Who are the McDonald Brothers?
Contrary to what you might think, the McDonald brothers currently don't earn money from french fries bought or big Macs eaten. Actually, they kept their original restaurant, changed the name, sold the chain, and then were run out of business by their very creation being built across the street. Below is my review of the book Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (Warning: Some Spoilers!). Some of the page numbers might be off -- I read the eBook :)
“On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant.”
As Fast Food Nation starts out, Schlosser begins by exploring the history of fast food and how it became a giant entity influencing political, social, and economical aspects of everyday American life. Interestingly, when delving into the history, I was surprised to find out that not just McDonald’s, but also Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and others were all started by one or two men with humble dreams. Gradually some of these people sought expansion, like Carl of Carl Jr.’s, whereas others, like the McDonald’s brothers, left early on to reap a smaller income at the start and settle. A curious relationship I noted was the tie between fast food companies and Walt Disney; in the end, the corporations of Disney and McDonald’s joined forces in the early 1990’s (“only McDonald’s makes it easy to get a bit of Disney magic” page 38), creating a strong team. Through partnerships like this and acquisitions, McDonald’s and other fast food companies have been able to dominate the market, preventing unionization of workers and controlling prices. Overall, the fast food companies are able to hold farmer’s hostage, taking away most of their autonomy through low prices, unfair contracts, and lobbying for laws that protect their interests rather than the farmer’s. They reap the benefits of hard work without the liability of crop failures, maintenance of fields, or raising of animals.
The influence of the fast food industry is not found only in the consumption of their food, but also in the economic influence of the production of their food. Fast Food Nation illustrates the monumental impact of the French fry, hamburger, and chicken nugget on the economy, worker’s safety, and formation of the workforce in the industry, mostly through the lens of McDonald’s. The economic boom after WWII was helpful in many aspects for the fast food industry—more restaurants were popping up all over, and thus factory jobs also soared. These were some of the highest paying, elite jobs because of how well the workers were treated and skills necessary to perform the jobs, until the idea of an assembly line type factory was introduced. Avoiding the need for skilled workers, these jobs trained people to do one task over and over for an 8-hour day (the original idea for workers in the fast food restaurants). This resulted in a dramatic decrease in pay, increase in immigrant workers, and skyrocket of injuries.
Most people were not able to afford lawsuits against the industry giant, or unable to seek them as immigrants, so people often had to leave work after a serious injury without proper compensation. Fast food employees in the restaurants were not safe either—there is a large amount of theft and homicide that occurs at these places, usually from previous, disgruntled employees. That being said, one constant through these transitions was the maintenance of flavor; originally, products were fried in beef fat, until consumers realized the health risks. Naturally McDonald’s wanted to keep their consumer base without losing flavor, so they adjusted, showing their flexibility to meet consumer’s needs while still keeping their food just as flavorful and delicious, with no regard to their own employees.
Probably the most gruesome chapter of the whole book begins describing the kill floor in a slaughterhouse. One line that particularly struck me was...
“For eight and a half hours, a worker called a “sticker” does nothing but stand in a river of blood, being drenched in blood, slitting the neck of a steer every ten seconds or so, severing its carotid artery” (pg. 158).
A startling statistic follows, revealing that about one out of every three meatpacking workers in the US suffer and injury or work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid, and this is considered an underestimation. One story revolved around a man who worked for a company for sixteen years. After a back injury and surgery, he still came back to work. Injury after injury he came back until he was simply fired one day without being notified. He found out after calling the company repeatedly. He told the author he felt downtrodden and unsure of how he would continue supporting his family, and he was only in his mid-forties.
Overall, this book wasn’t quite what I expected. I thought there would be more insight into how the fast food industry is related to their consumers and their goals. However, there are lessons in Fast Food Nation that will add to my counseling repertoire. Many vegans and vegetarians choose their way of life not due to health reasons necessarily, but also environmental reasons or for animal rights. Having a glimpse into the disaster that has become the meat industry, I am better equipped to have thoughtful and considerate conversations with them. I am able to sympathize with their cause, even though I am omnivorous, and have meaningful discussions with them. I learned more about the lack of safety for people who work in this environment, and the abuse of immigrant workers (some of whom I'm sure I'll encounter after moving to the Southwest). I have more respect for those working in all aspects of the fast food industry; hopefully, I will be able to help future clients understand the manipulative tactics used to entice them and their families to eat at these establishments.