Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Part 2, Chapter 5 : Meat and Potatoes (Why the Fries Taste Good) | Summary

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Key Takeaways

  • This chapter takes readers behind the scenes of flavoring fast food and processed food and introduces them to the potato industry.
  • John Richard "J.R." Simplot's processing plant in Aberdeen, Idaho processes millions of potatoes into French fries. Owner Simplot has created "an empire based on French fries."
  • A former potato farmer, Simplot began dehydrating food for the United States Army to ship overseas. In the 1950s, "the Golden Age of Food Processing," Simplot invested in frozen food technology. His company manufactured frozen French fries and became the main supplier of McDonald's.
  • A handful of large corporations like Simplot, Lamb Weston, and McCain now control the market for frozen French fries, slowly putting independent potato farmers out of business.
  • Despite their economic struggle, most Idaho potato farmers are "stubbornly independent" and won't join forces against the large processors.
  • A post-World War II "industrial model of agriculture" has made American farmers profitable but also has driven them from the land, allowing corporations to take over. In large part to blame is the "fallacy of composition ... a mistaken belief that what seems good for an individual will still be good when others do the same thing."
  • The flavor industry, a "highly secretive" operation involving chemistry, biology, psychology, and physiology, makes the fast food industry possible. People buy fast food because of its taste.
  • McDonald's used "animal products," or beef tallow, to flavor its fries, but with the change to vegetable only, artificial flavors were needed to reproduce the taste.
  • Flavor additives are responsible for both "natural" and "artificial" flavors in processed foods. Aroma and color also affect perception of food; like taste both can be artificially engineered.
  • Because flavor companies aren't required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to disclose their ingredients, most food has more additives than consumers think.
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