Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fast Food Nation

I thought that reading Fast Food Nation immediately after The Jungle would give me some relief. I mean, we all know that the fast food industry sucks, but it just can not be as bad as the slaughterhouses and slums of Chicago in 1904, right? As my last post shows, it can be and it is. Slaughterhouse safety, pathetic wages, union-busting, and "what's in the meat?" are still the major problems.

If you're a meat-eater or a fast-food lover, I wouldn't recommend either book. They won't stop you from eating meat or fries, but you will feel slightly queasy every time you pass a Burger King. If you're a vegan like me who can relax knowing that my soy-burger probably isn't going to turn my brain into Swiss cheese, or if you have a strong stomach, then by all means read Fast Food Nation. It's a fascinating excursion into the history of how and why we eat the foods we do, and what that means for our future. It's highly informative without being preachy, and gives a well-balanced view of the issues. It is not an anti-meat book. Schlosser has a lot of sympathy for the ranchers who aren't benefitting at all from the fast food machine.

I'll get to the disturbing aspects of the industry and Schlosser's recommendations on how to solve the problems of the unstoppable fast food machine in my next post. In this one, I'll just fill you in on my own experiences in the world of fast food and give you some quotes and facts from Fast Food Nation that I found particularly entertaining.

I worked nights at McDonald's for about 9 months when I was 19-20, mostly as a "cook". I was there for what Schlosser calls McDonald's Teeny Beenie promotion and I call "The Great Beenie Baby Run of '97." Most stores ran out of the damn things early, yet grown women continued to clamour for little styrofoam-filled bears like heroin junkies going after a final fix. You practically had to wear riot gear to work the front counter or the drive-thru.

But that wasn't the worst part.

First, there were the fries. McDonald's fries are already fried before they're frozen, so employees are just frying them again. Since they're only considered edible for about 7-10 minutes, 30+ lbs of "old" fries were discarded daily (and this was a small store). The french-fry hopper (nicknamed "Dennis") was a big gadget that pre-weighed the fries and sent them down a series of metal chutes. Dennis was cleaned at least twice daily, yet by the end of a shift the metal chutes were coated in a thick, greenish snot that appeared slick, but actually had to be vigorously scraped away like dental plaque.

Then there was the waste. In addition to the "old" fries, food left over at the end of the day had to be discarded, whether it was bad or not. God forbid anyone should get anything for free at Mickey D's.

Then there was the management. Assistant managers, who made a dollar over minimum wage at the most, were treated only slightly better than military recruits at boot camp. It was not uncommon to see assistant managers stumbling out of the office with tear-stained faces.

Customers were the least important people at McDonald's. Counter clerks and lobby-cleaners were allowed only 30 seconds per customer, and we were not allowed to talk with customers about anything besides their orders. Way to gain a rapport with your clientele. This might be fine in the big-city stores, but it does not go over well in a small town; one of the few advantages of living in a small town is that people might actually converse with you even if they don't have to. We broke this rule all the time, when the managers weren't looking.

Training was difficult. Not because anything you do at McDonald's is particularly challenging (except for cleaning the huge Playplaces, if you happen to be afraid of heights or confined spaces), but because it's really, really hard to keep a straight face while people tell you things like "Beef integrity is the cornerstone of my business."

Worst of all, I was told not to phone in reports of drunk drivers in the drive-thru lane because it might slow up the line. I did anyway, of course. I just had someone spot for me. We saw an average of 3 drunks per Friday/Saturday night, and hell if I was going to let them drive around my town eating a goddamn cheeseburger while stinking drunk.

The keys to working in fast food are conformity and obedience. Clearly, I am just not cut out for that.

On the lighter side (from the book)...

In the '60s the McDonald Corporation began to renovate its stores, but kept the golden arches because design consultant/psychologist Louis Cheskin said the "breasts of Mother McDonald" held great Freudian allure for customers.

Jack in the Box was (is?) owned by Ralston-Purina.

Creepy quotes from Ray Kroc:

- "If my competition was drowning, I'd stick a hose in his mouth."

- "The french fry is almost sacrosanct for me, its preparation a ritual to be followed religiously."

McDonald's makes most of its money not from food, but from real estate (renting to franchisees).

"Potato Baron" J.R. Simplot, the 8th-grade dropout who gained full possession of his first electric tater-sorter with a coin toss, now owns land exceeding the size of Delaware.

In food labs, complex artificial mouths made up of sensors and probes test "mouthfeel" sensations such as gumminess, bounce, and creep.


Vest said...

Quite a venomveganimous statement, you forgot to mention the silent hour visitors feeding from the black sludge of the over used Trans Fats.
Quite a rebellious little darling wern't you.
Good post.

SME said...

I'm sure many a creature availed itself of the McGarbage...I'd rather just not think about it. *shudder*

Wandering Coyote said...

Yeah, it's quite the book. I almost want to read it again. His other book, Reefer Madness, is also supposed to be very good.

The Zombieslayer said...

I've read The Jungle and it was frightening. As a meat eater who ate a lot of canned food, I've probably eaten someone's fingers before and not known it. :(

That Ray Kroc quote I unfortunately heard at a Quixtar meeting. I still have nightmares about that Quixtar meeting.