The Problem With Fast Food and How to Fight Back

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’s the problem with fast food? How can average consumers fight back against this industry?

The problem with fast food is in part that it’s difficult to fight. Fast food is a colossal industry that controls farming, food production, work conditions, and more. But fighting back is possible.

Keep reading for a rundown of fast food issues and how to fight back.

The Problem With Fast Food

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal tells the story of how the United States—and, increasingly, the world—has become shaped and defined by the fast food industry. From its origins in the new suburbs of California in the 1950s, fast food has spread across every corner of the nation and profoundly altered the way American food is produced, sold, and consumed. The rise of fast food has negatively impacted American life, through manipulative marketing aimed at children, exploitative labor practices, the destruction of American family farms, lax food safety standards, and a national epidemic of obesity. Below are some of the key themes and topics from Fast Food Nation.

How to Fight Back

It seems like fast food is an unstoppable force as it reshapes communities and cultures, forces workers into exploitative relationships, contributes to global health problems, and despoils the environment. However, there are concrete steps that workers, activists, and elected officials can take to bring the industry to heel.

  • Congress should ban companies that sell high-fat and high-sugar products from using the public airwaves to advertise to children.
  • The government should eliminate tax breaks and public subsidies for fast food chains that exploit their workers through high turnover, while teaching them minimal job skills.
  • States and the federal government should pass legislation that makes it easier for fast food workers to organize labor unions. This would provide a real counterweight to the power of the chains, forcing them to address workers’ grievances.
  • The USDA should be given increased funding and new authority to enforce the strictest possible food safety standards, especially for ground beef that it purchases through the federal school lunch program. 
  • The US food safety regulatory system needs to be drastically reformed. Instead of having a dozen agencies with responsibility for food safety standards, these functions should be consolidated into a single agency, with the authority to track goods through their entire production cycle from the farm to the supermarket shelf.
  • Meatpacking companies must be held accountable for the gross violations of workers’ rights taking place in their plants, including punitive sanctions for every injured worker and even criminal prosecutions of executives who knowingly turn a blind eye to employee safety.
  • The Justice Department must step up its antitrust enforcement actions to break up the power of the major agribusiness firms that have reduced America’s once-proud independent farmers to little more than sharecroppers.
  • Fast food chains must be made liable for the behavior of their suppliers. Instead of using their economic clout to pad their bottom lines, they should wield this power on behalf of customers and the general public.

The fast food industry is not all-powerful and its continued dominance is hardly assured. In the past, Americans overcame powerful business interests to ban child labor, establish a minimum wage, and create publicly funded bridges, roads, schools, and national parks—and they can do it again.

The Problem With Fast Food and How to Fight Back

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation" at Shortform .

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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