Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Key Figure Analysis


Carl N. Karcher

Eric Schlosser compares Karcher's life story to a Horatio Alger or "rags to riches" tale of an American man born into poverty, whose determination made him wealthy. Karcher's belief in hard work, self-sufficiency, and technological progress mirrored the beliefs of many fast food chain founders. His stubbornness helped him navigate pitfalls later in life. When Karcher was voted out of his own company after accumulating debt and being accused of insider trading, he forced his way back in. Unlike Schlosser, Karcher saw industrial development in Anaheim as a sign of good things to come.

Ray A. Kroc

Kroc's energy, skill in sales, and ability to spot a potential for profit earned him a top spot working with the McDonald brothers. A museum at the McDonald's headquarters resembles a "shrine" to Kroc, portraying him as a compassionate figure who upheld company values. However, Kroc's business dealings showed him to be an aggressive entrepreneur with a ruthless devotion to corporate expansion. After a rift with the McDonald brothers, he competed against his former partners to run their original restaurant out of business. To franchisees, he was "an inspiring, paternalistic figure" who listened to suggestions but demanded loyalty.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney embodied several of the same values as fast food executives: faith in hard work, belief in science and free enterprise, competitiveness, and distrust of unions and "socialism." His animation company followed the factory-style assembly-line techniques used by Henry Ford to make automobiles and later used by fast food chains to make meals. Disney, a practiced salesman, was one of the first business executives to market to children. Many corporations copied Disney's "synergy" style of marketing, in which he signed licensing agreements with other organizations to promote his brand.

Richard McDonald

Richard McDonald and his brother Mac were among many hopeful entrepreneurs who came to Hollywood chasing success. The two pioneered a speedy style of food service resembling a factory assembly line. The new system cut costs and made working-class consumers flock to their restaurant. Richard designed McDonald's restaurant's now-famous logo: the golden arches.

John Richard (J.R.) Simplot

John Richard Simplot embodied many values associated with the American West: individualism, perseverance, and a lack of pretension. He wore cowboy boots and blue jeans. Expansion-minded, he used his riches to buy land, describing himself as "a land hog." Simplot, like Karcher, came from a working-class farming background and developed a mind for business. His companies dehydrated and froze potatoes and vegetables, profiting from the new 1950s' technology of food processing.


"Hank" is a fictitious name for rancher Kirk Hanna. Eric Schlosser uses a pseudonym to protect the rancher's identity at his family's request. During his life Hank was enthusiastic and involved in the community. Hank aimed to find common ground between ranchers and environmental activists. His passion for the local land, his skill at ranching, and his knowledge of environmental development issues made Schlosser think Hank would someday be governor of Colorado. Instead, when he was 43, Hank took his own life after a period of depression. Schlosser identifies many of the economic and social pressures facing ranchers like Hank.

Currier J. Holman

Currier J. Holman's "IBP revolution" was responsible for much of the emphasis on speed and efficiency in the meatpacking industry. Eric Schlosser says, "Holman took pride in being tougher than anyone else." Holman compared business to "waging war" and took a strong anti-union stance. When workers went on strike and union leaders boycotted IBP's meat, Holman bribed the leaders with the help of organized crime figures. Holman's company reduced costs so steeply, they drove their meatpacking competition out of Chicago, and slaughterhouses moved to small rural towns.

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