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Not a Happy Meal in sight!
on December 31, 2004
Once in a while, journalists do what journalists are supposed to do - look at the mundane in broader scope, changing our thinking on something. Eric Schlosser has accomplished that in this sweeping work. There is no way I can ever waltz into a Wendy's or McDonald's and enjoy a burger again. The cost of this cheap food is expensive beyond belief.
I had recently become very ill with campylobacteriosis. I was contacted by a gent from the public health department, trying to track down what I had eaten and where. He told me that a lot of the fresh commercial poultry has salmonella and campylobacter jejuni. I consider myself fortunate; a week of antibiotics cleared it up - had I been elderly or had a compromised immune system, it could have been fatal.
Schlosser's book reveals what is in the food. E. Coli O157:H7, and Lysteria Monocytogenes (found in beef due to fecal contamination) make what I had look like a walk in the park. His description of Alex Donley's death during the Jack In The Box E-Coli outbreak in 1993 is unsparing in its brutality - portions of the child's brain had liquified!
As other reviewers have pointed out, he takes us from the humble hot dog stand to the global picture. The most surreal parts of the book for me were the flavour factory, and the horrendous conditions at the meat packing plants. The effect of a few companies controlling so much of agriculture is frightening - it has become factory farming. Animal abuse, slave labour conditions, government grants lavished on "training" for unskilled work, dumped into the pockets of the corporation, and what is actually in the meat are presented in an easy to read format. He presents his facts and forces the reader to examine them. His book makes you think.
He does give credit where it is due. He points out that McDonald's threatened to stop purchasing meat from companies who did not properly stun their cattle or hogs. Although this was due to pressure from animal rights' groups, it resulted in some changes in the meat packing industry within a year.
He presents some alternatives in the latter chapters of the book. Instead of blindingly driving into a fast food joint, look for a mom and pop place. Instead of cattle that are in a feedlot for most of their existence, look for natural or organic beef. There are some ranches that actually let their cattle eat (gasp!) grass in the pasture, not dead animal parts. Options are available if you are willing to look for them.
Schlosser remains hopeful that people will become more aware and change things. Considering the line-up at the Drive Thru window at the various fast food establishments, I remain sceptical. His book, however, has the capacity to change things one person at a time. And that is what happens when journalists do what journalists are supposed to do.