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Free Study Guide for Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES / ANALYSIS


PART I - THE AMERICAN WAY

CHAPTER 1 “The Founding Fathers”


Summary


Chapter 1 opens with discussion of Carl N. Karcher, one of fast food’s pioneers. Carl was born in 1917 in Ohio. He quit school after eighth grade and spent long hours farming with his father. When he was twenty years old, his uncle offered him a job in his Feed and Seed store in Anaheim, CA. Carl moved out to California, where he met his wife Margaret and began his own family. Margaret and Carl bought a hotdog cart; Margaret sold hotdogs across the street from a Goodyear factory while Carl worked at a bakery. During this time California’s population was rapidly expanding, as was the auto industry. Carl eventually opened a Drive-In Barbeque restaurant. The post-WWII economy provided him with plenty of customers.

Nearby, the McDonald brothers were running their own restaurant, “McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers.” It was the McDonald brothers who began the Speedee Service System, which brought customers out of their cars and into their highly-efficient restaurant. Inspired by McDonalds, Carl Karcher opened his own self-service restaurant, Carl Jr.’s. Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act brought even more people to eat in self-service restaurants. Entrepreneurs from throughout the nation came to observe the McDonald’s phenomenon. During this period many of the fast-food places that remain today were started: Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s, Domino’s, and Kentucky Fried Chicken.


During the Arab oil embargo of 1973, fast-food restaurants underwent a bad scare, but they recovered. Carl Karcher ran into his own difficulties throughout his career with Carl Jr.’s; however when asked how he felt about all the changes, Carl responded that he believes in progress. He does not miss the good old days.


Notes


This chapter provides a historical backdrop from which Schlosser’s discussion of the fast-food nation will begin. Here, the author provides a somewhat nostalgic look into the exciting post-World War II era when the economy was great and big dreams were possible. Interestingly, Schlosser is virtually silent about the tumultuous race relations in Southern California in this period. While he briefly mentions the Ku Klux Klan on page 14, he says nothing about the presence of Mexican Americans. He might have used the founding of Taco Bell to discuss how white Americans in this time and place appropriated images of Mexico in very specific ways. Moreover, Schlosser cites Cary McWilliams when discussing the atmosphere of the 1940s, yet chooses to overlook her seminal study North from Mexico (1949) in which she interrogates the fierce racism Mexican Americans faced. This study suggests a conspiracy of those in power to put Mexican-American youths in jail for a murder they did not commit in the mid-1940s. For further reading, one might consult Eduardo Obregón Pagán’s Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon: Zoot Suits, Race, & Riot in Wartime L.A. (2003), which addresses the tensions between the U.S. Navy, police, the white middle class, and Mexican Americans during World War II.


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