Saturday, December 29, 2007

Food to make you fast (2008)

Book Review from the January 2008 issue of the Socialist Standard

Chew on This. By Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Schlosser is the author of Fast Food Nation (reviewed in the Socialist Standard for November 2002), and this book covers some of the same ground as the earlier one. That's to say, it looks at the power of fast food companies, especially McDonald's, and the nature of the food they serve.

McDonald's is the largest purchaser of beef in the United States, and this position has enabled them and the other big meat-packing companies to drive down the price paid to ranchers, many of whom have gone out of business. The raising and slaughtering of pigs, cattle and chicken has been aimed squarely at making profits, with little regard for the conditions of the animals or the workers. Chicken, for instance, will live barely six weeks and never see a blade of grass. They die increasingly of heart attacks, caused by a thick layer of fat around the heart.

Of course the fast food companies don't want their customers to think about where the food comes from and how it's made. They'd rather you didn't reflect on the manufactured flavours that are added, or the fact that food for children is made as sweet as possible. Massive amounts of advertising are aimed at kids, who are naturally very susceptible and can influence where their parents take them to eat. Further, the advertising isn't confined to food, as giving away or selling toys is another means to get the kids in.

The employees are often not much older than children, given the fast food industry's reliance on teenage labour. Teenagers are simply cheaper and easier to control. They mostly earn the minimum wage, which in the US is worth less in real terms than it was fifty years ago. There is a large turnover of staff, and the derogatory label 'McJob' sums things up well.

It may even be a McWorld that is developing, as the fast food chains expand outside the US and Europe. The first Burger King opened in Baghdad just nine weeks after the US-led invasion in 2003. The UK has long been part of the McDonald's empire, with 2.5 million people eating there every day.
Capitalist-style fast food treats appallingly the animals that it raises and kills. It's also bad for the workers it employs and bad for the consumers who eat it.
Paul Bennett

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