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Eric Schlosser begins his book by explaining why he chose to focus on one group of cities in America and the reason behind this is that he sees these cities as an emblem for the economic growth that took place in the 20th century. The cities are Denver, Colorado Springs and Fort Collins and he notes that no matter their financial background, everyone orders food from the big fast-food chains. He tells the reader that he will analyze in the book how small business operate and also how big companies came to be and how they developed in time.
Schlosser starts with McDonalds that for him marks the start of a new era and trend in the food industry and that he noted that the middle-class and the working class are the ones more predisposed to consuming more fast-food.
In the second chapter, Carl Karcher’s story is analyzed and how he ended up founding Carl’s Jr. fast-food restaurants. Carl used the people’s need to move from one place to another and also the nation’s newfound interest for cars to create drive-through restaurants to cater to those customers. At the same time, McDonalds appeared for the first time and after a period of ten years, the founders of McDonalds created a more efficient way of producing food by creating ‘’assembly lines’’ that required workers to work on only one thing and not to create a product by themselves.
Their idea was later adopted by the founders of Carl Jr., Taco Bell, KFC Burger King but notes that not all businesses had the same success in a short period of time. Carl Karcher’s rise to fame is controversial in the writer’s point of view but he tries to remain impartial and to analyze his success from an unbiased point of view. Schlosser does however reach the conclusion that hard work is not always enough for someone to be successful. Careful timing and luck are also required.
Schlosser remember one time he visited a McDonald museum and how it reminded him of Disney world. This proves that the enterprise adapted to the times and became skilled at selling their products to everyone. Ray Kroc purchased McDonald from the founding brothers and they he expanded the restaurants all over the country. Kroc tried to convince Walt Disney to let him sell McDonald products inside the parks but is rejected because at the point, the company was not big enough to be considered important enough to sell their products there.
The fast-food restaurant owners also supported different political figures hoping that one day they will benefit from others. They also envisioned a more suburban-like society and were against communism and its ideas. Walt Disney especially portrayed his vision in his park Tomorrowland and the future he envisioned was closely linked with automobiles and the sense of freedom they offer. Kroc tried to make themed parks for McDonald but eventually decided to build play spaces in the restaurants for children. This play spaces made the children spend more time in the restaurants and buy more food so it brought in a lot of profit for the owners. Also around that time, the restaurant owners began to advertise and promote their restaurants to children since they could convince their parents to spend more money in more place than another and they also started to sell small toys with their food. Schlosser points out that the moment McDonald started targeting children marked the beginning of a new era when businesses saw children as potential buyers and began to advertise excessively to them.
In 1996, McDonald and Dysney signed a contract for a period of ten years that stipulated that McDonald can sell their products inside Disney parks and McDonald will begin selling Disney themed goods and toys.
To keep their customers loyal, McDonald tried to create the image of the restaurant as a friend of the family and link it with positive memories so the customers may feel compelled to return to the restaurant and to buy their food.
The fast-food restaurants than partnered with schools that let them sell their products inside the school cafeterias and some of the headmasters even became employers of the companies they agreed to promote inside their schools.
In the third chapter, Schlosser describes the way Colorado Springs looked before being crowded by restaurants and other businesses that changed the face of the city forever. He looks back at the history of the city from the last 50 years and he notes that everything changed when more people moved to the area looking for jobs. Starting from that point, the ever-growing population attracted more businesses and fast-food restaurants began to appear along the highways. The military also found in Colorado a new area where they could relocate and an Air Force Academy was set there. Also, with an increase in population, evangelical groups saw an opportunity and they also appeared more and more.
Schlosser concludes by saying that in the 1990s, Colorado Springs already had 21 McDonald restaurants and they were expanding even more. The area also became favored when it came to testing new methods that had as their purpose making cooking process more efficient and cost-affective.
Schlosser then tells the readers about a young sixteen-year old worker named Elisa Zamot who works for McDonald. The young girl wakes up early, before 6 in the morning and then goes to work for 8 to 9 hours without being paid much. Despite the hard labor, he seems content with her wages but also know that if for some reason she will be unable to work, the company will not hesitate to find someone else to do the same job.
The fast-food industry affected the way people grow food as well because a demand for large quantities of raw products emerged and so it became necessary for the producers to be able to produce as much food as humanly possible.
The people chosen as workers are high school students or immigrants who can’t find a better job. The employers are paid less than decent wage and more than often are required to stay overtime without being paid for the extra-work they are asked to do. The wages remained almost the same as they were 30 years ago and because the companies fought hard against unions, none were formed and the workers were unable to fight for their own rights. Schlosser argues however that for some young employers, working in such an environment provides them with the means to mature and experience what working feels like and for them the job is just a temporal solution not the way they want to work for the rest of their lives.
These restaurants are often robbed by former employees who hold a grudge against their former employers and use their knowledge to steal money from the restaurant.
Schlosser then looks at a young college student working for Little Cesar. The man is named Matthew Kabong and when he is not delivering pizzas he is studying to become an engineer. The owner of the franchise is Dave Feamster but he is different from other franchise owners because he has a good relationship with his employees. Dave was a former NHL player forced to retire after a freak accident. Realizing that he played with the son of Little Cesar’s founder, Dave decided to invest into the business and open Little Cesar restaurants. Schlosser then explains how franchises work and how the companies can make money by simply lending the name of the company and the business idea to someone else.
To promote their franchises, the companies often released misleading reports showing that almost every franchise is successful. The reality is far from that notes Schlosser and many people who decided to invest in franchises suffered financial loss that did not affect however the company in any shape or way.
In chapter 4, Schlosser mentions the story of how J.R. Simplot became rich by selling potatoes. Simplot was not a rich man but he partnered with another man and they bought an expensive potato sorter. When the med decided to go their separate ways, it was hard to decide who was going to get the sorter so the two men flipped a coin and Simplot got the machine. He then started to sort potatoes, slice them, freeze them and then sell them to the public. McDonald saw an opportunity in this and began buying potatoes from him.
By the time when the book was written, three companies produces more than 80% of the potatoes sold and consumed in the US and Schlosser notes that many small farms are bought by much larger ones. Also, because of the technological developments, fewer workers are required to work in the fields so Schlosser estimated that around 1000 people were responsible for producing the potatoes consumed by the entire country. But while some hoped that the new technologies would bring them more profit, the truth is that the new inventions made the products be less expensive and thus produce less profit for the farmers.
To cut down the costs even more, the restaurants began to fry their foods in inexpensive vegetable oil and add artificial flavoring to create the impression that the fries have the same taste as they had when they were fried in beef tallow. Schlosser visits some factories where artificial flavoring and scents were produced and is amazed to see how similar are the things produced in laboratories with the natural ingredients ad flavors.
Schlosser ends his fifth chapter by describing his experience in a French fry factory and how he was amazed by how good the potatoes tasted and how out of place they seemed in the modern factory.
In the sixth chapter, Schlosser visits a potato farm run by a small farmer named Hank. While he doesn’t have the same power as the big companies, Hank’s method of farming takes the environment into consideration and he tries to do as little damage to the land as possible. But because the meat industry and agriculture in general was controlled by big businesses, surviving was hard for small business owners like Hank and they questioned more and more whether it was profitable to remain in the industry. The beef and chicken prices also dropped drastically and the appearance of the chicken nugget changed the way chicken was processed and sold and it also offered poultry farmers the opportunity to use parts that would have been otherwise thrown away.
Because the prices have plummeted, it became harder for farmers to sustain their families and thus the suicide rate among them rose drastically. Schlosser notes that farmers are three times more likely to take their own life and ends his sixth chapter by mentioning that one of the farmers who ended up committing suicide was Hank.
In the seventh chapter, Schlosser looks at the meatpacking industry and how it was affected as well. The workers are paid deplorable wages, accidents are not uncommon and the meat quality also had to suffer. Schlosser blames big companies for these changes and for creating tough working conditions for their employees. The reason why the wages dropped was because just like in the fast-food industry, the job of processing the meat was divided into much smaller and easy to deal with parts and so the workers were not required to have too many skills to perform the tasks.
Just like in agriculture, a small number of big companies bought the smaller farms and the quality of the meat also dropped as a result. Employees remained in the companies only for a short period of time and for the company in the long run it was profitable because they could then hire new workers and give them even smaller wages. These companies also hire illegal immigrants since it would have been hard for them to find jobs elsewhere.
In the ninth chapter, Schlosser visits a slaughter house and he remains moved by the conditions in which the employees work but also by the way the cattle are treated. The workers were overworked because the company wanted to maximize them and because castles are harder to breed to be the same size, manual labor is required. The company does not give their employees too much sick leave so if they do get sick, they are forced to continue working. Many workers resolve to taking drugs to keep themselves going and the female workers offer sexual favors to their superiors hoping to be transferred to another department where the work is easier.
Schlosser mentions that the ones who have to suffer the most are the cleaning team coming after everyone goes home. The cleaning teams usually work with dangerous chemicals and are forced to work in dangerous conditions for extended periods of time. When accidents do happen, the company does everything in their power to avoid paying any type of compensation.
Another problem with the meat industry is that more and more cases of infested meat appeared and many people got sick as a result. The ways in which the cattle were raised and the food they were given are listed as contributing factors to why the meat gets infested. While there are food inspectors to ensure the fact that the meat is not affected, they are not able to control every piece of meat while it is processed so the risk still exists. To ensure that their meat is not infected many plants resort to irradiating the meat to stop the bacteria from multiplying uncontrollably. Some of the infected meat ends up being served to children in schools and some people get infected because their meat is not properly cooked in the restaurants where they chose to eat.
In the last chapter, Schlosser ends by analyzing how the fast-food restaurants became o worldwide phenomenon and how Europe and other continents were seen as a new, more profitable market for the big fast-food restaurants. The restaurants brought with them new techniques and changed slowly the way people eat and think about food at a global level. For Schlosser, there restaurants are partly to blame for the rise in obesity and other disease related with a bad diet.
Despite all the arguments presented, Schlosser notes that there still exists restaurants that pay their employees a decent wage and procure their ingredients from safe and ethical sources. However, society as a whole must fight against the restaurants and establishments that put their workers and their customers in danger and that society as a whole must rethink their attitude towards food in general.
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