Monday, April 30, 2012

Fast Food Nation

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American MealFast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an amazing read. It challenged me so much! Some of the information was mainly things I already knew (and despised) about fast food companies, meatpacking, and slaughterhouses. It sickens and saddens me the way workers in these professions are treated! It is essentially slave labor. I worked at McDonald's, by the way, when I was 15, and it really did kill my soul a little bit.

Although there were things I knew, there were surprises in this book, too. As a parent, I try to limit my kid's intake of sweets to the "most healthy" of them (if that is even possible). Reading this book made me realize that my best efforts at label-reading may be for naught!

Huge Insight #1: "Natural flavors" aren't natural at all! I'm just going to straight-up quote the book now, as Schlosser says it better than I could paraphrase it:

"You'll find 'natural flavor' or 'artificial flavor' in just about every list of ingredients. The similarities between these two broad categories of flavor are far more significant than their differences. Both are man-made additives that give most processed food most of its taste...
"For the past twenty years, food processors have tried hard to use only 'natural flavors' in their products. According to the FDA, these must be derived entirely from natural sources--from herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, yeast, bark, roots, etc. Consumers prefer to see natural flavors on a label, out of a belief that they are healthier. The distinction between artificial and natural flavors can be somewhat arbitrary and absurd, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains. 'A natural flavor,' says Terry Acree, a professor of food science at Cornell University, 'is a flavor that's been derived with an out-of-date technology.' Natural flavors and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods. Amyl acetate, for example, provides the dominant note of banana flavor. When you distill it from bananas with a solvent, amyl acetate is a natural flavor. When you produce it by mixing vinegar with amyl alcohol, adding sulfuric acid as a catalyst, amyl acetate is an artificial flavor. Either way it smells and tastes the same...
"A natural flavor is not necessarily healthier or purer than an artificial one...
"Natural and artificial flavors are now manufactured at the same chemical plants, places that few people would associate with Mother Nature. Calling any of these flavors 'natural' requires a flexible attitude toward the English language and a fair amount of irony." --pp. 120, 126-127, Fast Food Nation

Huge Insight #2: Tainted meat is everywhere, especially in public schools and home kitchens. The basic gist of the chapters on contaminated meat and food poisoning were that the largest meatpacking companies won't do anything to stop the distribution of tainted meat, and that school cafeterias and grocery stores are the places they sell it to. This means children are the most susceptible to sickness AND/OR DEATH from contaminated beef. Did you read that right? Our kids are in danger because people are greedy. I don't know that this was entirely a new concept to me, but the fact that this greed is so rampant in our culture (yes, the good old U.S. of A.) really makes me want to puke! I'm reassured by the fact that we don't eat much meat. I personally haven't eaten beef in about 8 years. But I know that my daughter will sometimes have ground beef in a meal at her grandmother's house or the babysitter's. As a general rule, though, we don't buy hamburgers.

"Anyone who brings raw ground beef into his or her kitchen today must regard it as a potential biohazard, one that may carry an extremely dangerous microbe, infectious at an extremely low dose...
"The war on foodborne pathogens deserves the sort of national attention and resources that has been devoted to the war on drugs. Far more Americans are severely harmed every year by food poisoning than by illegal drug use. And the harms caused by food poisoning are usually inadvertent and unanticipated. People who smoke crack know the potential dangers; most people who eat hamburgers don't. Eating in the United States should no longer be a form of high-risk behavior." --pp. 221, 264, Fast Food Nation

Huge Insight #3: It's really not that hard to do something about this.

"Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first step toward meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it...
"A good boycott, a refusal to buy, can speak much louder than words. Sometimes the most irresistible force is the most mundane." --p. 269, Fast Food Nation

Thank you for the reminder, Schlosser!

I'm giving up Fast Gross Food until something changes in the industry.

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