Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Part 1, Chapter 1 : The American Way (The Founding Fathers) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • This chapter depicts the rise of fast food restaurants through the "rags to riches" life story of entrepreneur Carl N. Karcher, founder of the Carl's Jr. restaurant chain.
  • The story leads to Southern California, where the emerging automobile culture and interstate highway systems helped change the American diet after World War II.
  • Individual cities transformed as well. Anaheim, California, changed from an agricultural county in the 1930s to a sprawling hub of retail development. Los Angeles became a "suburban metropolis of detached homes."
  • New reliance on automobiles meant people wanted to eat at drive-in restaurants.
  • Karcher found stiff competition from the McDonald brothers Richard and Maurice (Mac), whose burger restaurant, McDonald's, introduced a revolutionary "Speedee Service System." The system resembled a factory assembly line, bringing the principles of mass production and manufacturing to the restaurant business.
  • Copying the McDonald brothers' system, Karcher opened his own self-service restaurant and soon opened others near freeway exits.
  • Others followed, such as Dunkin' Donuts, Taco Bell, Wendy's, Domino's Pizza, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
  • In an era of cultural experimentation, fast food came to represent a "clean and cheery" family friendly and all-American option.
  • The most successful chains were started by iconoclastic, optimistic businessmen (with little academic education) who often had backgrounds in sales.
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