4 Fast Food Nation Quotes on Ethics, Health, and More

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the best Fast Food Nation quotes? Can the quotes help explain major themes?

Fast Food Nation covers problems like workers’ safety, government ethics, and more. These Fast Food Nation quotes can help you understand why the fast food industry is extremely unethical and unsustainable.

Keep reading for four Fast Food Nation quotes to make you think.

Fast Food Nation Quotes

These Fast Food Nation quotes cover several of the biggest parts of the book, including health, labor issues, and more.

“The medical literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: coliform levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, MacConkey agar, and so on. Behind them lies a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat.”

Deadly outbreaks of E. coli, a virulent pathogen primarily found in beef, have become far more common since the rise of fast food. This is largely due to fast food’s centralized system of food production, which exponentially expands the reach and scope of outbreaks. Today’s slaughterhouses and meatpacking plants are marked by appalling sanitary conditions, where cattle are packed into close quarters, given little exercise, and splash around in pools of manure. After the animals are slaughtered, poorly trained workers often handle the carcasses improperly, pulling out the stomach and intestines of the cattle by hand and spilling the contents of the digestive system all over the slaughterhouse floor and into the meat that’s sold to consumers. 

Ground beef is particularly prone to contamination, because the package that’s sold in the supermarket does not come from a single animal. Because of how it is processed and shipped, the meat of just one infected cow can find its way into 32,000 pounds of ground beef. 

“Did Somebody Say McUnion? Not if They Want to Keep Their McJob.”

The low-skill, low-wage mode of production destroyed the old urban meatpacking districts, as companies flocked west to open new plants in low-tax, anti-union states like Kansas, Texas, Colorado, and Nebraska. Workers at these new-style plants earned less than half of what their union counterparts in Chicago had just a few years before. 

These anti-labor policies spread from IBP to other major players in the industry, including at the Montfort plant. When Montfort workers at a slaughterhouse in Colorado went on strike in 1979, the company played hardball: they shut down the facility and fired all the workers, rather than negotiate with the strikers. They opened a new slaughterhouse and refused to hire any of the former workers. It was a statement of unbridled hostility toward labor.

“Today the U.S. government can demand the nation-wide recall of defective softball bats, sneakers, stuffed animals, and foam-rubber toy cows. But it cannot order a meatpacking company to remove contaminated, potentially lethal ground beef from fast food kitchens and supermarket shelves.”

In theory, regulatory agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are supposed to set rules that prevent meatpacking companies from harming their workers in this way, and punish those that do. In the last few decades, however, agencies like OSHA have become little more than tools of the industries they are supposed to regulate.

When Ronald Reagan was elected president in 1980 with a pledge to reduce the size of government, his administration cut the number of OSHA inspectors by 20 percent and adopted a policy of “voluntary compliance,” under which an OSHA inspector couldn’t even enter a facility unless it had an injury rate higher than the national average for its industry (that is, according to the company’s own records). These actions sent a clear signal to business that they could roll back worker safety measures with no fear of consequences from the federal government.

“Congress should ban advertising that preys upon children, it should stop subsidizing dead-end jobs, it should pass tougher food safety laws, it should protect American workers from serious harm, it should fight against dangerous concentrations of economic power.”

Because kids exert a strong influence over what adults purchase, marketers know that kids can be powerful surrogate salespeople for their products—and no one has internalized this lesson better than the fast food industry. They aggressively market to children, through television advertisements featuring bright and colorful mascots, on-site playgrounds, and cross-promotional campaigns with toy companies and film studios. The most famous example of the latter is the Happy Meal, within which McDonald’s packages the hottest children’s toys as a “free” promotion. Major toy crazes like Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, Tamogotchis, and Cabbage Patch Kids have all been boosted by synergistic fast food tie-ins. 

Perhaps most insidiously, fast food chains have even brokered deals with school districts, enabling them to promote their high-fat, high-sugar products directly to children through bus and hallway advertisements, endorsement deals, and even direct provision of school lunches.

4 Fast Food Nation Quotes on Ethics, Health, and More

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Here's what you'll find in our full Fast Food Nation summary :

  • How the fast food industry reshaped the American economy
  • How fast food marketing is manipulating you
  • Why the rise of fast food has destroyed family farms across America

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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