Nonfiction — print. Harper Perennial, 2005. Originally published 2001. 383 pgs. Received from PaperBackSwap.
I stated last week after reading part one that this book caused me cull all fast food from my life but the first part was apparently not the catalyst for this change. The second part definitely was without a doubt.
The second part of Schlosser’s book is titled “Meat and Potatoes” but these are not your mother’s meat and potatoes. These potatoes have been diced, frozen, and cooked in vegetable oil with an additive of beef tallow. This meat comes from upwards of twenty cows (other books I’ve read have said upwards of 400), may be infected with a deadly strain of foodborne pathogen known as E. coli O157:H7, and is produced by underpaid people working in the one of the most dangerous jobs in America.
Except I was not that disgusted this go around. Maybe I’ve been reading too many books about food recently that assure me the hamburger I’m eating might kill me. Maybe I’ve become too desensitized. But the gory parts of the books were not nearly as hard hitting as I remember them being. Erin of Erin Reads is reading the book along with me, and she commented on my post about part one that listening to the topic is much more difficult. And maybe that was my problem because the first I read this book it was read aloud to my class.
Because of this, I think I was able to focus more on other issues highlighted in the book. I found the discussion of the exportation of American fast food to be of particular interest. I visited Hungary two weeks ago and everywhere I turned there was a fast food establishment exported from America. There was even a TGI Friday’s which I found particularly interesting considering my town in the States doesn’t even have on.
“…fast food is the one form of American culture that foreign consumers literally consume. By eating like Americans, people all over the world are beginning to look more like Americans, at least in one respect. The United States now has the highest obesity rate of any industrialized nation in the world. More than half of all American adults and about one-quarter of all American children are now obese or overweight. Those proportions have soared during the last few decades, along with the consumption of fast food.” (pg. 240).
Schlosser goes on to discuss what this means for places like Japan where the arrival of McDonald’s in 1971 caused a shift in the eating habits of the country. He cites a particular statistic that showed how during the 1980s, the sale of fast food – and the rate of obesity among children – in Japan more than doubled. When this book was first published (2001), more than one third of Japanese men in their thirties were overweight. The traditional diet of the country is considered one of the healthiest in the room, but now a country where overweight people were a rarity they are becoming more and more commonplace.
Even more appalling, though, is the condition that meatpackers work in. Upton Sinclair’s novel about the meatpacking industry in Chicago was meant to be a catalyst for labor reform and instead lead to changes in the food industry. Those working in the slaughterhouses benefited in part from these reforms until establishment of the Iowa Beef Packers and Regan removing many of the powers the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) were given to monitor workplace safety.
“Meatpacking is now the most dangerous job in the United States. The injury rate in a slaughterhouse is about three times higher than the rate in a typical American factory. Every year more than one-quarter of the meatpacking workers in this country – roughly forty thousand men and women – suffer an injury or a work-related illness that requires medical attention beyond first aid. There is strong evidence that these numbers, complied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, understate the number of meatpacking injuries that occur. Thousands of additional injuries and illnesses more likely go unrecorded.” (pg. 172)
Rereading this book reaffirmed my anti-fast food stance. I loved that rather than telling me that fast food is unhealthy, Schlosser explains how the cheap price of the fast food you can buy through the drive-thru does not capture the other costs of producing these products.