Fast Food Nation

America prides itself in being the most diverse country in the world, but one of the things Americans have in common is the way they think about capitalism. Capitalism is about increasing money. Americans don’t believe in labor as much as they do in capital. A free market requires just as many buyers as sellers. Although they get the same terms of trade and the same access to information, none have a big enough share in the market to influence prices. The triumph of the free market is basically taking money from the poor and giving it to the wealthy. Fast food has permeated every aspect of American society.

Although fast food may seem like the foundation of American culture, it has some serious consequences on society. Rising in the fast food industry caused a noticeable increase in food poisoning, inhumane working conditions in meat packing plants and manipulation of children through television. Food poisoning has become a large concern in American Society. “In the United States roughly 200,000 people are sickened by a food borne disease, 900 are hospitalized and 14 die”, (195). There is evidence that the risk of food related illnesses have risen and that the consequences are becoming way more severe.

There are many factors that contribute to the rise of food borne illnesses but the main one is the change in how food is produced. E coli 0517: H7 is a new pathogen whose spread can be attributed to social and technological changes. Cattle infected with E coli show few signs of illness. This pathogen spreads through America’s food supply with the help of huge feedlots, slaughterhouses and hamburger grinders. In addition to the E coli virus, scientists have discovered many more food borne pathogens. The nations leading agri business firms are against any more food safety regulations.

The U. S. government can recall defected baseball bats and toasters but they cannot recall a few thousand pounds of contaminated meat. Food that has been tainted with these viruses had most likely come in contact with an infected animals stomach or manure during processing. In the twentieth century, hamburgers had a bad reputation. It was believed that ground beef was made from putrid meat and heavily laced with chemicals. White Castle decided to change the hamburgers reputation. With its success, White Castle managed to take away some of the social stigma.

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By the early 1990s, beef production was responsible for about half of the employment in agriculture. In 1993, doctors noticed an increase in the number of children being admitted into the hospital with bloody diarrhea. It turned out that Jack in the Box restaurant was selling contaminated hamburgers. Lauren Rudolph, a six-year-old girl, got poisoned from a hamburger she ate at Jack in the Box. She was admitted in to the hospital on Christmas Eve, suffered three heart attacks and severe cramps and died in her mother’s arms a week later. In 1982 dozens of children became sick from contaminated hamburgers sold at McDonalds.

E coli 0157: H7 is a mutation of a bacterium found in the human digestive system. It can release a deadly toxin called a Vera toxin or a Shiga toxin that attacks the lining of the intestines. The Shiga toxins can cause seizures, neurological damage and strokes. Five percent of the children who develop HUS, which can stem from E coli poisoning, can be killed. A six-year-old boy named Alex got sick from eating a contaminated burger. Doctors tried frantically to save his life by drilling holes in his skull and inserting tubes in his chest.

Unfortunately Alex passed away five days after being admitted into the hospital. E coli proved to be resistant to antibiotics as well as salt chlorine and acid. It can live in fresh water and in seawater. A tiny UN cooked particle of a hamburger patty can have enough pathogens to kill a person. The most common cause of a food borne illness out break is the consumption of under cooked ground beef. Personal transmission of the virus most commonly occurs around family members, day care centers and senior citizen homes. The cattle in the feedlots become more prone to illnesses.

The rise in grain prices, encouraged people to feed their cattle less expensive material. A lot of the cattle in the United States were fed livestock wastes. FDA regulations allow dead pig and horse remains to be put into the cattle feed. The most common way of contaminating meat in a slaughterhouse is removing an animals remains and hide. In their hurry, workers forget to disinfect knives in the factory. The meatpacking and fast food industry have been supporters of the Republicans. The meat packing industry directed most of its campaigned contributions to conservative right winged republicans.

The meat packer’s allies in congress worked hard to stop inspection in factories. The Hudson Food out break revealed many flaws in USDA’s inspection policies. Because Harding still kept the box of contaminated meat patties, specialists were able to figure out that they were contaminated with E coli. The company made no attempts to warn the public about the recall for the patties for three weeks until USDA found another contaminated box. If a company decided to pull contaminated meat off the market it is not obligated to tell the public.

Wendy’s wanted to recall 250,000 pounds of ground beef without notifying health officials. Both the USDA and meat packing industry argue that details about where a company has distributed its meat must not be revealed to the public to protect the firms trade secrets. Some of the most questionable meat has been bought by the USGA and self to school cafeterias. The cheapest beef was the most likely to be contaminated. Recently an eleven-year-old boy became sick by eating a contaminated burger at his school cafeteria.

In the summer of 1999 a ground beef plant in Dallas failed a series of USDA tests for Salmonella. The tests showed that about 47% of the meat was contaminated. Supreme Beef responded by suing USDA, saying that Salmonella was a natural organism not an adulterant. In May 2000, Judge Fish claimed that the presence of Salmonella was not proof that the conditions at the plant were unsanitary. The ruling casts doubts on USDA’s ability to withdraw inspectors from a plant whose tests showed excessive levels of contamination.

The implications of FFN are inaccurate and offensive to the meatpacking and fast food industries. To say that the food industries not only allow for tainted meat to be served to American citizens, but that these industries actually encourage such activities is a biased statement. The food service industries in no way encourage such activities and make every effort to stop infections from spreading to the general public. Just like every child will inevitably catch a cold despite a mother’s efforts, natural outbreaks occur for meat, despite the industries most determined efforts to thwart such occurrences.

In addition, relative to the standards set by countries in Europe and Asia, American companies clearly surpass. Given the number of recalls on everything from toothpaste to milk products from China, American food industries actually set the benchmark by which food should be judged. Compared to the efforts made by organizations such as the Ronald McDonald House, FFN does little if anything to benefit those who are truly in need. I agree with Schlosser’s view on the out breaks of food poisoning because of the growth of the fast food industry.

Although the meat packing industries do make an effort to create some programs to make it seem like they are attempting to stop outbreaks, in reality they are using every ally they have in Congress to help stop inspection and regulation on the meat. If the government has the right to recall a defected toaster, then it should certainly be able to re call-tainted meat that can be potentially lethal to its consumers. Although the factories don’t necessarily encourage activities that contribute to food borne diseases, they definitely don’t do much to stop it.

One factor that contributes to the outbreak of food poisoning is inhumane working conditions. Meatpacking is considered to be the most dangerous job in the U. S. Injury rates are three times higher than in a typical job. Despite all the technology like conveyer belts and forklifts, most of the jobs in a meatpacking factory are done by hand. “The lack of the standardized steer has hindered the mechanization of the beef plants,” (173). The most important tool in a modern day slaughterhouse is a sharp knife. The most common injuries suffered by meat packers are lacerations.

Many workers also suffer tendonitis and cumulative traumas. A lot of the times workers develop severe shoulder problems, back problems, carpal tunnel syndrome and trigger finger. Workers often bring their knives home and spend at least 45 minutes sharpening them. The IBP revolution has been responsible for many of the dangers that the workers face. “The three major packing plants- ConAgra, IBP and Excel try to increase their earnings by maximizing the volume of production at each plant,” (174). The pressure of trying to keep up with the line has encouraged meat packers to engage in the use of methamphetamines.

Some of the supervisors even sell it or offer it as a reward for working extra shifts. Today only a third of IBP’s workers belong to a union. Every other company must try to produce meat as quickly as IBP does. Workers are under tremendous pressure not to report injuries. There are more illnesses that are less visible like a torn muscle or ligament than there are catastrophic ones. If a worker agrees not to report an injury, than a supervisor will usually shift him/her to an easier job giving time to recover. From an economic standpoint, injured workers only bring down profits.

Injured workers are given some of the most unpleasant jobs in the factory and their hourly wages are usually cut. Supervisors tend to be men in their late twenties and early thirties. The supervisor must meat production goals, keep the number of injuries low and keep the flow of meat on the line going without interruptions. Their supervisors and workers sexually harassed many women. The late night cleaning crew today performs some of the most dangerous jobs. Their main tool is a hose that shoots a mixture of water and chlorine heated to about 180 degrees.

The scariest job is cleaning the vents of the slaughterhouse. The federal government greatly reduced the enforcement of health and safety laws. When Reagan was elected president in 1990, OSHA was under funded and understaffed. Only 1,300 inspectors were responsible for the well being of over 5 million people in the workplace. The number of inspectors for OSHA was cut 20% and in 1981 the agency adopted a new policy of voluntary compliance. If the records show that injury rates were lower than the national average then the OSHA inspectors had to turn around and leave without stepping foot into the factory.

While the number of serious injuries raised the number of inspectors fell. Congressional investigators found that the IBP had altered the injury records. Seriously injured workers would still be required to show up for a brief period of time to avoid lost workdays. A lawsuit that was filed in May 1998 indicated that little has changed in the IBP plant- holding two injury logs. Many workers have horror stories from working in a meat packing plant that ruined their life. However, Kenny’s story illustrates the sheer horror that workers are subjected to on a daily basis. Kenny Dobbins worked for Monfort for more than 16 years.

He was illiterate and did not posses any special skills. He worked in the shipping department and lifted heavy boxes. One day a box fell from the second story and Kenny caught it with one arm. However the impact from the box caused him to crash into a metal conveyer belt and hit his lower back. He never filed for workers comp and stayed home for a couple days. He went back to work with severe pain in his back. He got a second opinion about his back and found out he had severely herniated disks. Kenny got back surgery spent a month in the hospital than some time in a health clinic and went back to work.

Monfort decided to re open Greeley’s with a non-union work force and Kenny volunteered to go there. He became an active spokes person for the anti union group. At his old facility Kenny was restricted to light duty only due to his injury but when the plant re opened the supervisor said that the restrictions applied to his old job only. Soon Kenny was forced to do tough physical labor. Kenny was oblivious to the fact that Greeley was trying to get rid of him. One weekend Kenny got a phone call saying that the plant needed to be disinfected and some of the cleaning crew refused to do it.

In his street clothes Kenny went to the factory and worked with hazardous fumes with nothing but a dust mask, which quickly dissolved. That night Kenny fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital. The fumes burned his lungs and he spent a month in the hospital before returning back to the plant. When he returned, he was forced to drive an old truck from one end of the slaughterhouse to the other. One cold morning Kenny was disorientated and when he got out of the truck to see where he was a train struck him. He was able to make it back to the plant with bleeding gashes on his shoulders and legs.

He spent 2 weeks in the hospital then went back to work. One day he saw a machine almost pulverizes a fellow worker but he saved him seconds before the workers head was about to be cut off. He got a certificate for his work. Later on Kenny broke a leg stepping in one of the holes in the cement floors. He broke his leg and had to wear a brace that cost 2000 dollars. He got a job recycling old knives at the plant. One day Kenny felt a sharp pain in his chest and thought it was a heart attack. The nurse told him it was a pulled muscle and sent him home. He was indeed having a heart attack. A friend rushed him to the hospital.

As he was recuperating he learned that Monfort fired him. Despite his immense loyalty to the company Monfort decided that he was simply too weak to be an employee. The idea that meat firms abuse their workers is an unfair slander of the values held by the industry. Every job in a company has risks inherent to that position, and the duties of the slaughterhouse workers are no different. While some the aspects of the job may be challenging, workers are under no obligation to stay at their jobs, and resignation from a position often results with a positive outcome for both parties concerned.

These inaccurate citations of supposedly inhumane conditions are naturally inherent to jobs in slaughterhouses and should not be solely blamed on the meat firms in question. In addition, these reports conveniently skim over the damage that many meat firm executives and managers endure. Constant stress over market prices and other corporate concerns lead to deteriorating health for managers and other upper level members of the meat industry. Schlosser has a very strong argument on the conditions that workers are put under while working at the meat packing industry.

Even though the managers do not force the people working their to keep their jobs, most of the time life pressures the people to endure the horrid conditions just to get money to support their families. Most of the people who are employed at the factories are illegal immigrants or minorities who cannot get a job anywhere else. In order to support themselves and their families, the employees are willing to cope with the hazardous environment for a little money. The supervisors at the plants know what kind of people they hire and they take advantage of them.

For example, they offer them a lighter workload if they don’t report injuries knowing that the minority workers will accept those conditions. Supervisors do not try to improve the working conditions because they take advantage of their employee’s situations. In order for a product to be successful, the producers must find a target consumer. With many fast food chains the targets were children. Children have a tendency to remember ads even if they see them once. If they are memorable and appeal to the kids, they ask their parents to buy them a certain product.

Most kids were branded early because a lot of kids watch television with commercials from a very early age. Kids would nag their parents until the parents give in to the kid’s wishes. Fast food companies would create appealing advertisements and lure children in with vibrant colors and popular toys. Since kids tend to keep nagging their parents to buy them a certain product and wont stop until they get what they want, corporations want kids to get more and more of their product. Advertisers try to understand how the kid’s minds work.

They attempt to focus their studies on young children two or three years of age. They study things like artworks and sleepover parties in order to get inside the Childs mind. This helps them develop new products to sell that will appeal to children. Groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Congress of Parents and Teachers and the Child Welfare League supported the FTC’s ban. However, groups such as national Association of Broadcasting, Toy Manufacturers of America and others opposed the ban. In the end the ban did not go into effect.

It is unfair to aim advertisements at young children because they cannot ell the difference between fantasy and reality. To them, everything that is advertised seems like the real thing. Since children are too young to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t, it is the parent’s responsibility to make a decision whether or not to buy the product that is being advertised. The advertisement companies are selling perfectly legal toys/food. If ads are restricted a lot of jobs will be lost. Advertising involves a lot of people and if certain ads are censored the whole industry will suffer.

Even though Schlosser does not make a very strong argument, I agree that branding kids is immoral and unethical. Targeting individuals who are unable to make choices for themselves and base their decision off of what they see is dishonorable. Although it is ultimately the parent’s responsibility to control their kids, sometimes the nagging method does work and parents are forced to give in to their kids. In certain situations it is easier for the parent to just buy the children what they want to avoid a tantrum.