a fast food joint again.
LibraryThing member athaena
Will make you think twice about stopping by McDonalds (at the very least). Well worth a read for its examination of the many ramifications of the "fast food" culture in the US.
LibraryThing member otman
I have not stepped foot into a McDonald's nor eaten any fast food burgers since reading this. It really made me want to be a vegetarian. A chilling expose and a great companion to the movie, Super Size Me.
LibraryThing member saskreader
Wow, what an eye-opener! Combine this with a viewing of "Super Size Me", and you'll never touch the stuff again.
LibraryThing member HvyMetalMG

Before the movie Super-Size Me, there was Fast Food Nation. Great read. Now, originally I thoughgt this was going to be the book that turned me off from fast food for good, with disgusting descriptions like chicken mcnuggets were really pigeon mcnuggets, but that is not the case. This book looks at the history of fast food from a road side start-up into the multi-billion dollar fat factory it has become. It looks at how they get the food to you and how they financially make it possible to serve an entire meal for $3.99. My favorite lesson from this book - chicken mcnuggets are fried in beef stock oil. Hence why I can never make chicken nuggets at home that taste so full of greasy goodness!… (more)
LibraryThing member maunder
A very well researched and clearly written account of the changes the fast food industry has brought about in the social and economic life of North America and the world. The book focuses on more than just the nutritional value of fast food but on the consequences the industry has brought about in the agricultural, public health, and political sectors of our society… (more)
LibraryThing member Pregnant-reader
After reading this book you might think that there is nothing edible in America anymore, but nevertheless, it's an eye-opener that I don't think you can afford to pass by.
LibraryThing member rakerman
A very interesting book about the terrible industrial food system.
LibraryThing member jmcilree
Well done. Could have been better. Scary critique of food industry. A modern, "The Jungle."
LibraryThing member brooklynbabe199
I became annoyed with this book. And my reason for that may seem a little weird and off-track, but I had to put this down because of Schlosser's incessant, condescending portrayal of various places in Colorado as a backdrop for the story. He opens FFN with an anecdote about a military base in Colorado Springs (and returns to Colo. Springs in a later chapter to discuss fast food workers), moves on to explore the life of a man in Pueblo who runs a Little Caesar’s store, and also discusses meatpackers working in a feedlot in Greely. I simply can't discern why the author would set so much of his book in Colorado--the state with one of the lowest rates of obesity in America! It wouldn’t have irked me so much if he hadn’t treated these situations with such a patronizing, elitist attitude. This book is a sorry example of a New York snob looking for a red, Midwest state to do ethnocentric case studies and failing to acknowledge that it happens to have the healthiest inhabitants in the country (nor is Colorado that red, or Midwestern, but I digress...) Watch Supersize Me instead if you want to explore this subject—don’t read such a misleading and arrogant book!… (more)




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