Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson - Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food

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What About That Fast Food Meal?

Jun 19, 2006 (Updated Jun 20, 2006)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Thought-provoking look at all aspects fast-food industry
Written for middle and high school readers

Cons:Biased, one-sided exposÚ
Disturbing and graphic look at meat industry

The Bottom Line: While disturbing and biased, I found this thought provoking with a hopeful ending that could encourage middle and high school students to re-evaluate their eating habits.


Give me a cheeseburger, with onions, tomatoes, and pickles, but hold the fat, additives, natural flavors, and excess calories. I’ll have medium fries with ketchup, but hold the beef, and a medium strawberry shake without cochineal.

Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson have written an exposÚ of fast food and fast lifestyles and the entire industry that that formed to support fast food restaurants. Chew on This, Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food targets middle school/high school readers. Hey, kids, you need to understand what advertisers are doing to your health.

They write with bias. They have a strong interest in modifying eating habits. They advocate evaluating the fast food business to better understand health risks. They have scrutinized facts and documented their statements with research complete with notes and sources and encourage us to form our own conclusions. Their historical approach builds a chronology of the fast food business and key components that have led to success. While not as intense as Fast Food Nation, it is probably as biased. By definition, exposÚs are controversial. They seek reflection and while our responses are often emotional (both pro and con), they increase our awareness. That’s the value of a good exposÚ.

This book is about several issues related to the fast food business. It’s about:
▪ Fast-food obsessions,
▪ Advertising strategies for marketing to children, each year successfully targeting younger children,
♥ Food production processes geared toward maximizing the output for the lowest cost regardless of employee and consumer health risks,
▪ A calculating and successful business,
▪ Abuse and overuse of adolescent employees, and
♥ Uncontrolled inclusions of food additives.

Why Read Chew On This?
My reason for reading this book was simple. I’ve been in 50 to 60 high schools. Average students are too overweight. It distresses me to see very heavy young girls who haven’t had babies yet, who haven’t settled down into marriage, and who should still be slender. I worry when I see layers of weight hanging over their exposed stomachs and low waistlines. I’m concerned about their eating habits and their hearts. I’m concerned about their sedentary lifestyles and general lack of caring about the quality of their food. I’m worried about habits they will pass on to their children.

Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students can easily purchase name-brand fast foods, soda pop, candy bars, potato chips, and other high-fat, sugar-filled snacks in 98% of high schools. I see either fast food served in the schools or hundreds of students flocking to nearby Wendy’s, McDonald's, and Burger Kings at lunchtime. I watch them wandering school hallways eating candy bars, drinking large colas (not even diet colas), and eating chips. In a normal school day many consume more calories and fat at lunch than they should eat all day. I’m now seeing this in middle and elementary schools. I see very young children eating fries and burgers as snacks to hold them until dinner. I personally know parents who take their families out for fast food several times a week and frequently stop on their way to school or work for a breakfast meal. This is the eating habit that parents and schools are encouraging and teaching. It is convenient and we’re too busy to cook, and perhaps younger parents don’t really understand the health risks.

Both Schlosser and Wilson point out a number of facts designed to disturb readers enough to take action. (I think it’s only fair after reading about the influence of advertising on consumers.) Part of their exposÚ includes:
▪ Disturbing reports about slaughterhouse conditions for both the workers and the animals,
▪ Undisclosed ingredients in foods,
▪ Additions of “natural flavors,”
♥ Frightening reports of young children with fat-clogged arteries having heart attacks, and
▪ Marketing to the “heavy users” and depending upon the “80-20 rule.

How many babies drink soda pop from their baby bottles? Should toddlers be eating fries? What are your thoughts about flavoring fries cooked in vegetable oil with beef? How would you respond if your child’s school made a contract with several fast food restaurants for the purpose of providing lunch food instead of traditional cafeteria food? What is your reaction to the fact that ground beef is highly susceptible to contamination, and often contains poop? (By the way, how many different cows does it take to make one pound of ground beef?)

The Chapters
Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of the fast food business beginning with its formative years.

Chapter One is about The Pioneers of hamburgers, and is filled with interesting trivia. The first burgers were created by a young man who later became known as “Hamburger Charlie.” Charlie Nagreen attempted to sell meatballs at his community’s first annual county fair. The meatballs were difficult to handle while walking, so he served flattened meatballs between slices of bread. We also learn historical information about White Castle, the McDonald brothers, Harland Sanders (KFC), and Carl Karcher (Carl Jr). Toward the end of the chapter Ray Kroc meets the McDonald brothers and the hamburger/fast food business explodes.

In The Youngster Business (Chapter Two) the authors introduce the advertising business and marketing efforts on the young and unsuspecting. They know that if a child can persuade a parent or grandparent to take them out for a burger that they generally triple their business. We read about a very effective marketing pioneer, Walt Disney. Disney’s synergy strategy served as a model for Ray Kroc. Synergy’s aim was "to link many products together in the mind of a consumer and secretly advertise them all at once." While Snow White was Disney’s first real marketing effort, Ronald McDonald was the first major effort by Ray Kroc on behalf of McDonald's. Did you know that "one out of every three toys given to a child in the United States is from a fast food restaurant?"

In Chapter Three, McJobs I wondered, “Do the fast food franchises provide valuable work experience or do they exploit the inexperienced high school students willing to work long hours for minimal pay?” Youthful employees often jeopardize their grades and studies to keep low paying jobs with a fast food restaurant. Turnover in fast food restaurants is high, with complete turnovers often occurring every two or three months. Management is standardized and somewhat rigid and very demanding.

The remaining chapters are
The Secret of Fries (Did you know the average American eats 49 pounds of fresh potatoes and 30 pounds of frozen potatoes each year?);
Stop the Pop (You'll be surprised by the obesity, general health, and dental problems associated with soda pop.);
Meat (This includes disturbing exposÚs as well as delightful stories about independent, quick-thinking pigs and a high-leaping, resourceful cow.);
Big (Should a 16-year old need to have gastric bypass surgery and should he weigh 350 pounds?);
Your Way (What distances will we go to have it our way, as well as some stories that indicate healthy changes, including better fast food restaurants).

The food is yummy. The salt, fat, and seasonings are calculated to appeal to a major portion of the population. It’s fun to stop in for a burger and pop with friends. They have been cultural icons for several generations, they represent lifestyles and reflect our fast-moving society. But flaws exist. Some we know, some are new. Are our children paying huge prices for this fast pace? Fast food is convenient, tastes good, and inexpensive. It supports a significant portion of our American economy from food production to employment. While it provides a lot of employment, only a few producers benefit and many family ranches and farms can not compete in the tight standards-laden business.

The authors pose the issues, sometimes with inflammatory writing, but as in Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, they continue to present strong (one-sided) arguments for reconsidering eating habits. This writing is designed to invite analysis and controversy. Will students read this book? I’m uncertain, but when I was in high school a similarly inflammatory book was required reading, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. It was disturbing, but it encouraged me to consider my eating habits along with associated societal costs. Schlosser modulates his frustration and anger with facts, stories, and encouraging examples.

In Conclusion
The authors obviously spent a lot of time researching the topic. Eric Schlosser is an investigative reporter, specializing in the fast-food industry. He wrote the highly acclaimed and highly criticized Fast Food Nation. Writing colleague, Charles Wilson, joins him on this book. Thirty pages of notes follow the last chapter with references that back up their points. The book contains an index, some photographs and slightly larger print. In many ways it reads like a school textbook, but I found it engaging.

Does McDonald's or Burger King want to be everywhere? Does their marketing strategy effectively convince children to crave their burgers and fries while the business feeds off of our children? Does the fat and salt need to be added and do the servings need to be super-sized? Can better quality be brought in and can smaller farmers and ranchers economically improve the quality of the food? Can there be a revolution in the fast food business that allows for continuation of quick, easy food? Chew On This contains far more than can be covered here, it poses questions and encourages us to seek more information, and the ending chapter provides hope for us and the fast food industry.


Recommend this product? Yes

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