than the Christian cross.”
Eric’s Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the American Meal is one of the more penetrating and thorough pieces of journalism of the decade. Much attention has been drawn to the dangers of fast food in the last twenty years, particularly in the realm of cattle raising, slaughtering and consumption. E. Coli has claimed the lives of countless thousands while labor concerns become infuriating upon even the smallest amount of scrutiny. Schlosser’s dense work in this New York Times best seller goes to great lengths to touch on these and many more pertinent issues regarding the safety practices and health concerns emanating from one of the most successful industries in the world.
Much of Schlosser’s work recalls Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and in fact he alludes to Sinclair’s 1906 work of simultaneous socialist propaganda and whistle-blowing (to say the least) efforts many times. Taking the reader on a journey through the country’s heartland, describing the horrors of slaughterhouses and dining destinations with the delicacy of capable prose, Schlosser (whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair amongst other prestigious publications) commands immediacy and imperativeness with a matter-of-fact tone that ought to boil the blood of any reader with a pulse.
In 2003, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock chastised the fast food industry with his documentary feature “Super Size Me,” a gimmick-driven piece that saw Spurlock undertaking a steady diet of McDonald’s meals for thirty days. Spurlock’s weight increased drastically and his health began to deteriorate to a point that his physicians were emphatically encouraging him to stop the experiment. Much of the criticisms, both from detractors of the film and from, of course, corporations being targeted by it, claimed that the notion of eating fast food and only fast food for thirty days was ridiculous and would negatively affect the health of anyone who did such a thing. Many of these criticisms missed the point of Spurlock’s piece, which used the “gimmick’ merely as a means to relay much of the information you’ll actually find in Schlosser’s book. But in “Super Size Me,” Spurlock hardly scratched the surface.
What Schlosser does so well in Fast Food Nation is present a crisis that isn’t merely health related, but social in its concerns as well. Practices in the field of labor, for instance, range from the unethically business-practical (hiring uneducated workers that are expendable, making for a steadily rotating workforce that has no time or means to organize) to the outright illegal (the encouragement by slaughterhouse foremen that injured workers not report their injuries, for fear of slowing production – amongst other appalling travesties you’d have to simply read for yourself). He also, of course, preaches the dietary concerns, touching on a wide array of topics from the history of the French fry to the practice and in some ways art of artificial flavoring.
The book will be adapted this year into a feature film by writer/director Richard Linklater, who has been a busy bee most of his career. He in fact has two features hitting theaters this year, the Phillip K. Dick adaptation “A Scanner Darkly” in addition to “Fast Food Nation.” How he condensed the massive amount of information in this 288 page piece of journalistic whistle-blowing is very difficult to fathom, but some who have seen the film have begun considering it the “Traffic” of fast food films, to paraphrase. That seems to be the right track for a project such as this, and from what has been seen thus far, there seems to be a bit of sarcastic wit punching through the piece here and there. Hopefully that doesn’t go too far as to shadow a very important issue (as was slightly the case with Spurlock’s effort), but regardless, “Fast Food Nation” will be an intriguing piece of filmmaking when it finally comes down the pike.
The film’s vast ensemble includes actors Bobby Cannavale, Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, Kris Kristofferson and Oscar nominee Catalina Sandino Moreno to name a few. The wide array of real characters illustrated in the book provides the basis for numerous points of view to be represented in the film.
It’s interesting to note the rise in journalistic deification in recent years. Last year we saw filmmaker George Clooney’s obsession with Edward R. Murrow come to the screen in the form of “Good Night, and Good Luck.,” while Truman Capote’s journey and process penning In Cold Blood was displayed in full in “Capote.” Next year Paul Thomas Anderson looks to adapt an Upton Sinclair classic, Oil!, with “There Will Be Blood” (which – coincidentally – bears Eric Schlosser’s name as an executive producer). 2005 was a year for social and political concerns to say the least for cinema, and 2006 looks to be making its unique mark as well. I expect “Fast Food Nation” will be an important entry in that regard.