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Fast Food Nation Study Guide

Fast Food Nation By Eric Schlosser

McDonalds

The fast food industry has been driven by fundamental changes in human society. Since the 1970s, a decline in income (adjusted for inflation) and the rise of the two-income family have triggered a change in spending - from 75% of family food budgets going to in-home meals to more than half being spent at restaurants; mostly fast food restaurants. In 30 years, McDonalds ballooned from 1000 branches to more than 30,000.

One out of eight workers in the US has, at some point, worked at a McDonalds. It's the nation's largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes - and second highest for chicken behind KFC. McDonalds is the most famous brand in the world, operating more private playgrounds than any other entity in the United States.

McDonalds and similar operations have a huge homogenizing effect on American life, providing the exact same fare regardless of where in the country (or world) you are. A single alteration in McDonald's purchasing agenda can create or obliterate an entire sector of industry.

Slaughterhouses

In Lexington, Nebraska, there are only three smells: rotten eggs, grease, and burning hair and blood. All three originate in the town's massive slaughterhouse. The grease, hair, and blood all come from the process of the animals that flow through it; the rotten egg smell comes from hydrogen sulfide that emanates from the slaughterhouse's wastewater lagoons. Hydrogen sulfide causes respiratory distress, headaches, and can cause permanent damage to the nervous system.

There are many jobs in a slaughterhouse, but 'sticker' and 'knocker' are two of the most appalling. The sticker stabs a steer in the carotid artery every ten seconds. The knocker stuns cattle by shooting them in the head with a bolt stunner. For eight and a half hours, they do nothing but stab and shoot.

If a slaughterhouse worker is injured, they can choose to report it or not. If they don't, they get moved to an easier job while they recover. If they do report it, they get their pay cut, their hours increased, and they are transferred to the most unpleasant jobs in the plant.

Marketing fast food to kids

In the 1980s, fast food companies started deliberately marketing to children. Parents who were adapting to the two-income life felt guilty about not being with their kids, so they spent money on them instead -- and companies were right there to tell them how. Children have no money of their own, so the ads were designed to turn children into "surrogate salesmen", to get what they wanted out of their parents.

This is what has brought us Hamburgler, the Happy Meal, toy promotions, movie crossovers, and even chicken nuggets shaped like Teletubbies.

Soft drinks companies

Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Cadbury-Schweppes spend huge amounts of money on school funding programs in order to get more kids to drink their products. The average American drinks 56 gallons of soft drinks per year, but they need to sell more. Adults aren't changing their drinking habits, so they target children. Eight year olds have more than sixty years of purchasing power in front of them, so they're the ideal targets.

In 1978, the typical teenage male drank about 7 oz of soft drinks each day. Today, it's triple that. Females have similarly doubled their soft drink consumption in the same period. Excessive soft drink consumption can lead to calcium deficiency which brings with it a great likelihood of bone fractures.

At least 20 schools in the US have Subway franchises inside their school; another 9 have Subway sandwich cards, and 1,500 more have contracts with Subway. Pizza Hut, Domino's, and McDonalds are selling food inside US schools. About one-third of US high schools over some form of branded fast food.

Global expansion

Half of Australian 9 and 10 year olds thought that Ronald McDonald was an authority on what they should eat. In Beijing, all of the primary school children recognized Ronald McDonald, saying that he 'understood their hearts'. Germany has more than 1000 McDonalds, many popping up inside of Wal-Marts, because they know lots of children get lugged to Wal-Mart every day.

Fast food and obesity

There is no scientific study linking fast food consumption and obesity, but it's pretty intuitively obvious. Wherever fast food goes, fat follows. The US has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation, and the rate of obesity maps accurately onto the rate of fast-food sector growth over the last 40 years. No other nation in history has gotten so fat so fast.

Need more help? Read questions and answers from fellow students below. If you're question hasn't already been asked, ask it now.

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How does the amount spent on fast food compare with the amount spent on other things in our society?

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