Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal explores the effects of the spread of multinational fast food corporations into other countries, and the resulting loss of national culture. In his chapter “Global Realization” Eric Schlosser claims that “The global expansion of American fast food is homogenizing cultural identities; like Las Vegas, it offers “a brief sense of hope… that most brilliant illusion of all, a loss that feels like winning” (Schlosser). Schlosser intentionally chooses the order and content of the information and examples he provides in order to promote his main claim.
He uses both subtle and direct strategies to persuade his reader. In order to critically evaluate the validity of his argument, it is important to explore different perspectives of this issue by taking into consideration about what others have to say regarding this matter before coming to a conclusion. >Eric Schlosser’s goal in the final chapter of Fast Food Nation is to illustrate the ‘evils’ of the expansion of American fast food culture, and how local cultures are being forced out by the multinationals popularity.
It is necessary to identify the arguments he presents in order to define his main argument. The following arguments support his claim: “The global expansion of America’s fast food industry poses a threat to the distinct cultural identity of countries around the globe” (Micah). Schlosser explains the introduction of multinational companies like Mc Donalds has had an profound effect on the culture of foreign countries. Transformations have taken place which could be perceived as beneficial or corrupting to that culture. The globalization of McDonald’s has raised many debates on both sides of the issue.
The pro- globalization belief is that it enhances culture rather than adulterate. According to Schlosser there has been a loss of traditional values with the introduction of non traditional food into the culture of foreign countries. The types of foods are symbolic to particular regions, religions and mores. In India, to the Hindu people, the cow is considered to be sacred as part of its religion. With the introduction of non traditional foods into this society, as with many others, there are adverse effects on the traditions it tries to uphold.
Multinational companies like Mc Donalds operate in over 120 countries around the world, open about 5 restaurants every day, and four of those are not in America. Schlosser attempts here to show the scope of the ‘epidemic’, by doing so he helps to reinforce the negative association with the volume of the problem. Multinational companies like Mc Donalds now earn the majority of their profits from outside of the US. This expansion of American companies reinforces Schlossers claim that these companies are saturating foreign culture.
Fast food chains are often the first multinationals to arrive when a country opens its markets. Countries first taste of the outside world is often a Big Mac, in parts of the world, fast food chains like McDonald’s represent Americana and the promise of modernization. >Another part of evaluation is to gather more information in the forms of opinions and facts. With a broader range of opinions, one can weigh each new bit of information and form their own opinion regarding Schlosser’s main claim.
The next four paragraphs are ‘distilled’ opinions of outside sources, each pushes towards or away from the main claim, and are used to make the final decision of the validity of Schlosser’s claim. “Big Mac’s Local Flavor”, by Peter Gumbel, looks at a different side of the fast food culture debate. This article is, unlike Schlosser, supportive of the culture blending caused by the oligarchies of fast food. Gumbel delves into the business side of companies like Mc Donalds, in order to show their motivations for offering the food they do.
The article provides examples, like the story of the Big Tasty, which show companies need to absorb some of the local culture into their menu to be successful. This is a topic Schlosser mostly glosses over in his work because the concept of fast food adapting to local culture clashes with his main claim. Gumbel paints the picture of Mc Donalds restaurants around the world innovating and inventing products unique to their geography, exposing food culture from one country to the rest of the world. “These days new ideas can – and frequently do – come from anywhere. … lenty of other things that originated thousands of miles away from Oak Brook, Ill. , where the company is based, have either already done so or are about to” (Gumbel). This emphasis puts Gumbel away from Schlosser, but not against; part of Schlosser’s argument is the danger of the amount of power fast food companies have gained. Gumbel attributes the success of many of the ‘household-name’ companies to a decentralized model, where individual storefronts have a level of autonomy. This practice has been key in the rapid expansion and popularity of these American-grown companies.
Here, Schlosser’s claim is supported by Gumbel’s endorsement of the business model, the rapid expansion of industry has led to an Americanization of cultures around the world. “China’s Big Mac Attack”, by James Watson goes in depth into the effect of American fast food on local culture in China, a place very obviously changed by the introduction of the Big Mac. Watson’s takes a stance on culture-change that differs from Schlosser, he attempts to show that Mc Donalds is no longer (or never was) infringing on Chinese culture, rather, it has become part of it.
Watson’s efforts to show how much a part of the everyday life Mc Donalds has become to the average Chinese person puts him apart from Schlosser, who would argue that fast food is taking away and replacing a part of Chinese culture. Watson’s article builds to a point where he outright rejects the validity of Schlosser’s claim. “The explanatory device of ‘cultural imperialism’ is little more than a warmed-over version of the Neo-Marxist dependency theories popular in the late 1960s and 1970s – approaches that do not begin to capture the complexity of todays emerging transnational systems” (Watson).
Schlosser’s argument is not defeated by this, much of his work is lamenting the loss of ‘small sub cultures and habits’ due to the invasion of fast food. One of Watson’s sections deals with the idea that consumers around the globe want Mc Donalds; while Schlosser agrees with this premise, Watson goes further by asserting that fast food has become a part of how people (not just Americans) identify themselves. This presents a problem with Schlosser’s main claim, why is Mc Donalds considered ‘American culture’, when people around the world choose to make it a part of their every day lives.
In a 1997 interview, Vandana Shiva spoke out passionately against the spread of Americanized fast food. Shiva hits many of the same points Schlosser does in his work, and agrees strongly with his claim that the expansion of fast food poses a treat to cultural identity. Shiva is a prominent member of the agricultural and cultural development research field. Much of the interview is dedicated to Shiva’s home country of India, a rapidly emerging super-power, home to one of the largest populations of consumers, and one of Mc Donald’s prime targets.
One of Schlosser’s main pieces of evidence to support his claim is the process by which multinational companies replace traditional foods. “McDonald’s is doing no good … in a country like India where first of all we are not a meat culture, and therefore our systems are ill-adapted to meat in the first place, and where people are poorer – shifting to a diet like this will have enormous impact” (Shiva). Shiva suggests that Mc Donalds is in the process of fundamentally changing the diet of an entire culture.
Some of the topics brought up in the interview are not explored deeply in Schlosser’s work, like the rise of child labour abuse and the loss of the livelihoods of many in the ‘peasant’ caste. These ‘new’ pieces of evidence work to Schlosser’s advantage, Shiva talks about the loss of culture two fold here. One, the loss of youth, forced to work for and grow up with multinational fast food; and two the possible loss of an entire caste, forced out of jobs due to the standardization of crops and livestock required by the corporate side of Mc Donalds.
Sebastian Mallaby’s article, “Winning Hearts and Stomachs”, gives an idea of the scope of the expansion of multinationals like Mc Donalds. Much of the article is devoted to showing how popular fast food has become around the world. Mallaby chooses statistics and examples which portray non-American cultures clamoring for a taste of America. Schlosser’s main claim can be supported with some but not all the examples provided in Mallaby’s text, meaning that Mallaby believes that culture is somewhat effected by Americas growing fast food industry.
Mallaby talks about how China wants American fast food, and how the traditional cultural foods are second choice. “ ‘If we eat hamburgers and potatoes for 1,000 years, we will become taller, our skin will become whiter and our hair blonder,’ declared the enthusiastic boss of McDonald’s in Japan when the first Big Mac was served there 36 years ago” (Mallaby). This kind of attitude seems to be a common theme around the world, indicating that culture is shifting, and the people want it to. Mallaby is not judgmental about the expansion of American fast food, he simply shows the extent to which it has invaded local cultures.
This attitude makes his paper not a perfect support of Schlosser’s claim, it does not portray the export of the fast food industry as evil, simply rapidly expanding and desired by those receiving it. Another portion of Mallaby’s article works against some of the points made by Eric Schlosser and Vandana Shiva. “The company has bent over backward to demonstrate its interest in the environment and animal welfare…” (Schlosser). The idea that fast food is interested in health and environment, even if it is only to please consumers, is what makes this article not fully in support of Schlosser. Part of any evaluation is weighing one’s own personal experiences and opinions about the topic. Each one of the four previous author’s were all contributing to the debate, by including some of the facts and quotes from Schlosser’s work and adding their meaning to it. Interpretation of facts is necessary to good evaluation. Schlosser’s claim that fast food is ruining global cultures stands on a base of intimidating statistics, about health, the rapid expansion of multinationals, and the exploitation of said companies for profit. He makes the connection between the expansion of Americanized fast food with the decline of traditional foods.
I believe this connection is flawed. In Mallaby’s article he highlights the desire of Japanese and Chinese cultures desiring fast food. While the culture may be in decline, there wouldn’t be Mc Donalds in China if the Chinese weren’t spending their money of burgers. The simple economic concept of ‘dollar votes’, or the idea that spending money is like voting for (more of) the product or business. I agree with Schlosser in that the rapid expansion of fast food is replacing traditional foods, but I disagree that it is ‘killing’ culture, rather multinationals are spurring on a shift of global culture.
Schlosser’s credibility level is very high, a respected journalist, and more immersed in the fast food culture than most. An author so credible cannot be rejected outright, and I read his article with this lens in mind. The most important factor in my opinion of Schlosser’s credibility was his background in the industry. Fast Food Nation was the product of years of research and immersion in the industry. Schlosser’s writing style follows a pattern of: Story, ‘eyewitness’ account, short conclusion of meaning. His claim that fast food poses a threat is the ottom line of these anecdotes. Gumbel at Watson provide counters to this theme, pointing out the contributions foreign branches have made to American companies, as well as the inclusion of fast food into local cultures. However none of the counter arguments I could find could dispute the fact that fast food is pushing itself into cultures of nations around the world. I agree that fast food is becoming an increasing part of foreign countries’ culture, but i disagree with Schlosser’s claim that it is ‘threatening’, just that it is incorporating itself into a global culture.