Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Afterword : The Meaning of Mad Cow | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • In the 2002 Afterword, Eric Schlosser examines the "mad cow" epidemic and the changes in the fast food industry since the book's 2001 publication.
  • Despite the meatpacking industry's opposition, the threat posed by bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease, led to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) implementing new animal feed restrictions in 1997. "Ruminants eating ruminants," or animals being fed dead animals, a practice leading to the spread of mad cow, was outlawed.
  • When mad cow disease resurfaced in the headlines in 2001, the McDonald's Corporation required its suppliers to follow FDA guidelines.
  • Schlosser says the reaction to mad cow disease proves "the remarkable power that the fast food chains wield over the meatpacking industry."
  • Fast Food Nation has been criticized by the American Meat Institute, the National Restaurant Association, and the McDonald's Corporation, as well as by leading conservative publications.
  • Responding to accusations of "anti-Republican bias," Schlosser says he had no partisan agenda during his research and could have been more critical of the President Bill Clinton's Democratic administration's failure to pass food safety legislation and ties to poultry giant Tyson Foods, Inc. Republican administrations, however, have close ties to the fast food and meatpacking industries, preventing legislative reform.
  • Vegetarian and Hindu readers protested the inclusion of beef tallow in McDonald's fries, prompting McDonald's to issue an apology. McDonald's also left animal products out of fries in restaurants in India and Great Britain, showing the chain's efforts to adjust to cultural preferences.
  • In 2000, leading fast food chains "began to unravel." Business slowed, and stock prices fell. Customers appeared dissatisfied.
  • McDonald's has taken steps to improve its public image, requiring the humane slaughter of animals and offering employees health benefits.
  • Schlosser recommends McDonald's take steps to treat their slaughterhouse employees ethically. For example, workers injured in Texas must waive their right to sue the company before getting treatment. If McDonald's pressured Iowa Beef Packers, Inc. (IBP) or any supplier to improve working conditions, the supplier would make changes.
  • Mad cow disease still poses a threat. Schlosser says the FDA feed rules in America and Europe "are primarily concerned with efficiency and utility, not public health."
  • Inspired by European nations moving toward the deindustrialization of agriculture, Schlosser is optimistic America can learn from the mad cow epidemic and change the way Americans are fed.
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