An Age of Enlightenment
“Cheyenne Mountain sits on the eastern slope of Colorado’s Front Range … beautiful and serene, dotted with rocky outcroppings, scrub oak, and ponderosa pine” (1). Yet underneath its pastoral, natural facade lies a “top-secret, underground combat operations center…. designed to survive a direct hit by an atomic bomb” (1). Despite the impression of impenetrability the imposing structure presents, “lmost every night, a Domino’s deliveryman winds his way up … past the ominous DEADLY FORCE AUTHORIZED signs”; regardless of our nation’s best intentions, fast food has infiltrated even the most secure fortresses of our society and rooted itself in the foundation of America (2).
Eric Schlosser uses these images to sharply contrast what he’s about to discuss: the unnatural world of fast food, where the process for preparing food rivals that of the factory assembly line. The imagery he produces here as an effect of his contrast between the serenity of nature and the mechanical behavior of the food we consume prepares the reader for the upcoming realization of “what really lurks between those sesame buns” (10). In the book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser employs various rhetorical strategies to drive his readers to fight against the harmful practices of the fast food industries, specifically in his arguments considering worker conditions, the act of targeting children as consumers, and the lack of quality in the food they produce. Schlosser examines the poor working conditions of the workers in the fast food industry in the effort to educate his audience of the cruelty workers are subjected to and to evoke empathy and anger in his readers through his use of facts and statistics, a periodic sentence within personal anecdotes, and the anecdotes of workers. For example, Schlosser includes facts and statistics regarding the workers’ working conditions to make a logical argument concerning the industry’s apathy towards the living conditions of their workers.
Initially, he outlines the turnover rates of workers in fast food companies. Schlosser explains that. “During one eighteen-month period, more than five-thousand different people were employed at the Greeley beef plant – an annual turnover rate of about 400 percent,” displaying complete indifference towards the workers that drive their business (160). Moreover, even though work has become more difficult in the meat factory, “today’s hourly wage is more than a third lower than what Monfort [a large meat packing company] paid forty years ago when the plant opened”, ergo companies have ignored their workers in the pursuit of maximum profit. (160).
Not only are workers subjected to a certain cruelty during their jobs, but they also cannot support themselves or their families with the unreasonably low wages they earn. The use of this evidence enhances Schlosser’s argument by providing both proof to support his claim against the fast food industry and by appealing to the logic of his audience to make an argument about the cruelty workers suffer under their employers. Furthermore. Schlosser includes a personal anecdote detailing his visit to a meat-packaging facility to paint a horrifically vivid image in the reader’s mind, thus evoking visceral reactions in his audience. Through his own personal descriptions of the environment, Schlosser builds credibility by expressing his involvement in the topic. He opens by describing the stench that overwhelms the town of Greeley, Colorado.
“You can smell Greeley, Colorado, long before you can see it. The smell is hard to forget but not easy to describe, a combination of live animals, manure and dead animals being rendered into dog food”(149). Schlosser’s use of the pronoun “you” works to place the reader in the town of Greeley itself and asks them to imagine the poor work environment created by the meat packing facility. Through his implementation of periodic sentence, the reader envisions each of the images he describes: large vats filled with manure, cattle enclosed into crowded pens with no room to move, and lastly, inedible remains being grinded into food for other food for animals. Upon imagining the stench of Greeley, the reader wrinkles their nose in disgust and contempt of corporations. Moreover, after entering the factory, Schlosser provides personal accounts concerning the conditions inside.
He narrates, “We wade through blood that’s ankle deep and that pours down drains into huge vats down below us,” demonstrating the primal environment workers are forced to survive in (171). As the reader absorbs the image of a river of blood, Schlosser pushed them to imagine the sickly warm blood of the cattle pushing past their legs before falling into the “huge vats”, from which the smell of the death of hundred of cattle emanates (171). Through his personal experiences, Schlosser exposes the reader to the primitive methods of producing the meat they consume; he puts the reader in his place, allowing them to witness the river of blood, the workers’ faces “splattered with grey matter and blood”, and the overpowering smell of manure and death seeping into their brain, evoking strong repulsion against the fast food industry’s method of producing meat (171). After such base, horrific images, the reader is left with deep aversion towards the meat that they have consumed for years, achieving Schlosser’s purpose to change the audience’s perception of fast food. Finally, Schlosser employs the use of anecdotes about the poor lives of other workers to expose the corporations disinterest in their workers’ health. First of all, he considers the day-to-day life of Elisa Zamot, a teenager working at McDonald’s.
He looks at the “rude remarks and complaints” she suffers, specifically referring to “one elderly woman threw a hamburger at her because there was mustard on it” (81). Not only does Elisa endure such abuse from customers, but she has to face the dull, monotonous work everyday. The audience feels empathy hearing Elisa’s situation by visualizing a young woman with so much potential, condemned to a life of work as a slave of the fast food industry. This message particularly appeals to the parental instincts of the members of the audience; no parent wishes to rob their child of their childhood. Schlosser includes the tale of Elisa Zamot to create empathy within the reader for workers behind the counter at fast food restaurants. Furthermore, the author uses a similar approach in portraying the hardships and dangers present for those who work in the meat factories catering to the fast food industry.
Specifically, he calls upon Kenny Dobbin’s story. Despite the “strong loyalty” Kenny once felt to Monfort, his employer, his health continues to deteriorate today (190). “His heart is permanently damaged. His immune system seems shot. His back hurts, his ankle hurts, and every so often he coughs up blood.
” (190). These descriptions cause members of the audience to reflect on their own professions and the hazards that they face on a daily basis, which likely do not compare to those of Kenny Dobbins. By examining the long terms effects the workers endure, Schlosser evokes empathy towards the workers from his audience and anger towards the companies that abuse their workers. With his use of statistics, and anecdotes, both personal and external, Schlosser manages to convince his readers of the poor working conditions present for workers within the fast food industry, Eric Schlosser comments of the fake quality of food produced by the fast food industry in the effort to disgust readers and turn them away from consuming fast food in the future through surprising diction within his personal anecdote, facts about the chemicals within processed food, and an emotionally intense anecdote. He recollects his visit to a flavor factory, using whimsical language while presenting an optimistic view of the chemicals added to foods. He says the factory “reminded [him] of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory” and uses playful language to describe the environment with “[w]onderful smells drift[ing] through the hallways, men and women in neat white lab coats cheerfully [going] about their work, and hundreds of little glass bottles [sitting] on laboratory tables and shelves” (121-122).
He elaborates by describing the chemicals; “They were odd-sounding names of things that would be mixed and poured and turned into new substances, like magic potions” (122). The fanciful description he provides concerning the creation of harmful additives to the public’s food deeply contrasts the gravity of the lies the fast food industry feeds their consumers. In fact, the factory with its cheerful appearance continues to deceive fast food consumers by presenting its harmful chemicals in a seemingly friendly package. Schlosser uses this image to parallel the true deceiving nature of Cheyenne Mountain as food that appears natural on the exterior, yet conceals deadly power within. Moreover, he establishes his credibility of the topic by recounting a personal anecdote.
Instead of using information from a potentially biased source, the author takes the initiative to research himself and explore the world of flavor factories to better educate the public, gaining the reader’s trust. Additionally, he uses facts accompanied with disturbing images resulting in visceral reactions from the audience to further turn readers off of consuming fast food. In his discussion of common chemicals used to flavor food, he lists the various chemicals found in “a typical strawberry flavor, like the kind found in a Burger King strawberry milk shake” (125). By connecting these chemical compounds to a common fast food item, such as a strawberry milkshake, something that many Americans recognize, Schlosser drives home that chemical compounds truly are everywhere. The image of some strangely colored chemical being put into one’s food parallels the image of someone poisoning one’s food, making consumers wary of artificial flavors. Finally, he employs the use of emotionally intense anecdotes about the illnesses children have suffered in order to frighten his audience as his final warning against harmful fast food.
Schlosser focuses in the story of Alec Donley, a six-year old boy who was infected with E. coli “after eating a tainted hamburger”. Schlosser’s word choice in depicting the meat as tainted, rather than contaminated or diseased, demonstrates his decision to portray the meat in a friendlier manner, deeply contrasting the serious consequences of its consumption. He moves on to describe the horrendous circumstances under which Alex passed away; “Alex suffered hallucinations and dementia…. Portions of his brain had been liquefied” (200). Schlosser evokes visceral reaction in the reader by connecting a slight mishap in a factory to a death of “sheer brutality” (200).
By describing the violent death of an innocent, young boy, Schlosser evokes empathy from his audience for all the children who have suffered from “tainted” meat, and in conjunction, angers them towards the fast food companies whose careless ways have endangered many. Schlosser drives readers to actions through his resounding argument where he considers the dangers presented by the food produced by the fast food industry through his implementation of surprising diction, disturbing facts, and an emotionally intense anecdote. Likewise, Schlosser warns his audience of the fast food industry’s various methods of manipulation through his use of expert testimonies, facts and statistics and a shocking anecdote to demonstrate the industry’s single-minded pursuit of profit. Schlosser cites expert testimonies concerning the fast food industries techniques to target children in their advertising campaigns to make a logical argument about the prevalence of their companies. He calls upon the opinions of experts in their fields, like Michael Pertschuk, the head of the FTC, to talk about the immoral purposes of fast food companies who target children as their primary consumers. The author then explains his argument that “children need to be shielded from advertising that preys upon their immaturity.
‘They cannot protect themselves,’ he said, ‘against adults who exploit their present-mindedness.'” (46). Likewise, this quote also paints an image of the fast food industries physically attacking the children, thus portraying their true depraved ideologies. Through the expert testimony, Schlosser conveys a message of truth and logical reasoning by referring to an external expert on the subject. Additionally, the author considers the parallels between the ideologies of Mcdonalds and Disney in order to expose the selfish purposes of the corporations. By juxtaposing two seemingly dissimilar businesses with a large difference in their public image, Schlosser calls attention to both McDonald’s and Disney’s exploitative intentions to target children. He initially examines their ideologies and the basis of their businesses, by first including a quote from Kroc where he considers his thoughts on the survival of business; “This is rat eat rat, dog eat dog, I’ll kill ‘em, and I’m going to kill ‘em before they kill me. You’re talking about the American way of survival of the fittest”. (37). By calling upon this quote, Schlosser additionally uses irony to capture the readers attention through the double meaning encased within the words.
While Ray Kroc may have considered “rat eat rat, dog eat dog” a simple idiom, it conveys more meaning after Schlosser details the type of food fed to animals; dead dogs and cats from homeless shelters and meat that cannot be sold to consumers (37). Beyond this, Schlosser primarily uses this expert testimony to express Kroc’s aggressive stance when it comes to business. Kroc’s use of violent language concerning his competition exposes the reader to his belligerent and anything but altruistic purposes as well as contradicts the cheery imagery he presents to children through his advertising. Not only do his words provide valuable insight, but it also bolsters Schlosser’s credibility by providing supporting proof to Schlosser’s claim that fast food industry is solely interested in the bottom line, so the reader further trusts him as the author launches into a discussion destroying the image of the fast food companies. If Ray Kroc, a man whose personal bias leads him to display McDonald’s in the most favorable light possible, himself admits to running a business for the purpose of profit and the satisfaction of beating out his competitors, then Schlosser’s account must reflect the true deceptive nature of the fast food world. Likewise, Disney held a similar belief and presented it in a parallel, violent tone.
Disney says, “it’s the law of the universe that the strong shall survive and the weak must fall by the way, and I don’t give a damn what idealistic plan is cooked up, nothing can change that.” (37). As a quote from Disney himself, the man who encouraged kids to follow their dreams till the end, Schlosser uses this expert testimony to counteract the previous beliefs the audience may have held concerning Disney’s benevolence. Therefore, he uses these quotes to convince his readers that the true purpose of any business, no matter how friendly they seem, is to make the maximum profit, opening the reader up to the ideas he presents in the following chapters and angering them about the way they have been exploited. The author concludes by sharing the story of a student who fought against the fast food industry’s attempt to breach schools, eliciting anger from parents in the audience towards school districts. Schlosser begins by describing the surroundings of the typical student in Colorado Springs: the Dr.
Pepper ads on rooftops, the fast food ads coming through the radio in the hallways, and the answering machine message, “‘You’ve reached Grapevine-Colleyville school district, proud partner of Dr.Pepper,'” showing how fast food has infiltrated every nook and cranny of our society (53). Following these descriptions, the audience imagines their own children attending school and undergoing the bombardment of advertising by fast food companies. It evokes a sense of indignation in readers, as they realize schools, a safe place of education, have also been infiltrated by the fast food industry. Furthermore, he leads into his story of a student who fights against the influence of the fast food industry, and outlines the consequences he faced.
“His act of defiance soon received nationwide publicity, as did the fact that he was immediately suspended from school. The principal said Cameron could have been suspended for a week for the prank, but removed him from classes for just a day” (55). Beyond targeting children, fast food companies have also managed to strike down the children who resist their influence. Upon considering the injustices taking place at the schools the future generations are enduring, Schlosser raises concern for the future. He builds an image of a world where the fast food industry has assumed all power through today’s youth, controlling the world’s food supply, consuming the Earth.
By outlining the immoral methods the fast food industry uses to manipulate children through the implementation of expert testimonies, statistics, and an anecdote, Schlosser achieves his purpose of exposing the fast food companies as shrewd manipulators. Eric Schlosser employs various rhetorical strategies while discussing the poor working conditions, the artificial quality of food, and their depraved methods of targeting children in order to convince his audience of the immorality of fast food. In his opening lines of the afterword, the author depicts his dream of a toppled fast food industry where “the Golden Arches are now the symbol of a fallen empire, like the Pyramids at Giza” (271). By sharing his dream of dismantling a major corporation, Schlosser shares his personal opinion of the image of a progressive America, one where fast food is extinct. Yet, by sharing this image in a purely business-centered point of view, Schlosser appears radical and revolutionary, appealing to certain audiences, such as the rebellious youth and those thirsty for change, where such language is empowering and calls the masses to action.
In a way, Schlosser asks for a revolt against the kings of fast food, for the overthrow of the deep-pocketed CEOs, and the discontinuation of degradation of the American public. Throughout the book, Schlosser examines the short-term effects versus the long-term effects, and uses a statistic to depict what obesity, a byproduct of the fast food companies’ profit margins, costs our government: “$168 billion” (128). By listing various ways fast food has negatively influence America, culturally, physically, and economically, Schlosser provides a reason for every member of the audience to rise up against fast food, effectively composing an epideictic argument, calling for the end of the tyrannical reign of the kings of fast food.