Chapter 10 opens with a discussion of Plauen, Germany and its history. Schlosser notes that everyone he talked with about Plauen was surprised to hear he wanted to visit the seemingly provincial town. Schlosser details the city’s history from 1923 when it was the first place outside of Bavaria to subscribe to Nazism, until 1990 when it was the first town in East Germany to host a McDonald’s restaurant.
Schlosser says the most surreal experience of his three years researching this book happened in Las Vegas in 1999. He calls Las Vegas “the fulfillment of social and economic trends now sweeping from the American West to the farthest reaches of the globe.” Here, in Las Vegas, Schlosser listened to Mikhail Gorbachev speak about Russia in the aftermath of the Cold War. He asked the crowd assembled at the Twenty-sixth Annual Chain Operators Exchange to send money to Russia. Schlosser notes how Gorbachev’s presence seems like an American version of a Roman circus, displaying the leader of a captured land.
Schlosser explains how during the Cold War the Soviet Union stood as a major blockade to Americanization
abroad. The collapse of Soviet Communism has allowed the mass spread of American goods and services,
especially fast food. As a result, the rest of the world is catching up with America’s rising obesity rates.
While McDonald’s has tried to incorporate healthy food into its menu, these attempts have proven largely
unsuccessful. Schlosser chronicles the intertwined presence of American fast-food restaurants and obesity in
Great Britain and Japan.
Groups throughout the world have resisted the presence of the United States in their countries by attacking the fast-food industry. One of these groups is London Greenpeace, which distributed a pamphlet in the 1980s attacking McDonald’s. In 1990 McDonald’s sued five members of the group, claiming that everything in the pamphlet was libel. Because Great Britain’s legal system places the burden of proof on the defendant (not the accuser, as is the case in the United States) and because McDonald’s had much more expansive legal resources than the individuals it sued, it seemed McDonald’s would claim an easy victory. However, McDonald’s made the mistake of claiming that “everything” printed in the leaflets was false. In fact, certain claims (such as a diet high in fat, sugar, animal products, and salt is linked with heart disease) were true. Twelve years later, at the time of Fast Food Nation’s printing, the “McLibel case” was still not resolved entirely. However, McDonald’s became tired of the bad publicity that ensued and did not plan to collect any money or continue to stop London Greenpeace from distributing its pamphlet any longer.
Schlosser ends Chapter 10 back in Plauen, where on Reunification Day, McDonald’s (the only restaurant open that day) is packed with customers. While Plauen’s unemployment rate is 20 percent, the owners of the McDonald’s franchise here are wealthy and vacation in Florida every year. Neo-Nazis, who target foreigners, are rampant in Plauen; however, they are not concerned with McDonald’s because they do not consider it foreign.
In the epilogue, Schlosser makes the powerful statement that “There is nothing inevitable about the fast food nation that surrounds us.” He argues that while changes in our nation’s economy during the past two decades have been steeped in a rhetoric of “free market,” just the opposite happens as American corporations eliminate and absorb their rivals. Schlosser recommends that Congress immediately ban all advertisements aimed at children that promote foods high in fat and sugar. He urges Congress to eliminate tax breaks for chains which have high turnover rates and do not teach their employees any skills. Minimum wage and child labor laws should be enforced. OSHA should implement regulations on workplace violence. The USDA should insist on the highest standards for food served in school cafeterias. Congress should create a single food safety agency. State and federal authorities must consider looking at the meatpacking industry’s injury rate from a new perspective. OSHA should greatly increase its fines, in addition to mandatory plant closures and criminal charges for negligence when meatpacking employees are injured or killed. Schlosser argues that in addition to Congressional legislation, the consumer must become involved to ensure change. Schlosser says, simply, the consumer must stop buying fast food.
Notes - Schlosser makes two interesting moves in this section that are familiar in American studies scholarship: he places the United States in a global context and he calls attention to the role of the consumer.
American studies scholars are more frequently considering the way the United States engages the rest of the
world. Fast food is certainly ripe for this perspective because it is a chief American export. Thus far in the
book, Schlosser has focused on specific people in specific locations (Colorado Springs, Greeley, etc.). In
considering the effect fast food has had abroad, Schlosser emphasizes the significance of his research. Not
only is fast food harmful to Americans—it is creating a world-wide epidemic. Moreover, foreigners
frequently associate fast food with American culture and want to take part in the experience (or protest the
experience) because of what the United States represents to them.
Schlosser’s urge for the consumer to assume responsibility for the travesties waged against American society by the fast-food industry is not a new idea. Lizabeth Cohen documents an entire history of the politicization of consumerism in her text A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Post-War America. Cohen’s book makes an excellent companion piece to Fast Food Nation because it also concerns itself with the post-war culture of consumerism and addresses issues that did not make their way into this book, such as how women or African Americans used their power as consumers for political means.