Thursday, July 17, 2008

Chew on This by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson

Fast food is everywhere, but do you know how much it affects and has affected American Culture? And do you know where your food comes from, and how it affects you? "Chew On This" provides an intriguing look at fast food corporations and their affect on American life, from how they pay their employees and how they keep their salaries artificially low and their corresponding profits high.

This book covers every part of fast food culture, from the sodas they sell and the consumers drink, to how the meat, fries and other ingredients are raised, slaughtered, and made. It is a journey as enlightening as it is sickening, with stories of Chickens fed such a high-sugar, high fat diet that some of them literally have heart attacks, and are known in the trade as "Flip-over" birds. That's because they literally flip over when they die, and when they are autopsied, their hearts are encased in a thick coating of fat.

Many people have an entirely unreal expectation of how their meat animals are raised. Books on farm life you find in schools or libraries are written around the old way- chickens raised on grain and bugs, free to roam the farmyard and peck or scratch where they like. But that's not true any more. There are very few family farms, and the animals who will go on to be made into fast food are raised in deplorable conditions- crammed into tiny boxes, fed the cheapest food, such as pretzel and cookie crumbs slathered in fat, that will cause them to gain weight the quickest. The faster the chickens put on weight, the sooner they can be sold, and soon new baby chicks will be arriving on what has become a farm factory, ready to start the whole wheel of raising and death all over again.

Nor is this just an American problem, with other countries finding their rates of obesity and western diseases, like heart attack and stroke, rising as they import American fast-food chains into their country. And it isn't just fast-food causing changes to the landscape, but soft drinks as well. More American kids drink soda now than milk, and they are suffering more broken bones because of it. There is also more tooth decay and other problems as well. As this book points out, Native Americans in Alaska drink so much soda (3 to 5 cans per person per day) that many of them have lost all their teeth to tooth decay by the time they are adults. The problem starts in infancy, where mothers who bottle-feed soda to their children will soon see their infants teeth turn into tiny black nubs. And with hardly any dentists in rural Alaska, the problem can only grow worse.

Eric Schlosser has written another book about these problems, called Fast Food Nation, aimed at adults. This book, however, is aimed at teens and lets them know the kinds of risks they are taking with their bodies when they eat too much fast food and drink too many sugary soft drinks. This book may have the effect of putting them off fast food forever, packed as it is with facts teens will find disgusting and off-putting. The book also points out that the Fast Food companies will only change when enough people will get together and demand it, for the bottom line of the fast food giants is money. Our money. If enough people demand change and take their money elsewhere if they don't get it, the fast food giants will have to change. The decision is ours to make.

This book was... well, not enjoyable, really, but definitely eye-opening, and reconfirmed my desire to never eat fast food again. The depiction of how the food for these companies is raised is truly-stomach turning, and it seems never to end, miring the reader in chapters of horrible torture of animals, mechanized death, and unhealthy raising and processing practices.

This is not the sort of book you read on the beach for some light entertainment, but one that could, quite possibly change your life after reading it. Or at least change your eating habits. One can hope.

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