BOOKS

I just finished the audiobook of Fast Food Nation, a book I've been wanting to read for awhile but was somewhat afraid of. I'd heard interviews with the author, Eric Schlosser, and I knew generally what I was going to get from the book. Basically I didn't want to be scared away from what little fast food I eat. After reading the book, I'm not scared away from fast food by hearing what goes on with the food (I've heard it before) but I am pretty anti-fast food because of their business practices. I'm not an animal lover, I think we should kill animals without causing them suffering but I have no problem with the killing part. I like meat. What I do have problems with is when companies treat their employees like animals, unworthy of even basic human compassion.

I already knew that the pictures of food on the cash registers at McDonalds are not because the employees are that stupid but because McDonalds wants employees they don't have to train or that even have to speak English. That bothers me, especially when I learn that most fast food places take advantage of government money meant to train low-income workers at the same time they are trying their hardest to not train anyone, but it doesn't bother me as much as when I hear about meat packing companies who do not in any way care about the lives or physical well-being of people they hire. They go to great lengths to hire low wage, sometimes illegal immigrant, workers and then push them with little training into supremely dangerous jobs. People lose limbs, get diseases, and die and the companies all the way up and down the line from the corporate ranches that raise the cattle to the meat packing companies to the fast food chain offices do everything they can to avoid taking responsibility and avoid making any changes that would make things safer. Any one who is honestly looking at corporations should know by now that they are totally amoral beings, they don't care about anything but making money. If killing someone and taking a fine is less costly money-wise than making things safer, they will kill that person without thinking about it. But the things that happen behind the scenes of the fast food industry are so blatant that you can't help but be appalled. The whole system is designed to be as fast as possible and only as safe as absolutely imperitive. They lobby to keep wages low, to hire younger and younger workers and to work them as much as possible (without paying overtime of course), to reduce safety regulations, anything they can do to squeeze another penny (litterally) from consumers.

Since I don't pay much attention to the news, I have no idea if this book made any kind of splash when it came out but it should have. My cynical self says it probably didn't, that we're to the point where a book really has little chance of coming along and making substantive changes to society as The Jungle did when it came out and first exposed the horrors of the meat packing industry a hundred years ago. I hope I'm wrong, that people did pay attention because this issue needs attention. We spend so much time and money looking at horrors across the world when people are suffering just the same in our own backyard. People are always up in arms about child labor in eastern Asia but what about illegal immigrants brought here and made to work in much more horrible conditions? Is that unworthy of our attention? The fast food industry has destroyed many,many more lives with it's fast, unsafe, and unsanitary system than Nike and it's shoe factories ever have. Yes, kids sewing shoes for a dime a day is horrible but it's not worse than making a teenager spray down a moving, blood-covered conveyor belt with chlorine gas and then firing that person when they get sick from the inadequate breathing protection. The cost in human lives and dignity is not worth saving a nickel on a hamburger and yes, a nickel is all it would cost.