Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, by Eric Schlosser

This was a fascinating book to read right after The E-Myth Revisited. That book preached that the franchise model is the best thing since sliced bread, and this one seems to believe that franchises are evil and are to blame for exacerbating many of America’s social ills. An interesting juxtaposition and it happened completely by accident!

Schlosser complains a lot about how the industry takes advantage of its employees. He seems especially upset about accepting federal funds for job training; he often claims that no training is actually supplied and so taking the money is tantamount to fraud. Once he does actually admit that training is provided: “[The fast food industry] often teaches basic job skills ... to people who can barely read. But the stance ... on issues involving employee training ... strongly suggests that its motives ... are hardly altruistic.” Who cares about the motives? The result is many people that can’t get a job anywhere else are provided a way of earning money and receiving actual job experience. Do any of these employees expect a gold watch after 50 years of flipping burgers? Of course not!

The author seems to take exception to the fact that McDonald’s allows its franchisees to set wages according to the local labor market, but has strict rules about the thickness of a pickle slice. Why he thinks wages for someone in New York City should match those of someone in Brownsville, Texas escapes me, although I do expect the same burger at any McDonald’s I visit so the pickle thing makes sense. Schlosser also seems offended that the corporations are anti-union. I personally believe that unions are anachronistic and cause more problems than they solve these days, but still found it surprising that he couldn’t see why a company wouldn’t want a union around.

Yet another diatribe was that the legal agreements that potential franchisees must sign are extremely limiting. The point that he seems to miss is that nobody is forcing these guys to do anything! When was the last time someone held you at gunpoint and said you had to open a McDonald’s... or else? Oh, and just so you know, parents need not accept any responsibility for the rising obesity rates in our youth; this can be blamed squarely on the fact that the fast food companies target their advertising directly at our kids. Whew!

Clearly the politics of this book greatly annoyed me. The descriptions of the history of the fast food industry were really well researched, though, and the tales of how flash-frozen food can be made to look and taste as we expect was admittedly disturbing. I was disappointed he concentrated so much on just McDonald’s; seeing how non-burger chains like Subway or KFC stacked up in the food preparation arena would have been really interesting. If his goal was to provoke thought he succeeded, but if his goal was to create political activist vegans (which honestly I don’t think it was) he failed miserably. Well worth my time, however.

First Sentence:
Carl N. Karcher is one of the fast food industry’s pioneers.

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