Socialist Worker

Eric Schlosser on Fast Food Nation

FAST Food Nation is a revealing book about the US fast food industry. It has just been republished with an extra chapter. Its author, ERIC SCHLOSSER, spoke to HELEN SHOOTER.

Issue No. 1795

WHY DID you write Fast Food Nation?

THE BOOK is a very straightforward description of how one industry works. But it is also a history of the US over the last 20 to 25 years. The election of Ronald Reagan had a profound effect on US history and the whole conservative ideology.

One of the most important chapters is about the lives of meat packing workers, and the effect of the government's politics and ideology on them. It used to be one of the highest paid jobs. Today it is one of the lowest paid, with mainly migrant workers.

I wrote a piece before on migrant farm workers in California, so I knew the working conditions were terrible. But the meat packing industry really shocked me. Most people in the US have no idea this is occurring. The free market has meant that a few companies gained power over the food industry. The concentration is immense. It is what happens when there is market deregulation.

I had no idea McDonald's had this much power over the food economy. McDonald's forms marketing alliances with other big companies. There are now 1,300 McDonald's in the US!

WHY DID you add information about BSE and New Labour's links to McDonald's to your book?

IF I was writing the whole book again now I would do much more on BSE. When I was writing it four years ago it wasn't seen as pertinent in the US. But BSE has had a massive impact on McDonald's in Europe and Japan. I think it is an apt symbol of industrial agriculture gone mad. Tony Blair and McDonald's are unbelievable.

McDonald's is called the most anti-union firm on the planet. When McDonald's workers in one US town voted for a union the company just shut the restaurant down. Yet Tony Blair appears at a McDonald's cocktail party after a donation of £13,000.

DOES THE popularity of your book reflect anti-capitalism?

I COULD have written the same book ten years ago, but I don't think it would have got the same reception. It is a reflection of things starting to change. I think it is part of the anti-globalisation movement, particularly in Europe. It is also disaffection with the fast food industry in the US.

Company growth imperatives often lead to their own downfall. McDonald's is expanding so quickly overseas because sales in the US are pretty flat. I am even more optimistic now than when I finished the book. People over here shouldn't be deceived by Bush's popularity.

When you look at his social policies, he is not popular. The Enron scandal has created a very strong popular mood against corporate greed and misbehaviour. Fast food companies depend on a lack of popular awareness. I think we are seeing a whole new awareness and interest in change.

Fast Food Nation is available for £6.99 from Bookmarks – phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

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Sat 13 Apr 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1795
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