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Fast Food Nation

The Dark Side of the All-American Meal

By Eric Schlosser
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Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation shows how the fast food industry has massive consequences on many other aspects of our lives, including our education, health and working conditions. The book reveals the terrible methods and working conditions – caused in great part by the fast food industry’s focus on profit – that are used to create our food.

Key idea 1 of 11

American fast food owes its success to the McDonald brothers’ revolutionary adoption of factory production principles.

Like it or not, practically everyone has eaten at McDonald’s at some point or another in their lives. The company’s golden arches are the iconic symbol of fast food and American culture around the world. But what made McDonald’s and other fast food chains so successful in the first place?

First off, fast food was originally served by waitresses on roller-skates in Southern Californian drive-ins. In Southern California in the 1950s, drive-in restaurants, movies and even churches had become increasingly popular due to the availability of cars and the development of suburbs.

In this setting, the mix of cheap food, cars and pretty waitresses soon turned fast food restaurants into popular hangouts for teenagers.

Then the McDonald brothers came along – and revolutionized the fast food business.

Their main focus was on efficiency and speed: they served only a few simple meals that could be easily eaten without cutlery, packaged their food and drinks in simple, paper packaging, and stopped serving people in cars.

But, most importantly, they saved time and money by adopting the principles of a factory assembly line: each employee was assigned one easy-to-learn task – like flipping burgers or dressing salads – which reduced costs and optimized speed.

This new speed and affordability started to attract different kinds of customers. McDonald’s moved beyond a teenage hangout to a place where families could finally afford to take their kids to a restaurant.

These developments made the so-called “Speedee Service System” incredibly successful: between 1960 and 1973, the number of McDonald’s restaurants grew from 250 to 3,000, and was soon imitated by many other fast food chains.

Today’s major chains, like Burger King, Wendy’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken, all owe their success to quickly catching on to the McDonald’s model.

The success of the assembly line style of food production has radically transformed the way we work, eat, and live – in America and all over the world.

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