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A Summary of the Book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser Essay

Customers, food critic and competitors are all praises over McDonald’s French fries for its unique and distinctive taste.   However, its taste has nothing to do with neither the potatoes that they use nor their cooking equipment.  The source of its distinctive taste has largely to do with cooking oil which is a mixture of 7 percent cottonseed oil and 93 percent beef tallow, which also explains why it has more saturated fat per ounce than a McDonald’s hamburger.

They switched to using pure vegetable in 1990 when they started getting criticisms about the high amount of cholesterol in their fries.  This move gave them a whole new challenge on how to maintain the distinctive beefy taste in their fries, which sets them apart from the rest, without using the fat saturated beef tallow.  The problem was solved by adding flavor to their fires.  A closer examination of their ingredients will show you “natural flavor,” which is hardly natural as “natural flavor” and artificial flavor” are both man-made.  It explains why McDonald’s fries, as well as American food in general, tastes so good.

The flavor industry is very secretive when it comes to their clients.  They deem it of utmost importance to protect the reputation of these popular brands and understandably so since they would like to give the consumers the impression that the flavors and delectability of their food comes from their kitchens and not from elsewhere.

International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) is the largest flavor company in the world, also manufactures the scents of some of the most successful and finest perfumes in the United States.  Food’s aroma is responsible for 90 percent of its flavor.  In fact, the “flavor” manufactured in these companies are primarily the smell of gases being released by the chemicals we put in our mouths.

Researches done by scientists reveal that disposition or preference to certain food or taste is usually formed at the early stages of a person’s life.  Aroma or taste, and memory are strongly linked to each other which explain why a particular smell or taste could trigger a person’s memory back to childhood, often referred to as “comfort foods.”  This phenomenon is what fast food chains, including McDonald’s, are banking on in their marketing and promotions.  Memory of Happy Meals can translate to frequent adult visits to McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, the author discussed the American ranchers’ dire predicament in the present market.  McDonald’s is America’s largest beef purchaser.  In the late 1960’s McDonald’s buy their beef supply from 175 local suppliers, but in their desire to achieve uniformity as its business expanded, they limited their suppliers down to only five.  Many ranchers argue that large corporations have gained control of the market, employing dirty tactics to keep down the price of cattle.

Chicken McNuggets was formed through an idea of McDonald’s chairman, Fred Turner, in 1979.  He wanted a supplier to create a “chicken finger-food without bones, about the size of your thumb.”  The alarming growth rate of poultry in the United States at that time was a threat to the fast food chain whose only products are burgers.

After six months of intensive research, Keystone lab developed a new technology for manufacturing McNuggets, made of reconstituted chicken, composed of white meat, held together by stabilizers, breaded, fried, frozen, then reheated.  Its initial test-marketing proved to be so successful that McDonald’s hired another company, Tyson Foods, to guarantee adequate supply.  The success of McNuggets changed the nations system for raising and processing poultry.

Greeley, Colorado is a town where cattle is the main business, and where workers and machines turn large steer to vacuum packed packages.  However, the industrialization of cattle raising have turned one of the nation’s best-paying manufacturing jobs, into one of the lowest paying, the biggest workforce of which are poor immigrants.

The working conditions in these meat packing plants were horrible to say the least, endangering the lives of its workers as well as those of its consumers.  Presently, meat-packing plants and agricultural fields hire poor immigrant workers who are willing to receive lower pay than U.S. citizens.  Even in the present time when technology and new systems are available, it hardly improved the working conditions of these workers.  They work every day amidst the indescribable stench and dirt, health exposure, injuries, and even death.   The different work in meat-packing plants and slaughterhouses are unarguably one of the most dangerous jobs in the planet.

Schlosser brought up the presence of E. coli in meat as one of the hazards in the meat packing industry.  E. coli bacteria aid human beings in digesting food, synthesizing vitamins and protects from dangerous organisms.  On the other hand, E. coli 0157:H7 is a mutated version that is harmful and can release a powerful toxin called “Shiga toxin.”  It attacks the lining of the intestines that may result to abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and low-grade fever.

It becomes deadly when “Shiga toxin” enters the bloodstream and can lead to kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, and destruction of vital organs.  Children or elderly with impaired immune systems are more likely to suffer.  Antibiotics do not help and in some cases, even triggers the release of Shiga toxins, after which little or nothing can be done to those infected.  Unlike Salmonella virus which requires large doses to cause infection, E. coli 0157:H7 requires very little.  It only takes a tiny, uncooked particle of a hamburger to contain enough pathogen to kill a person.  This can be transmitted from person-to-person.

The influence of America has widely spread for most of the twentieth century, as the popularity of movies, CDs, music videos, television shows, clothing and fashion grow steadily, so does the Americanization of the world.  Fast food is one of the most popular American influences which people around the globe actually patronize.  Today, the United States has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nations.  It soared dramatically in proportion to the consumption and popularity of fast food.  The Americans’ way of eating and living has changed so drastically in the past decades, when people eat more and move less.

The popularity and growth of the fast food industry is mainly through their abundance of high-fat, inexpensive meals that are easily available.  They have also increased their portion sizes as a way of attracting customers.  The popular fast food chains realized that it was easier to increase the size of their portions than to promote healthier eating habits, as it was very difficult to battle eating habits formed early on in life through their own marketing strategies.  Even countries such as Japan, whose diet has always been believed to be the healthiest in the world, succumbed to the fast food influence.  As a result, obesity which used to be a rarity in this country has become more common.

In 1994, a libel trial begun between McDonald’s and two Greenpeace activists, Helen Steel and Dave Morris, where Steel and Morris was being sued by the fast food chain for libel.  They were alleged to have spread leaflets and information that were damaging and untrue.  Many years later, the court ruled that the information was indeed libelous as Steel and Morris were not able to prove “all” of their allegations against McDonalds.  This trial dragged on for years, until present time, and has put McDonald’s in a much worse situation than the two activists, due to bad publicity.


At first glance, Fast Food Nation may seem to be a book that is bent on brandishing the fast food industry to be the bad guys.  However, this book actually contains a well-researched and factual representation of American lifestyle and eating habits, as well as its remarkable influence in the world.  Eric Schlosser wrote a compelling picture of the origins of the present American society and the rest of the world’s “Americanized” way of life.

McDonald’s have been successful in infiltrating the lives of American consumers and establishing its stronghold in many people’s eating habits.  In its aim to provide convenience and “fast” food to people, McDonald’s and the rest of the fast food industry cleverly found a way to give the consumers exactly that, fast food.  Just like any other business, is it any wonder that the fast food industry has creatively and cleverly formulated it own strategies and marketing ploys to gain the fickle trust of consumers?

Many might wonder, if McDonald’s, and the fast food industry in general, should be blamed for the terrible eating habits and obesity that besets many Americans and other nations across the world.  I believe that the consumers are partly to blame in this predicament; after all, what they put in their and their children’s, mouths is ultimately their decision.  However, I strongly believe that McDonalds, and the rest of the fast food industry, has a very crucial responsibility in putting forth correct and unveiled information about their food products.

It is their business and moral responsibility to put the health of their consumers of utmost consideration and importance, over profits.  It is understandable for consumers to unwittingly get hooked to these great-tasting fast foods, and realize only later on that they have made a mistake.  Clearly, the fast food industry failed to do their jobs in providing correct and ample information, and in resisting the urge of capitalism and profit over the welfare of their consumers, in effect, jeopardizing their lives and exposing the health of your children to grave danger.

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