The Golden Arches are better recognized that the Christian Cross. Faster is better. But not for food.
The book in one sentence: A careful look at the hidden costs behind a typical fast food meal.
My thoughtsI intentionally sought out some of these food-related reads after having watched Food, Inc., an Oscar-nominated documentary. Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal has been around for some time now.
I remember when the first fast food joint opened in my small hometown in the Philippines (Jollibee, a Philippine version of McDonald's). It was the place to go and be seen. Granted, the food wasn't particularly good, but there was something about unwrapping those burgers from the crisp paper. My grandfather always made a huge deal of going there as a treat for his grandkids (although I was way into college) and he enjoyed it as much as we did.
I've always had difficulty reading non-fiction, but this book is surprisingly very readable, and not some treatise (which it is in many respects). It is carefully researched (take note of all the references in back). And while alarming in the main, the author comes across as being very level-headed, ending in some very pragmatic ways of dealing with fast food today.
The book starts out innocently enough with the history of how fast food started. The quaint story of the McDonald brothers starting up their burger joint. But the initial success of this little business had bred a monster of epic proportions. The fast food industry now dictates how food is produced. And it's not a pretty picture.
What impressed on me the most is that while the food system is admittedly far from perfect (as most things are in this world), is that in humanity's never-ending quest for faster, better, and modern we've impinged even on what ensures our very survival - our food. We've allowed ourselves to manipulate every possible stage of food production, from the very plants and animals that produce our food, to mimicking the flavours and aromas of our food, to the people who prepare and serve our food.
Some sections read like something out of a dystopian novel.
- The McDonaldization of the fast food landscape (not only in the US but the world over) has led to, literally, shit in the meat. (How? Cows are bred in crowded feedlots. They are force fed grain instead of grass, and this unnatural practice has resulted in E. coli in the feces. Put this cow through the slaughterhouse and meat factory, where conveyer belts are moving too fast for things to be done properly -- and you have contaminated meat. Oh but wait, some have decided to bleach the meat - so it's a toss up between the two!).
- Slaughter house and meat factories rely on cheap and largely untrained immigrant labour, who suffer long hours and often appalling and hazardous working conditions
- Fast food joints love to exploit students and immigrants as cheap labour
- Soft drinks ("liquid candy") are pushed upon unwitting school children, in a bid to raise funds to subsidize their education.
- Fast food advertising preys on children, in the hopes of securing their food habits early and thus ensuring a lifetime of consumer buying.
- Obesity is on the rise wherever fast food joints sprout - think of it, Japan has obesity problems too!
In a world where faster is equated to better, more efficient and modern, I'm afraid that food production is exempt.
Verdict: Think twice before biting into your burger or gulping down that soda.