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Fast Food Does Not Come Cheap

Page history last edited by Jared 12 years, 8 months ago

Fast Food Does Not Come "Cheap"






American businesses are constantly trying to industrialize and become faster, cheaper, and more efficient. In his book Fast Food Nation Eric Schlosser takes a look at the one business that has "perfected" these ideals: fast food. But at what price do these accomplishments come? Through his appeals to audience, pathos, concern, and statistics, Schlosser makes a compelling argument similar to that of a modern day The Jungle (by Upton Sinclair), by taking a good look at the fast food industry and analyzing what the implications and consequences really are when we buy a happy meal.


In 1906, Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle, a fictional commentary on the city life of a Lithuanian man trapped in the industry of factories, meatpacking, and politics. In the end the protagonist, Jurgis, was driven in frustration to become a socialist. While Fast Food Nation does not focus on a fictional character and does not have any apparent socialist propaganda, the similarity between the two books is not hard to find. It is encompassed by what Sinclair said in an interview years after his book was released, "I aimed at the public's heart and by accident I hit it in the stomach" (Schlosser vi). After President Theodore Roosevelt read The Jungle, he was so disgusted with what was going on under his nose in his country that he passed several acts to protect not just the workers in the factories but also the conditions of the food. Among these reforms was the Food and Drug Act, which is still around in our society today. But where are the reforms now? While Fast Food Nation takes a similar approach to analyzing the methods of our food processing and criticizing them, there have been no reforms, despite the amount of shocked readers who will no longer eat fast food.


Schlosser's claim is that our beloved fast food is much more than it appears, and comes at a higher cost and consequence than just 99 cents per burger. Indeed, while his book is objectively informative, his claim seems to address two parts: awareness of what has been going on, and a proposal to create newer reforms, such as those evoked by The Jungle. Schlosser asserts his own reasons for writing the book:


Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases. They rarely consider where this food came from, how it was made, what it is doing to the community around them. They just grab their tray off the counter, find a table, take a seat, unwrap the paper, and dig in. The whole experience is transitory and soon forgotten. I've written this book out of a belief that people should know what lies behind the shiny, happy surface of every fast food transaction. They should know what really lurks between those sesame-seed buns. (10)


He recognizes the habit of most Americans to take things at face value and not look any deeper, and organizes his facts and thoughts in such a way that the audience in no way can deny the implications of what he's discovered. He understands our dilemma at the same level as his audience: he is also a consumer interested in quick, cheap, and quality products. Schlosser recognizes that fast food seems like an ideal product for the average consumer. For some, perhaps it still will be after reading this book. After all, there can be no effective lie without some amount of truth hidden within. Yet Schlosser's claim is to look behind the shiny wrapper and the smiling mascot to the reality that lies beneath.


Schlosser's audience is our nation of "fast-food-aholics". He understands that the people of America (and even the world, to a large extent) have become rushed, depersonalized, and impatient. He knows that on the way to work, the easier thing to do is to grab fast food rather than eat breakfast in a diner. "On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant" (Schlosser 3). Many Americans view fast food visits as somehow inevitable, and Schlosser takes the time to explain why this does not have to be the case.


Schlosser uses a plethora of rhetorical strategies, but there are several which stand out above all others. One of the most easily apparent is his appeal to statistics, which serve as concrete evidence to his argument. For instance, Schlosser backs up is statement that McDonald's  "has become a powerful symbol of America's service economy" by citing that it is "responsible for 90 percent of the country's new jobs" (Schlosser 4). In his introduction, Schlosser gives the reader a sneak peek at an even more startling statistic, hinting at the fact that there is much about McDonald's corporation (among other fast food industries) that remain unseen. Schlosser does not pull information out of thin air, either. The statistics are all cited in the back of his book, almost a full hundred pages of resources that took him 3 years to research. While some of his information may have become outdated since 2002, it remains an indicator of where our country is headed. Indeed, many of these statistics are often eye-openers: "In 1998, more restaurant workers were murdered on the job in the United States than police officers" (Schlosser 83). Schlosser presents these arguments as though to say, "Look at what we've let slide by us". After all, we might expect a few police officers to be murdered by angry criminals, but restaurant workers? While Schlosser does not come outright to say, "This is absolutely shocking", he allows the readers to undoubtedly come to that conclusion by themselves when reading the statistics he has to offer.


Schlosser also rhetorically appeals to the common person, presumably a part of his audience. Throughout the book, he references every day people: McDonald'srestaurant or the one who is injured in the meat factory. He uses these appeals through examples and specific instances, to put the reader into the shoes of the person in question. Often, Schlosser used examples of teenagers worked too late, too hard, for too little. He tells the story of 16-year-old Elisa:


Every Saturday Elisa Zamot gets up at 5:15 in the morning. It's a struggle ... the restaurant opens for business at seven o'clock, and for the next hour or so, Elisa and the manager hold down the fort, handling all the orders. As the place starts to get busy, other employees arrive ... When she finally walks home, after seven hours of standing at a cash register, her feet hurt. She's wiped out. She comes through the front door, flops onto the living room couch, and turns on the TV. And the next morning she gets up at 5:15 again and starts the same routine. (68)


This is not a trashy woman who has 5 kids and put herself into this situation: it's a 16-year-old girl who has to help her mother support her family for their very survival. Since the fast-food business knows that teenagers are mostly unskilled, they can hire teenagers (knowing they won't get jobs anywhere else) for minimum wage or even sometimes less. Schlosser paints this picture very descriptively, creating feelings of sympathy in the reader. It causes them to cringe and say, "I know someone in that situation, they are barely struggling to make ends meet as well." It forces the reader to reanalyze the situations and the people we encounter every day. Perhaps that face behind the counter isn't just some moody teenager. Perhaps they're just a kid who needs to make money to support their family. Schlosser not only gives these kids a chance to be recognized, but he exposes their unfair treatment by use of specific examples.


The specific examples, which serve as an appeal to pathos, prove to be extremely effective. Putting political correctness aside, Schlosser shocks the reader by revealing a secret fact he found in his research: "There is shit in the meat" (Schlosser 197). Sentences such as these immediately grab hold of the audience's attention. Of course, nobody wants feces in their fast food hamburgers, and Schlosser agrees with that. By doing so, he provides a pathetic appeal to the reader's sense of disgust and injustice.


However, Schlosser does recognize the innocent beginnings of these incredible fast food corporations by taking a look at their founders. His argument is not that these big company businessmen are evil men and were born that way. No, instead he provides us with an intimate look into how these men began their tumultuous journey. They were almost always self-made men of modest means, who weren't expecting to create an empire.  "Harland Sanders left school at the age of twelve, worked as a farm hand, a mule tender, and a railway fireman. At various times he worked as a lawyer without having a law degree, delivered babies as a part-time obstetrician without having a medical degree, sold insurance door to door, sold Michelin tires, and operated a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky" (Schlosser 23). It was only in his late sixties that the "Colonel" finds a medium of success by selling a "Secret Recipe" which eventually leads to Kentucky Fried Chicken. It is vital to his argument that Schlosser look at both sides of the story, and he does so in a very objective manner. No matter what the motives of the companies are in present day, the companies were founded by men looking for a job, for a quick way to make a buck, and for a way to get food much quicker than sitting inside a restaurant. This appeal to their modest beginnings is effective, as it does not paint a vicious picture of the founding fathers of these businesses that have become what many people view as corrupt.


There is yet another way Schlosser appeals to his audience: by playing upon their rising concerns about obesity and health problems in general. "Between 1984 and 1993, the number of fast fod restaurants in Great Britan doubled - and so did the obesity rate" (Schlosser 242). In an age of diet pills, patches, and clubs,America idly watches the arrow on their scale rise, but seem to be able to do nothing about the growing problem of their own obesity. In a study conducted by the National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion, an estimated 64 percent of U. S. Adults are either overweight or obese. Schlosser gives some possible reasons for these weight and health problems, and they mostly involve golden arches.. Some of hte most shocking health problems to consumers are included in the chapter "What's in the Meat." Schlosser's appeal to concern reachs a critical point while describing the conditions of the meat we so complacently eat at these fast food restaurants: "Today, the U.S. government can demand a nation-wide recall of defective softball bats, sneakers, stuffed animals, and foam-rubber toy cows. But it cannot order a meatpacking company to remove contaminated, potentially lethal ground beef fromf ast food kitchens and supermarket shelves" (196). Once again, Schlosser allows readers to come to their own conclusions. He beings sections with these widespread concerns and then fans out into tinier categories that unleash the brutal facts. This method - Sclosser's presentation of facts and situations - effectively ropes in his readers.   


Eric Schlosser lays out the facts, quotations, and statistics on the table while providing very little social commentary along the way. It is simply implied. This is perhaps why the book is so effective, as it causes the reader to come the same conclusion that he has undoubtedly reached. He shapes the audience's response without them even realizing it. While Schlosser uses a variety of rhetorical strategies in the book //Fast Food Nation//, the most apparent are his appeals to audience, pathos, concern, and statistics. They prove effective in contributing to his argument that the fast food industry is truly more than it seems.


Works Cited:


"Obesity Trends." National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion. 23 June 2004.http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/. 11 October 2004.


Schlosser, Eric. Fast Food Nation. New York: Perennial, 2002.


Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Bantam, 1981.


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