Yesterday on the plane, I finished reading Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser. The book began as a two-part article for Rolling Stone back in the late 90s, and I remember reading it and thinking, "Man, this stuff is unbelievable!" And I'd be lying if I said it didn't have some part in my becoming a vegetarian.
The book covers a wide range of topics related to the fast food industry. It begins with a history of the modern American franchise, telling the stories of Carl Karcher, founder of Carl's Jr., and Ray Kroc, who expanded the McDonalds chain. He moves onto advertising, and how fast food chains market specifically to children. There are chapters on the workforce at an average restaurant, the struggles of franchisees, the difference between natural and artificial flavoring (there isn't much), the pull of the major corporations in federal government, the effect of large livestock yards on local ranchers, and the globalization of fast food chains in Germany and China. But the most disturbing part would have to be the safety and sanitary conditions inside the meatpacking plants. I put the book down more than once to keep myself from getting nauseated.
Did you know that a single fast food burger contains meat from dozens, maybe even hundreds, of different animals? Or that the USDA cannot demand a recall of meat that has been proven to contain E. coli bacteria? (But it can consult with a company and suggest that it withdraw its meat.) Or that McDonalds franchises where there are suspected union sympathisers have been shut down without notice, only to re-open with an entirely new staff? Or that every year, more than one-quarter of the meatpacking workers in this country--roughly forty thousand men and women--suffer an injury or work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid, with thousands more going unrecorded due to pressure from supervisors to keep the disassembly line moving quickly?
The book has been compared to The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and with good reason. It's definitely a wake-up call. Reading the entire book only cemented my position to no longer eat meat, and has made me reconsider the urge to grab an order of fries from McDonalds or a bean burrito from Taco Bell. I don't normally read non-fiction, but this is an important book that I recommend to anyone who pulls into a drive through on a regular basis.