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From the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients
April 2003
Fast Food Nation, the Dark Side of the All-American Meal
by Eric Schlosser
review by Beatrice Trum Hunter
Our April 2003 cover
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Fast Food Nation, the Dark Side of the All-American Meal
by Eric Schlosser
Perennial, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
10 East 53 St.
New York, New York USA
Quality paperback, black/white photographs
$13.95 US ($21 Canada)
383 pages

Landmark books about the shortcomings of the food supply have been published at intervals by concerned citizens who have studied the problems diligently, and have been dedicated to the task of alerting the public. Both Upton Sinclair's The Jungle (1906) and F.J. Schlink and Arthur Kallet's 1,000,000,000 Guinea Pigs (1933), in the best tradition of muckrakers, led to Congressional inquiries and reform measures to strengthen public protection. Now, another landmark book, Fast Food Nation (2002) by Eric Schlosser, in the same tradition, should alert the American public to what the author terms, in his subtitle, "the dark side of the all-American meal." May this landmark book arouse a lethargic public, insensitive public officials who are guardians of health, and unscrupulous food processors, to the glaring shortcomings, failures, and hazards of our current food system.

Schlosser has examined every facet of the American food supply, from methods of growing and producing commodities, processing them, to their retail sales and consumption. Rather than focusing narrowly on the popular fast food outlets — the symbol of the ultimate development of industrialized food — Schlosser explores all the intricately interwoven aspects that influence food production and consumption.

To humanize the problems, the author begins each chapter with a personalized account of a real person, set in a real environment. The faces are woven into the personal account. The technique is highly effective, for the reader can identify with the individual and the problems he or she encounters.

In Schlosser's concluding remarks, he expresses a hope that "future historians…will consider the American fast food industry a relic of the 20th century — a set of attitudes, systems, and beliefs that emerged from postwar southern California, that embodied its limitless faith in technology, that quickly spread across the globe, flourished briefly, and then receded, once its true costs became clear and its thinking became obsolete…Whatever replaces the fast food industry should be regional, diverse, authentic, unpredictable, sustainable, profitable — and humble. It should know its limits. People can be fed without being fattened or deceived. The new century may bring an impatience with conformity, a refusal to be kept in the dark, less greed, more compassion, less speed, more common sense, a sense of humor about brand essences and loyalties, a view of food as more than just fuel. Things don't have to be the way they are…"

Fast Food Nation is well-researched. Some 63 pages of author's notes document his materials thoroughly. Schlosser has tried to write a balanced account. The book is a wake-up call to activate concerned consumer's responsive legislators, and enlightened food industry executives. The book is highly recommended reading. It is a first-class muckraker that deserves thorough study, followed by appropriate actions.

Eric Schlosser is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. He is the recipient of numerous journalistic honors, including a National Magazine Award for his article on marijuana and the so-called war on drugs. Fast Food Nation has been on The New York Times best seller list, and widespread recognition is deserved.




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