Term Paper: Decline of the American Diet

Pages: 15 (5127 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture  ·  Buy This Paper

Decline of the American Diet

Food Nation (summary) - Schlosser for Author Schlosser

Food Revolution (summary) - Robbins for Author Robbins

Engineered Food (summary) Teitel / Wilson for Authors Teitel / Wilson

Remarks

Abstract chose these three books because they are among the most respected and most often referenced titles about food and its interrelationship with our culture in libraries today. The problems facing America in terms of poor nutrition, widespread obesity, inhumane treatment of animals, and the growing corporate influence on what Americans eat and how our lives are affected cry out for examination at the university level.

The Food Revolution is written by John Robbins, who left his father's ice cream company, Baskin & Robbins, to become a writer and to investigate what is happening to the American food options. Eric Schlosser's book, Fast Food Nation, is a shockingly honest, very easy-to-read and yet highly revealing look at American's addiction to fast food. And the book by Teitel / Wilson about genetically engineered food - that is so widespread now no one can grasp just how pervasive it has become in the grocery store - is a valuable tool for any person who is paying attention to our culture. This paper reviews and analyzes many of the issues presented in the three books.

Summary of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

The subtitle of Schlosser's book is The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, and one doesn't have to read very far to see that "dark side." On page 3 of the Introduction, readers learn that Americans spend more on fast food - which the book goes to great lengths to document as a highly unhealthy substitute for truly nutritious meals - than "higher education, personal computers, computer software, or new cars." In fact, Schlosser goes on, Americans shell out more money for fast food than music CDs, magazines, newspapers, videos, books and movies "combined." That's a large amount of money; in fact, in the year 2,000, the author says, Americans spent $110 on fast food, up from $6 billion in 1970.

On any given day in the United States, about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant," Schlosser explains on page 3. And whereas "a generation ago, three-quarters of the money used to buy food" in America went into preparing meals in the home, today about half of the money spent on food goes to restaurants - and the majority of those are of the fast food type.

There are ramifications to these facts, and they are not cheerful, for the most part. Much of Schlosser's book points out how the diet of fast food negatively affects Americans who eat theses meals, what unhealthy processes McDonald's and other fast food chains embrace in order to supply their outlets with the beef and chicken needed, and how America has become a land of corporate power brokers. The large multinational corporations that dominate agriculture today, Schlosser points out on page 8, have, since the Richard Nixon administration, been working closely with their "allies in Congress and the White House to oppose new worker safety, food safety, and minimum wage laws."

On page 240, Schlosser points to some of the health-related problems associated with eating a high-fat diet of fast food; "more than half of all American adults and one-fourth of all American children are now obese or overweight," he writes. The obesity rate today is double what it was in the early 1960s. In 1991, there were four states with obesity rates of 15% or higher, but today, 37 states have obesity rates of 15% or higher.

And being overweight isn't just an inconvenience to those trying to get into jeans they wore last year; overweight can be a killer; Schlosser quotes the Center for Disease Control (CDC) as reporting that 280,000 Americans die every year from being grossly over weight. And the health-related costs of American's obesity is $240 billion. Ironically, Americans also spend $33 billion on "weight-loss schemes," Schlosser explains on page 241.

One of the food items in fast food restaurants that sells amazingly well is French fries; in fact, Schlosser writes on page 115 that "French fries have become the most widely sold food service item in the U.S." The typical American in 1960 ate about 81 pounds of "fresh potatoes and four pounds of frozen potatoes." But today, that typical American eats around 49 pounds of fresh potatoes and 30 pounds of frozen potatoes. And of those 79 pounds of potatoes, 90% of them are purchased at fast food restaurants.

Speaking of potatoes, which Schlosser does a lot of - there is a huge profit in French fries for the fast food giants, but not for potato farmers. For example, fast food companies buy frozen French fries for about thirty cents a pound, and sell them over the counter for around $6.00 a pound (page 117). And for every $1.50 spend on a large order of fries at McDonald's or Burger King or Wendy's, the potato farmer up in Idaho or elsewhere gets about two cents.

The potato farmer is something of a distant memory in America, as corporations have taken over the industry. On page 118, Schlosser points out that over the past 25 years, Idaho "has lost about half of its potato farmers"; however, during those same 25 years, "the amount of land devoted to potatoes has increased" as corporations buy farmers out then hire them back to manage small parcels of the mega-farms.

Why do French fries taste so good? Because they have a secret "flavor" added to them that makes them taste like they did before 1990, when they were forced by investigative reports on high fat content - and the subsequent outrages public - to stop frying their potatoes in "beef tallow" (fat). The secretive post-1990 "natural flavor" has a distinct beefy taste, Schlosser explains, and the "flavor" industry itself is a $1.4 billion annual business in America.

The manufacture of the perfect, evenly cut French fries results from an invention by Gilbert Lomb (130); Lomb created the "Lomb Water Gun Knife" which uses a high-pressure hose to shoot potatoes at a speed of 117 feet per second through a grid of highly sharpened steel blades.

Schlosser devotes a lot of his book to the ugliness associated with the king of fast food fare, McDonald's; and by ugliness, we mean that as fatty as burgers are, McDonald's "Chicken McNuggets" contain "twice as much fat per ounce as a hamburger," according to a research report from Harvard Medical School. Interestingly, Chicken McNuggets were introduced in McDonald's in 1983, and within one month, Schlosser explains (140), McDonald's had become "the second largest purchaser of chicken in the U.S.," right after KFC.

Also ugly is the fact the beef cattle raised by ConAgra, one of the largest suppliers to McDonald's, are fed 3,000 pounds of grain in three months to have them gain 400 pounds prior to slaughter. Those cattle have "anabolic steroids" implanted in their ears, to fatten them up faster.

Those cattle - ConAgra raises 100,000 head crammed into a single feed lot near Greeley, Colorado - produce around 50 pounds of manure and urine daily, and also produce about $25 billion a year for ConAgra. The money is good in beef production, largely because every American eats about 94 pounds annually (compared with 68 pounds annually in 1976), according to Schlosser's book (142). And how much do ranchers make on the beef that is sold to McDonald's? On page 138 Schlosser writes that over the past 20 years, "...the rancher's share of every retail dollar spent on beef has fallen from 63¢ to 46¢."

Do big corporations dominate the beef industry? Yes. Indeed, the top four meatpacking firms (ConAgra, IBP, Excel, and National Beef) slaughter 84% of the nation's cattle, and own 20% of all live cattle being fattened up for slaughter. And not surprisingly, McDonald's is the largest purchaser of beef in the U.S. - and the fast foot giant buys from just 5 suppliers, down from 175 suppliers in 1968. (McDonald's is also the largest employer of new employees in the U.S.).

In his book, Schlosser also finds praise for those smaller ranchers who raise beef without additives like growth hormones and anabolic steroids, and who don't jam in hundreds of thousands of head of beef cattle into a small space. He mentions Dale Lasater, who owns a ranch in Colorado where beef cattle roam free and eat short grass that for over half a century has not used "pesticides, herbicides, poisons, or commercial fertilizers" (255). Grass-fed cattle "may be less likely to spread E. coli 0157:H7," Schlosser writes on page 257, and that is why the Lasater family allows their cattle to be "free-range" and "organic" when sold to market. Also, Lasater finds it "hard to justify feeding millions of tons of precious grain to American cattle while elsewhere in the world millions of people starve," Schlosser continues.

The author also praises Conway's… [END OF PREVIEW]

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