This story’s getting a little long in the tooth now—it appeared in London’s Observer at the end of January—but I couldn’t resist whipping it out for y’all, because it contains such a fascinating (and utterly depressing) follow-up on one of the great food revolutions of our time.
When it was published in 2001, Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, a polemic that revealed the nasty underbelly of the fast-food industry, was supposed to send the masses screaming away from the drive-through. Who could still happily chow down on a Whopper, knowing the human and animal suffering that preceded its presence on your table?
Well, it seems, a lot of people. In an article titled “The Man Who Ruined Our Appetites,” an interview with Schlosser centered on the UK release of the film version of his book relates some surprising information about the international growth of the fast-food chains:
But wasn’t his book supposed to have made things better? Hasn’t Ronald McDonald been busy flogging salads, and closing franchises? Another quiet Schlosser smile. There are two sides to this story. ‘McDonald’s wasn’t doing that well,’ he says. ‘Though the World Cup helped them a lot. What is good is that, since Fast Food Nation came out, there has been a shift in awareness, primarily among the middle classes. They want to know where food comes from. The rise of organics, celebrity chefs … I know some of it is irritating, but some of it is good. But what hasn’t changed is the diet of the poor. Remember smoking? When the middle classes started to give up, the tobacco companies focused their attention on the urban poor, and on developing countries. That’s what the fast food companies are doing. In the US, they’re heavily targeting African American and Latino customers. There’s all this talk about salads, but in the US, there’s also the dollar menu. In the last three years, McDonald’s has seen a 33 per cent revenue growth thanks to that. Their huge push now is in China. There’s not a great tradition of eating beef there; they favour poultry, which is why KFC is more successful. So McDonald’s ads are aimed at young men, and connect hamburger consumption with virility. It’s about potency, about women being drawn to men who eat beef. Meanwhile, in the US, they’re labelling trans fats. Now, you’re kidding yourself if you see such changes as being driven by moral or ethical concerns. They happen only when the company is under pressure.’
Yep. We’re doomed. We’re all frigging doomed.