Fast Food Nation | Study Guide

Eric Schlosser

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Fast Food Nation | Part 2, Chapter 6 : Meat and Potatoes (On the Range) | Summary


Key Takeaways

  • This chapter examines fast food's impact on independent American cattle ranchers.
  • Hank, a respected Colorado Springs cattle rancher, shows the threats to his land—including poorly managed storm runoff and rapid urban development. Hank believes good ranchers damage the land less than urban residents do.
  • Ranchers and cowboys, despite being "icons of the American west," are now fighting rising land prices, low meat prices, and the consolidation of the meatpacking industry, where a few large corporations dominate the market.
  • The early 20th century was marked by government efforts to dissolve "trusts," or corporate alliances, including the Beef Trust. Antitrust laws allowed ranchers to sell their cattle in an open marketplace. In the 1980s, however, President Ronald Reagan's administration allowed large firms to amalgamate again.
  • Meatpacking firms keep their prices secret, and ranchers aren't sure what their cattle are worth. Large companies work with their competitors to set prices.
  • The chicken-processing industry, concentrated in the rural South, has faced similar consolidation. The creation of the Chicken McNugget helped transform the poultry industry from an agricultural to a manufacturing business.
  • Processors began breeding large-breasted chickens to make into finger food. Chicken nuggets, despite public perception, are no healthier than hamburgers.
  • Chicken farmers who work for processing giant Tyson Foods, Inc. don't own their birds and have little control over their income.
  • Meatpacking companies want to achieve similar market control by keeping "captive supplies" or cattle to flood the market, leading to an oversupply of beef.
  • Individual cattlemen who speak out, like Kansas's Mike Callicrate, are punished: the meatpacking companies no longer bid on their cattle.
  • Only the wealthiest ranchers can afford "conservation easements," or tax breaks, in exchange for donating the right to large trusts to develop on their land. Smaller, self-sufficient ranchers struggle.
  • Hank's 1998 suicide, in addition to the high suicide rate among ranchers, leads Eric Schlosser to link rancher depression to economic pressure and the destruction of a "traditional way of life."
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