“Fast Food Nation”: A book that’s changed what I eat

I don’t usually write about books I’ve read – though I read quite a lot – but I recently finished Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal and found it a remarkably informative, compelling, and at-times harrowing exposé on food processing, additives, and perhaps most compellingly, how slaughterhouses are run and why there are sporadic outbreaks of E. coli o157:H7 tainted meats. (don’t believe me? Look how often E.coli is mentioned in news services tracked by Google News)

Fast Food Nation is quite a read, up there with Tom Robbin’s ground-breaking Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth (and I’m about to delve into his latest book, The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World too).

And in parallel, I’m also reading another fascinating book with the catchy title of Trust Us, We’re Experts: How Industry Manipulates Science and Gambles with Your Future, discussing how public relations companies and corporations manage and manipulate public perception of products and services through, among other things, creating and promoting “experts” to tell us how good products really are. A major topic of this book is also how so-called independent research labs are so often actually funded by the companies for whom the research proves the efficacy or viability of their products. Imagine that.

So how has Fast Food Nation changed my eating habits given that I already avoid red meat and fried foods? Well, it’s really clarified why it’s important — from a health perspective — to know where your food comes from and how it got to your store shelves. In the case of beef, I will never again eat any red meat at a restaurant, and after you read this book, I bet you won’t either. Grass-fed organic beef from a place like “Whole Foods”? Maybe it’s not quite as bad. But just in general, these books reinforce something I’ve been saying for years: ignorance may be bliss, but health comes from thinking about what you’re feeding your body and trying to eat the highest quality foods possible.

And if you’re not sure what I mean, please, do your body — and your family — a favor and go read one or more of these books.

6 comments on ““Fast Food Nation”: A book that’s changed what I eat

  1. Dave,
    Couldn’t agree more. FFN was a real wake up for me, too. And I, like you, have been on the food consciousness bandwagon for a while.
    Ready for the next shake-up? Check out Sugar Blues. The book makes the case that sugar is in the same category as heroin or coke, a massively addictive substance that leads to myraid health risks.
    The real culprit, it seems, is refined white sugar, but there’s a lot to suggest that our over-dependence on this ‘drug’ creates many problems in physical and mental health that we attribute elsewhere.
    I’m still reading the book, and haven’t quit cold turkey just yet, but it’s got me thinking…

  2. Yes, I’ve read bits and pieces of “Sugar Blues” and for what it’s worth try to minimize the sugar (esp. corn syrup) that my kids consume too.
    I’m finding a lot of good stuff in “Trust Us, We’re Experts” and just ordered the new book “The Food Revolution” from Amazon, so we’ll see where this takes me. Meanwhile, since I finished Fast Food Nation, I haven’t had any meat of any sort. Not a huge leap from my previous diet, but I’m much more adamant about it now.

  3. I am at the production level of livestock, and I could not disagree more with the message this books portrays. We producers put painstaking time and labor into providing the end consumer the safest and most plentiful food supply in the world. I have worked with numerous agribusinesses and have found that they are very concerned with their end product as well, even if it is only to avoid lawsuits and losses in profit. For the “facts” in FFN, they are outdated for 2001, much less for now, SEP 2004. If you are interested in learning more about meat production from the farm to the table, i encourage you to get to know a farmer and see and take part in the work.

  4. Thanks for your note, Grant. Let me start my response with an anecdote: my brother-in-law (who lives in Alaska) goes hunting, kills moose, butchers them, and ends up with quite a bit of high quality, healthy meat. I think that’s a smart way to get meat in this day and age and if I were visiting, I’d be happy to have a mooseburger (though they tend to be a bit dry).
    In the same sense, I have no beef (as it were) against farmers and have friends who rear, slaughter and butcher their own livestock and I’d be happy to let my children eat that without a second thought. It’s not about that, and it’s not about knowing farmers. I’ve lived in semi-rural areas before.
    My concerns are more about the rearing of massive herds of livestock (including the feed), the production process of large-scale slaughterhouses and the quality of food that comes from these massive corporate facilities. Similarly, if my local butcher brought cows in the back door, slaughtered and butchered them, then offered fresh meat, carefully cut and promptly packaged, I’d have a whole different feeling towards things.
    In terms of material from 2001 being outdated, well, if that’s the case, I find it quite surprising that there are still such widespread E.coli problems with beef and that as recently as this week a pro-business publication like BusinessWeek ran an article talking about the safety of non-organic beef.
    Again, understand my point here. I’m not telling you what to eat or what not to eat. I’m just suggesting that it behoove people to learn more about what they’re eating, how it travels from “hoof” to plate, and make their own decisions about their diet.

  5. So it’s three months later and I have to share that I don’t feel a bit less energetic, healthy or enthusiastic about life, yet I haven’t had a single ounce of beef, pork, chicken, turkey or any other meat.
    I also wanted to note here that the BBC World Service is reporting today that there’s a possible link between the consumption of red meat and arthritis:
    “Eating a large amount of red meat has been linked to an increased risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, scientists say.
    “A study showed people who ate meat every day had double the risk of the disease compared to those who ate meat less, perhaps twice a week.
    “Researchers studied the dietary habits of 25,000 people.
    “The University of Manchester study is published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism.
    “Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) causes inflammation of the membrane lining the joint, causing them to feel tender, stiff and swollen. Around 387,000 in the UK have the condition.”
    [[ ref: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4065433.stm ]]
    “Food” for thought indeed.

  6. People talk about cow beef,where “cow” is used for any kind of beefer. The I raise and sell grass fed beef. The beef I sell is from animals 18-20 months old. Beef from a cow is not as good. Tastes like “an old cow”. Also has lived long enough so that any junk in the enviroment may have stored up in its fat.
    I take them to a family owned meat processor.
    Customers can look though a window and see how good a job they do. They load the frozen beef into their cars. People can look around.
    The meat pocessor I first used was kind of missy,but still clean. Some customers complaind about him. They don’ realize what goes on in the big slauterhouses. He learned his trade in a giant slauterhouse. He claims he is far better than that place. He has stories to tell about what goes on there.

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