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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 26 July 2004
If you ever eat in fast food restaurants, you should read this book. It will fill your mind with issues that probably had not occurred to you before.
The fast food industry today is the service equivalent of the harshest environments of industrial America. The industry's size creates behemoths among its suppliers who can be even more aggressive in cost-cutting than are the employers of your neighboring teenagers. This book recounts the many dangers and hidden costs this industry imposes on everyone in our society, and suggests some ways to improve. The best defense, however, is a discerning consumer. Read this book to help become one.
Mr. Schlosser begins with the founding of the modern fast food companies, and traces them all back to Richard and Maurice McDonald's first hamburger parlor on E Street in San Bernardino, California. Carl Karcher (Carl's Jr.), Glenn Bell (Taco Bell), and the founder of Dunkin' Donuts all visited there and designed their stores to take advantage of those ideas about achieving higher throughput and consistency. Naturally, Ray Kroc later came along to refine the practices into the foundations of the modern McDonald's.
With success came market power, and abuses of that power. The book looks at several ills that have resulted. For example, the cost of meat needs to be as low as possible. This has led to dangerous conditions where many people are injured in the slaughter houses. His story of Kenny Dobbins at Montfort will chill you forever. The industry has also succeeded in getting inspection standards reduced so more harmful bacteria are making their way into your meal, and more people are getting sick. The old and the young are most likely to be harmed by the rapid growth of E. coli 0157:H7. The U.S. Federal Government buys meat for school children with lower quality standards for bacterial contamination than even the fast food people apply. Pressure from slaughter houses on ranchers has driven many out of the business. The human price can be high, as one story recounts here.
The food is harmful in other ways. It is full of sugar and fat (that's what makes it taste good). The growth in obesity (what some people call an epidemic in America) closely tracks the expansion of fast food meals (25% of the population will eat at least one weekly). And the trend is getting worse, now that you can have unlimited refills of sugared soft drinks.
Children are especially vulnerable, because advertising is so persuasive to them. As a result, they go to eat the meals in search of toys and games, and other novelties.
Teenagers are sometimes employed in fast food parlors in violation of the child labor laws, costing them sleep, exposing them to late night dangers, and leaving them too tired to focus on school. Those who deliver the food often create accidents and are at risk to be robbed.
The physical appearance and culture of towns is brought to the lowest common denominator by the drive to produce these meals fast and cheaply.
If the local management isn't very good, goofing off employees have been known to put noxious substances into the food. Franchisees often work long hours, costing them a normal life. Carl Karcher reported that he was still heavily in debt after 50 years in the industry. The main sign of progress he told the author was that the road outside used to be dirt, and was now paved.
These ills are being transported around the world now, as fast food is globalized.
Mr. Schlosser has several suggestions for improvement including tougher regulation of food, working conditions, and of advertising to children (he wants it banned). I thought his most realistic suggestion was that the fast food companies themselves lead the way by raising standards. McDonald's has done this in the past (to its credit), and could certainly do so again. After the facts in this book are more widely know, it is highly likely that there will be an interest in eating food from restaurants that provide these meals in more socially productive and humane ways. I know that I would shift my purchasing to reflect such improved standards.
To me, the interesting part of this story is that the problems exposed here are not hidden. This book could have been written at any time in the last 40 years. Why do we turn a blind eye to the problems that fast food creates?
After you finish this interesting and thorough book, I suggest that you consider where else problems exist that we do not pay attention to. For example, where does the sewage from your town go? What are the implications of how it is disposed of? Where does your trash go? What problems does that create? What are the pollution effects of your new SUV? How much more likely is your family to be injured or killed if it rolls over?
Consider all the costs of the products and services you consume, not just the ones you pay for directly to the person who sells to you.
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