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“Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser

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In his book “Fast Food Nation”, Eric Schlosser shows how the fast food industry has infiltrated every corner of American Society. He tells of the disturbing reality that is American life today; almost every aspect of American life has been franchised or chained. Beginning in California and spreading throughout the entire country, Schlosser gives the history of the fast food industry and the evils and changes that developed with it.

In Chapter three, Schlosser begins by describing the view of Colorado Springs: its peaceful, serene, spectacular outlook from Gold Camp Road. It appears to be an all-American town with its independently owned businesses and layers of houses from many different historical eras. But then it’s apparent what has happened in Colorado over the last twenty years as you come to the new spread out. The houses are the “architectural equivalent of fast food;” thousands of houses that are near identical line each street of each subdivision. Academy Boulevard lies at the heart of this and resembles Harbor Boulevard in Anaheim, except newer, with its clusters of fast food joints repeating themselves every few miles. According to Schlosser, “the resemblance is hardly coincidental.”

All the new housing expansions not only look like those in California, they are occupied with thousands of people from California. A whole way of life has been swapped from the West Coast to the Rockies. Schlosser says, “In many ways Colorado Springs today is what Los Angeles was fifty years ago…” It used to be a little tourist town inhabited by the wealthy and retired. But during the Great Depression many moved away and tourism dropped. A great economic opportunity then came about with the start of World War II. “Like Los Angeles, Colorado Springs soon became independent on military spending.” The opening of bases and academies brought thousands of troops to the area, along with a direct capital investment. Still today, about half the jobs in Colorado Springs depend on military spending.

One would be surprised to know that the largest private employer in the state of Colorado today is the restaurant industry, not aerospace, biotech, or any other industry of the future. Schlosser states that, “the restaurant industry has grown much faster than the population. Over the last three decades the number of restaurants has increased fivefold…chain restaurants has increased tenfold.” It once had a total of twenty chain stores, now it has twenty McDonald’s alone. Schlosser tells us that the McDonald’s Corporation has used Colorado Springs as a test site.

In the section of Chapter three Schlosser calls throughput, he begins by telling of a young teenage girl who works at a McDonald’s for at least seven hours a day. Schlosser explains that teenagers run the fast food restaurants not only of Colorado Springs but across the U.S. too. With two-thirds of the nation’s fast food workers under the age of twenty-one, no other industry in the United States has a workforce so dominated by adolescents. This is the way the fast food industry prefers it. They seek out part-time, unskilled workers who are willing to accept low pay, and easy to control and teenagers are the perfect applicants for these jobs. Not only have teenagers long provided the fast food industry with the mass volume of its workforce, but the fast food industry also employs many poor and handicapped as well.

“Throughput” is the speed and volume of the mass production flow. The fast food industry labor practices originated in the assembly line systems from the early twentieth century. Throughput is about doing things faster so more can be made. Schlosser maintains “The fast food industry’s obsession with throughput has altered the way millions of Americans work, turned commercial kitchens into small factories, and changed familiar foods into commodities that are manufactured.” Many restaurants use conveyor belts when cooking their food. Everything arrives frozen and precooked. The drinks and shakes start as syrup. The food is “assembled” not prepared and made at factories and not in the kitchens. “Just add hot water” is the cooking process for much of the food.

McDonald’s has an operations and training manual specifying how everything should look, be used, be done, even how the employees should greet customers. The strict regimentation creates uniform products and gives the company a huge amount of power over their employees. According to Schlosser, “The management no longer depends upon the talents or skills of it workers – those things are built into the operating system and machines.” With this, workers are more easily and cheaply replaced.

Schlosser begins the section stroking by telling how fast food chains have accepted hundreds of millions of dollars in government subsidies for “training” their workers when in fact they were spending huge sums on research and technology to eliminate employee training. “Attempts to end these federal subsidies have been strenuously opposed…” The use of these subsidies creates “low-paying, low-skilled, short-term jobs for the poor.” These employees are by far the biggest group of low-wage workers in the U.S., being the highest proportion of workers being paid minimum wage. A vital factor of the fast food industry’s business plan has been the low minimum wage. When being paid minimum wage, receiving no benefits, only working when needed, and never being able to qualify for overtime is when “stroking” comes in. “Stroking can make a worker feel that his or her contribution is sincerely valued. And it’s much less expensive than raising wages or paying overtime,” Schlosser says.

In Schlosser’s section detecting lies, he talks about fast food chains and unions. He says, “The fast food chains have fought against unions with the same zeal they’ve displayed fighting hikes in the minimum wage.” McDonald’s went so far as to give lie detector tests to employees and question them about union activities. McDonald’s was called “one of the most anti-union companies on the planet.” So far, at the roughly fifteen thousand McDonald’s in North America, a union represents none of the workers.

Schlosser discusses the rising incidence of workplace violence in the section inside jobs. According to Schlosser “four or five fast food workers are now murdered on the job every month, usually during the course of a robbery.” Schlosser compared the murdered rate of restaurant workers to that of police officers citing that more restaurant workers were murdered than police officers in 1998. With many fast food restaurants being located near intersections and highway off-ramps, these features make them more attractive and more convenient to rob and get away fast. Schlosser goes on to give many examples of workers that were robbed and murdered and states that the majority of the time it’s done by a current or former employee. His reasoning to this is because of “low pay, high turnover, and ample cash in the restaurant…” And yet, with all the murders and violence, the restaurant industry has opposed putting out guidelines on saving lives in the workplace.

Chapter three had many good points in it and it was hard to summarize it in so few pages. Schlosser’s facts and statistics were definitely an eye opener. In the beginning of Chapter three I wasn’t quite sure as to what Schlosser was getting at. I kept wondering why he was giving all this information about Colorado Springs. What did Colorado Springs have to do with the chapter? As I read on, I realized he was making the point that Colorado Springs was just like Los Angeles was some fifty years ago. Everyone was leaving California and going to Colorado and in the process they were bringing large amounts of California to Colorado. Also he says that McDonald’s Corporation used Colorado Springs as a test site. The description Schlosser gives of Colorado Springs sounds just like every other town I’ve seen. Everything is franchised or chained across the United States. Once I started thinking about it I found it to be quite disturbing. I don’t think most people find this as a problem or even give second thought to it. I know I didn’t until I began reading Fast Food Nation.

Schlosser makes reality sink in and fast. For restaurant workers to have a higher rate of murder than police officers, who take those jobs knowing full well of the dangers associated with it, just amazes me. I can’t believe that these companies can get away with half the things they do. Like not doing everything they can to keep their employees safe. These companies don’t care about their employees. They are making money and if they lose a worker, whether it is by someone quitting or getting fired or getting murdered, they make it so they can be easily replaced. I find it frustrating as I read Schlosser’s book and learn what these companies are all about. It generates many questions for me; the main one being that I am one person, how big of an impact can I possibly have if I refuse to support companies like McDonald’s?

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