“I aimed for the public’s heart,” wrote Upton Sinclair, referring to his muckraking hit The Jungle, “and by accident, I hit it in the stomach.” When Eric Schlosser came out with Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal in 2001, it was hailed as a modern-day Jungle, and with good reason. The book’s most memorable sections pull back the veil of the fast-food infrastructure and reveal the horrific conditions of modern American slaughterhouses — both for the cattle who were eviscerated in bloody fashion and for the immigrant labor force paid too little for work that was too dangerous.
But it would be a mistake to treat Fast Food Nation as just another piece of stomach-turning, muckraking literature. Schlosser did far more, connecting the rise and consolidation of the fast-food industry in America to the declining power of labor unions, sliding blue-collar wages and growing income inequality. “The basic thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today’s retail economy,” writes Schlosser. We all live in Fast Food Nation.
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