Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC)
Radio Lora, 15. Februar 2008
Die Fast Food NationEric Schlosser ist Korrespondent des „The Atlantic Monthly“ Der Träger zahlreicher journalistischer Auszeichnungen, darunter auch des National Magazine Awards, landete mit „Fast Food Nation“ einen Bestseller, dem mit „Reefer Madness“ ein weiterer Verkaufsschlager folgte.
Mein Buch „Fast Food Nation“ dokumentiert, wie die Art und Weise, wie wir uns ernähren, nicht nur Konsequenzen für jeden Einzelnen von uns hat, sondern für unsere gesamte Gesellschaft. Ich habe beinahe mein Leben lang Fast Food gegessen, ohne je einen Gedanken darauf zu verschwenden, woher es kommt oder wie und woraus es gemacht wird. Für die tiefgreifenden Veränderungen, die unser Land in den letzten 25 bis 30 Jahren erlebt hat, war Fast Food zwar nicht immer verantwortlich, aber immer ein Symbol. Ein Symbol für den Größenwahn unserer Fast Food Mentalität. Die Wirtschaft befindet sich mehr und mehr in immer weniger aber immer größeren Händen. So wächst der Abstand zwischen Arm und Reich und die Nahrungsmittelindustrie betrachtet Tiere als bloße Ware und macht Menschen zu Produktionsfaktoren, die man zwar nicht schlachtet, aber beliebig mißhandelt. Man nennt das „Freie Marktwirtschaft“ – aber die staatliche Subventionierung dieser Firmen und deren Verquickung mit der Regierung haben mit dem „gerechten“ Freihandel eines Adam Smith nichts, aber auch gar nichts zu tun.
Interessanterweise stand die Wiege des Fast Food in Los Angeles, der Stadt ohne Wasser, deren Hauptverkehrsmittel, das Auto, samt und sonders durch die Regierung subventioniert wurde, ebenso wie der Straßenbau und der Bau von Staudämmen. Hier, im Dunstkreis einer durchaus erfolgreichen, dynamischen, aber keineswegs freien, sondern vom Staat gepäppelten Wirtschaft, erblickte die Fast Food Industrie das Licht der Welt.
In den 50er Jahren begann mit Chicken McNugget, alles noch ganz unschuldig als Begleiterscheinung der damals herrschenden Faszination für Schnelligkeit und Technologie und der Träume vom Atomauto, von -Plastikhäusern und einer perfekten Walt Disney Welt. Die Brüder McDonald besaßen ein typisch kalifornisches Drive-In Restaurant, in dem junge kurzberockte Kellnerinnen schnell zubereitete Speisen zu den Autos brachten. Doch mit der Zeit waren es die McDonalds leid, diesen Mädchen und den Schnellköchen, die nie lange blieben, ordentliche Löhne zu bezahlen. Sie entließen die Kellnerinnen und die Schnellköche und lernten schlecht bezahlte Kräfte an, die außer Pommes Frites, Milch Shakes oder Hamburger nichts anderes zubereiten konnten. Wie am Fließband mussten sich nun die Kunden ihr Essen an der Theke abholen. Das war nicht nur negativ. Da McDonald‘s billig war, konnten es sich auch Arbeiter leisten, essen zu gehen. Weil alle McDonald’s liebten, wurden es immer mehr. Alles ging gut, bis der Handelsvertreter Ray Kroc erkannte, welch eine Goldgrube dieses Geschäft war. Er stieg bei den McDonald Brüdern ein und bootete sie bald aus. Nach seiner Vorstellung sollte an jeder Straßenkreuzung ein McDonald’s stehen, in ganz Amerika und auf der ganzen Welt. Die Botschaft Ray Krocs, dem Vordenker nicht nur der Fast Food Industrie, lautete: “Unsere Organisation darf nicht auf das Individuum setzen. Das Individuum muss der Organisation vertrauen.“ Einheitslook und alles unter Kontrolle, hieß die neue McDonald’s. Philosophie. Bis in die frühen 1970er Jahre hatte dies keine größere Bedeutung. Erst als die Zahl der Niederlassungen immer weiter stieg und bis heute weltweit 30 000 erreicht hat und Mc-Donald’s zum größten Spielwarenhändler und zum mächtigsten Käufer von Rindfleisch, Kartoffeln und Hähnchen wurde, zeigte dies Wirkung.
In Brasilien ist McDonald’s der größte private Arbeitgeber und die goldenen Bögen genießen inzwischen einen höheren Erkennungswert als das christliche Kreuz.
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Auch in der Landschaft nehmen Gleichförmigkeit und Eintönigkeit überhand. Die Fast Food Industrie beherrscht das Bild. Mit Flugzeugen, Hubschraubern und Satelliten kundschaftet man die günstigsten Standorte aus. Und wo ein neuer McDonald’s eröffnet wird, folgen Kentucky Fried Chicken und Burger King auf dem Fuß. Doch nicht nur das Schnellgaststättengewerbe kopierte das erfolgreiche McDonald’s Konzept, man findet inzwischen auch überall die gleichen Auspuffshops, Optikerketten, GAPs und wie sie sonst noch alle heißen.
Der Verlust an unberührter Natur ist bestürzend, aber noch bestürzender ist der Einfluss, den McDonald’s auf die Arbeitswelt der USA hat. Es ist kein Zufall, dass das Sinken der Mindestlöhne mit dem wachsenden Bedarf an billigen Arbeitskräften in der Fast Food Industrie zusammen fällt. Mit den Brüdern McDonald fing alles an, aber das war nichts im Vergleich zu den heute von Vorgesetzten und Maschinen kontrollierten Arbeitsbedingungen. Arbeitskräfte sollen nicht teuer und ausgebildet sein, sondern billig und austauschbar. Mc Donald’s schließt lieber eine Filiale als mit der Gewerkschaft zusammenzuarbeiten. Deshalb ist auch die Personalfluktuation so hoch. Doch immer öfter breitet sich dieses Niedriglohnsystem auch in anderen Industriezweigen aus. Die Fast Food Industrie ist der größte Billiglohn-Arbeitgeber der USA. Kein Wunder, dass man sich gegen jede Lohnerhöhung vehement zur Wehr setzt, oder versucht, gesetzliche Mindestlöhne zu unterlaufen.
In der Fast Food Industrie zu arbeiten ist hart aber noch tausendmal härter ist es in der Fleischindustrie. Anfangs kaufte McDonald’s sein Fleisch landesweit bei 125 bis 150 Betrieben. Doch dann, gemäß Ray Krocs Motto der Vereinheitlichung, wollte man, nur noch mit wenigen, dafür riesigen Fleischfabriken Geschäfte machen. Das führte zu einer unglaublichen Konzentration auf dem Fleischmarkt. Ein typisches Beispiel dafür ist Greeley in Colorado. Man riecht Greeley, lange bevor man es sehen kann. Man kann diesen Geruch nach lebenden Tieren, Exkrementen und Tierkadavern, die zu Hundefutter verarbeitet werden, nicht beschreiben. In dieser modernen Industriestadt verarbeiten Menschen und Maschinen große Jungbullen zu kleinen vakuumversiegelten Fleischpaketen. Es sind Orte wie Greeley, aus denen die Milliarden Hamburger kommen, die wir Jahr für Jahr essen. Dafür werden bis zu 100 000 Jungrinder auf engstem Raum zusammengepfercht und drei Monate lang aus riesigen Maschinen mit jeweils 3 000 Pfund Getreidekraftfutter gemästet. Die Masse ihrer Ausscheidungen über trifft die der Bewohner von Denver, Boston, Atlanta und St.Louis zusammen. So also sieht moderne Vieh- und Weidewirtschaft aus!
Je größer und mächtiger die Fleischfabriken wurden, um so tiefer sanken die Löhne. Noch vor etwa 25 Jahren waren Fleischereiarbeiter, ebenso wie Autobauer, die bestbezahlten der USA. Heute verdienen sie am wenigsten. Dabei ist dieser Beruf einer der gefährlichsten. Hier leidet man nicht am Carpaltunnelsyndrom des Computermenschen, sondern an schweren Nacken-, Schulter-, Rücken- und Handgelenksverletzungen. Auch hier ersetzte man qualifizierte Arbeiter durch Ungelernte. 80% sprechen nicht Englisch, ein Viertel von ihnen sind illegale Einwanderer. Sie alle leben in bitterer Armut. Das hat nicht nur Folgen für die Steuerzahler von Weld County, die für die hohen Gesundheitskosten und sozialen Aufwendungen zur Kasse gebeten werden, sondern für uns alle.
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Selbst wenn uns die armen Fleischfabrikarbeiter gleichgültig sind oder wir als Veganer nie in die Nähe von Fleisch kommen, bleiben wir nicht von den durch Fleisch verursachten Krankheiten verschont, da mindestens 10% der gefährlichen E Coli Bakterien durch Körperkontakt übertragen werden.76 000 Menschen erkranken jährlich an einem ernährungsbedingten Leiden. 5 000 Menschen sterben an einer Lebensmittelvergiftung. Das sind mehr als die Opfer des 11.Septembers. Ich behaupte nicht, dass sie alle Hamburger gegessen haben, aber die Massen-Lebensmittelproduktion ist eine ideale Voraussetzung für die Verbreitung von Krankheiten. Weil die Arbeiter schnell sein müssen, machen sie Fehler und verletzen sich oder übersehen ungenießbar Teile. Viele Menschen erkranken, weil sie mit Fäkalien verunreinigtes Fleisch gegessen haben. Doch dank unserer industriefreundlichen Lebensmittelkontrollbehörden ist es der Fleischindustrie gelungen, Tests auf die gefährlichen E-Coli-Bakterien zu verhindern.
Als 1993 700 Menschen - darunter viele Kinder - durch Kolibakterien erkrankten, und die Clintonregierung entsprechende Tests anordnen wollte, zog die Fleischindustrie vor Gericht
Bis heute kann die Bundesregierung verunreinigtes Fleisch nicht aus dem Handel ziehen. Wenn ein Kind an einem Spielzeug ersticken könnte, kann die Regierung das Produkt vom Markt nehmen. Wenn dasselbe Kind durch den Genuss eines Hamburgers sterben könnte, darf die Regierung nicht einschreiten. Rückrufaktionen erfolgen nur auf freiwilliger Basis.
In Europa handhabt man diese Dinge ganz anders. Dänemark ist der größte Fleischexporteur der Welt. Wird dort in einem der riesigen Schweinemastbetriebe auch nur eine einzige Salmonelle gefunden, bleibt der Hof bis zu einem negativen Salmonellen Test zwangsweise geschlossen. Bei uns darf mit Salmonellen kontaminiertes Hackfleisch problemlos im Supermarkt verkauft werden. Eine Vergiftung durch Salmonellen ist zwar nicht unbedingt lebensgefährlich, aber jährlich erkranken daran 1 Million Amerikaner mehr oder minder schwer. Das zeigt, dass die Fleischindustrie die Behörden kontrolliert, von denen sie eigentlich überprüft werden sollte.
Das letzte Kapitel von Fast Food Nation behandelt die BSE- Krise und die Möglichkeit, dass angesichts der laschen Kontrollen der US-Behörden diese Rinderkrankheit jederzeit auch in den USA ausbrechen könnte.
Dass die US-Regierung alle Warnungen in den Wind geschlagen hat, könnte auch daran liegen, dass die jetzige Landwirtschaftsministerin, Ann Veneman, der amerikanischen Fleischindustrie sehr nahe steht und ihre Chefsprecherin zuvor bereits Chefsprecherin der Nationalen Rinderzüchter Vereinigung war und in beiden Funktionen stets beteuerte, dass BSE für die USA kein Problem darstelle. Schlimmer noch: als ein Fleischereibetrieb in Arkansas ankündigte, seine Schlachttiere auf BSE testen zu lassen, drohte ihm das Ministerium mit gerichtlichen Schritten. So vermeidet man auf Kosten unserer Gesundheit Verantwortung übernehmen zu müssen. Sollte jedoch eines Tages McDonald’s verlangen, alle Jungrinder auf BSE zu testen, würde dies unverzüglich in die Tat umgesetzt.
Und je schneller die Fast Food Industrie wächst, um so dicker werden unsere Kinder. Schon heute leiden besonders viele Kinder aus afroamerikanischen und Latinofamilien an Diabetes. So rollt eine riesige Gesundheitskostenlawine wie eine tickende Zeitbombe auf uns zu. Bereits ein Fünftel aller amerikanischen Kleinkinder futtert jeden Tag Pommes Frites.
Boykottieren Sie Mc Donald‘s und alle anderen Fast Food Ketten; denn sonst bestimmen diese Firmen nicht nur die Politik der Bush Regierung, sondern unser gesamtes Leben,
Vielen Dank für Ihre Aufmerksamkeit.
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Kurze Zusammenfassung der Fragen und Antworten
Die Gefahr, durch den Verzehr von Fleisch zu erkranken, ist bei einem Steak geringer als bei Hackfleisch. Besonders Alte, Kranke und Kinder sollten kein oder nur sehr, sehr gut durchgebratenes Hackfleisch essen. Bei Steaks werden Verunreinigungen und Keime an der Fleischoberfläche durch sorgfältiges Braten unschädlich gemacht. Für Hackfleisch dagegen wird gutes und verdorbenes Fleisch vermischt und die Bakterien verbreiten sich nicht nur an der Oberfläche. Selbst Biofleisch ohne Pestizid-Rückstände kann wegen der Belastung durch die allgegenwärtigen Keime sehr gefährlich sein. Trotzdem unterstütze ich die Ökolandwirtschaft aus vollem Herzen, weil sie nachhaltig ist.
Mit ein Grund für den schlechten Gesundheitszustand amerikanischer Kinder ist die Tatsache, dass es an 30% aller High Schools Marken Fast Food gibt, täglichen Turnunterricht aber nur an 25%. Weil wir nicht bereit sind, für die Erziehung unserer Kinder genügend zu bezahlen, müssen die Schulen anderweitig Geld auftreiben. So öffnen sie Fast Food und sogar auch Limonadegetränken ihre Tore. Es gibt amerikanische Jungen die 10% ihres täglichen Kalorienbedarfes mit Limonadegetränken abdecken. Wie schön für Mc Donald’s und Coca
Cola! Um Steuern zu sparen, opfern wir die Gesundheit unserer Kinder.
Der rasante Anstieg der Fast Food Industrie hat nichts mit dem Bevölkerungswachstum zu tun. Die Fast Food Industrie boomt, weil die echten Kosten nicht auf der Speisekarte auftauchen. So war es auch vor 30 Jahren als die Fabriken ihre Giftabfälle munter in die Flüsse kippten und die Gesellschaft für die Gesundheitskosten aufkommen musste. Würden die sozialen Aufwendungen berücksichtigt, würden nicht nur die Hamburger teurer, sondern auch die Produktionsbedingungen humaner werden.
Wir müssen endlich aufhören, all diese Mißstände zu ignorieren oder als unabänderlich zu betrachten.
Um McDonald’s oder Taco Bell gefährlich zu werden, reicht es, wenn 2, 3 oder 4% von uns nicht mehr dort essen. Zu den moralischen und ethischen Beweggründen für so einen Schritt kommen auch die horrenden Ausgaben für eine übergewichtige und kranke Bevölkerung. Ich rufe auch zum Boykott von Taco Bell auf, weil der größte Abnehmer von Tomaten dank massiver Proteste für den Schutz von Tieren eintritt, aber Tomatenpflücker weiterhin wie Sklaven behandelt. Könnte es sein, dass es leichter ist, Mitgefühl für Tiere zu mobilisieren als Menschenrechte für Zweibeiner durchzusetzen?????.
Fast Food Nation
Aspen, Colorado 28 February 2004
Eric Schlosser is a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly. He is the winner of a number of journalistic honors including the National
Magazine Award. His book Fast Food Nation was a bestseller. His latest book Reefer Madness is also a bestseller.
With Fast Food Nation what I was trying to do is tell people what you're eating and what the consequences are, not just for you who is eating it but for the entire society. I had eaten fast food for most of my life without ever thinking about it, without ever thinking about where it came from or how it was made or what's in it. And I was amazed. I consider myself a fairly well informed person; fairly well educated person, and I had no idea what was going on behind the counter. For me, Fast Food Nation is about fast food, but it's also about this country. Because I think some fundamental changes have occurred in the last 25 to 30 years in this country. Fast food has not only been a cause of many of them but is also a very good symbol, I think, is very emblematic of those changes.
I recently was rereading Edward Abbey. He was a great writer and champion of the West, of the West that had not yet been paved. And what he talked about could be a perfect synonym for fast food or the fast food mentality. What he was opposing was the megamachine that was just completely developing and raping the West, the megalomaniacal megamachine. And in a lot of ways that's what the fast food system and the fast food mentality have been.
We have seen in this country in the last 25 to 30 years an extraordinary concentration of economic power into the hands of a few corporations in each industry. That has been accompanied by a widening gulf between rich and poor and, in the fast food industry, an industrialization of our food system which comes out of the same mentality, which is treating animals like they're commodities and factors of production. And we have had in the last 25 to 30 years this rise of factory farming, which is the first time in human history that people have raised livestock this way. But I would also argue that human beings are being turned into commodities and factors of production. And whereas they're not being slaughtered and processed, they've been greatly mistreated by this system. And it's all occurred in a remarkably brief period of time. What we eat and how we eat it has been transformed really in the last 25 or 30 years. So the book is about fast food, but it's also about this country and what's happening to it.
What's amazing to me is how much of this has happened with a free-market ideology as a justification. So many of these changes have been explained as the workings of the free market, freedom at work, free enterprise. And yet in Fast Food Nation I look again and again and again at how the free market had nothing to do with it, and about how subsidies of corporations and a very close relationship between these corporations and the government have been much more responsible than anything like the free market that Adam Smith envisioned.
So it's interesting that the fast food world began in Los Angeles, because you could not pick a city whose development had less to do with the free market than Los Angeles. Here is a place that didn't have its own water. Here is a place whose fundamental means of transportation, the automobile, was created entirely through government subsidies. The road building was subsidized by government. The bringing of water to Los Angeles and the dam building was subsidized by government. And in World War II, heavy industry came to Los Angeles for the first time through direct government investment - the building of factories and the aerospace industry. So this is where the fast food industry begins, in an economy that may have been very productive and very dynamic but had nothing to do with free enterprise and everything to do with deliberate government intervention in the market and very close relationships between the companies there and government.
I'm very, very critical of the fast food industry, but it all began rather innocently in this Southern California of the 1950s, which was a very, very optimistic place and a very optimistic time. Fast food came out of the car culture of Los Angeles. Los Angeles was the first city that was completely formed to serve the automobile, and so it was a whole new urban culture arising, and it was a culture that really worshipped speed and technology. And there was a real cult of science that I think Walt Disney in many ways embodied, this whole idea of a great big, beautiful tomorrow where we would have nuclear-powered cars and our houses would be made out of plastic, and all these wonderful inventions. And it really was an unlimited faith in science and in technology. And that ultimately is where your Chicken McNugget began.
Again, it began innocently. It began with the McDonald brothers. The McDonald brothers owned a drive-in restaurant in California. They had carhops; they had young waitresses in short skirts bringing their food to customers in their cars. And they had short-order cooks. It was a typical California drive-in, except the McDonald brothers got sick of having to pay all these carhops, these young waitresses, their salaries, and they got sick of paying short-order cooks their salaries, because they were constantly quitting and moving on to another restaurant, and these teenage customers that they had were flirting with the carhops and breaking and stealing a lot of cutlery and dishes.
So they came up with a revolutionary new way to produce and serve restaurant food. They fired the carhops. They fired the short-order cooks. They broke down everything in the kitchen into one task that was repeated again and again and again. So instead of having a skilled short-order cook who knew how to make a lot of dishes and had to be paid a pretty good wage, they trained one person to do nothing but French fries, one person to do nothing but milk shakes, one person to do nothing but flip burgers. And because these were unskilled jobs, they could pay less money. And they persuaded their customers to walk up to the counter and get their food themselves as opposed to being served. This cut their costs enormously. What the McDonald brothers had done was to bring the old factory assembly-line system to the restaurant kitchen for the first time.
And it wasn't entirely bad, because their food was really inexpensive and working-class people could afford restaurant food. Everyone loved McDonald's hamburgers. And when there was that one McDonald's in San Bernardino, California, it really didn't have a huge impact on America at all. So that was in 1948. One McDonald's. A couple more McDonald's opened up. And by the late '50s it was an extremely successful business, but it really didn't have a big impact on this country.
The person who changed this industry was a traveling salesman named Ray Kroc, who went to McDonald's, saw people waiting on line to get their own food, saw the huge lines of cars waiting to get in McDonald's and thought, This is a great business. And Ray Kroc went into partnership with the McDonalds briefly before he bought them out and drove them out of business. But Ray Kroc dreamed of taking this system and putting it at every intersection throughout the United States, and eventually the world. So he was the big thinker.
And I'm going to read you a quote that embodies Ray Kroc's philosophy and really the fast food industry of the last 25 years and, I think, a lot of the culture of the United States over the last 25 to 30 years. And that is about uniformity and conformity. This is Ray Kroc.
“We have found out that we cannot trust some people who are nonconformists,” said Kroc. “We will make conformists out of them in a hurry. The organization cannot trust the individual. The individual must trust the organization.” That is the guiding philosophy of McDonald's. Everything exactly the same, at thousands of locations. Uniformity, conformity, and control.
This did not have a very big impact on the United States until the early 1970s, because in 1970 there were about a thousand McDonald's. Today there are closer to 30,000 worldwide. You have an enormous, enormous increase in the size of this one company, to the point where McDonald's is the most widely advertised brand. McDonald's is one of the world's biggest distributors of toys. McDonald's has huge impact in this country: biggest purchaser of beef, biggest purchaser of potatoes, second biggest purchaser of chicken. Overseas, enormous. McDonald's is the biggest private employer in Brazil. And in some ways one of the freakiest factoids, and something that Mel Gibson might want to consider, is that the Golden Arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross. So I look forward to The Passion of Ronald.
This has all happened in my lifetime, and happened in a remarkably brief period of time, historically speaking. And to get to Colorado for a second, this push towards uniformity and conformity you see in the landscape. The fast food industry became the avant garde of sprawl. At first, McDonald's was opening up along the new intersections of the California freeways. But as their siteselection technology became more sophisticated, at first Kroc would fly in an airplane and look for schools, and they would open a new McDonald's near the school. And then they got more sophisticated and they used helicopters. And then they were one of the first companies to make widespread use of satellite photography. And what they were looking at were growth patterns. And they would find real estate in advance of the sprawl, because the real estate would still be inexpensive, and they would put a McDonald's in advance of where the sprawl was growing. It would become self-perpetuating, because everyone knew that McDonald's had the best technology to figure out where growth was occurring. So the building of a McDonald's at an intersection would lead to the construction of a Burger King across the street or a KFC down the block, and McDonald's again and again. The fast food industry was intimately connected to sprawl.
So one of the influences that the fast food industry has had has been to make one place look very much like another, and all of them ultimately reminding you of Orange County, California. The success of Kroc's philosophy of uniformity and conformity was recognized by people in other industries. So not only other restaurant chains but every other kind of franchise saw the success of McDonald's and imitated it. So you not only have the same fast food restaurants, but you have the same muffler stores, eyeglass stores, GAP, etc., etc. So fast food has had this effect on what the landscape looks like. And that's an aesthetic issue.
The loss of wilderness and the loss of nature is upsetting, but more upsetting to me in many ways is the impact of McDonald's on how people work in America, again, in a very brief period of time. It's no coincidence that the minimum wage reached its peak in United States, adjusted for inflation, in 1968 and that the huge growth of the fast food industry would coincide with the minimum wage declining in value, or that American workers' hourly wages peaked in 1973 and then declined for over 20 years 3 afterwards. Because the fast food industry has profited enormously from cheap labor and has a system, in fact, that is dependent on cheap labor.
The McDonald brothers came up with it in a very innocent way. But if you go to a fast food kitchen today, you see a work force that is totally under the control of their employer. And not only totally under the control, but under the control of machines. This has been very, very deliberately structured this way. They do not want workers with skills at all, because workers who have skills have to be paid well. They want workers who are interchangeable and who will follow orders well. All of the knowledge, all of the skill is built into the McDonald's operating system or is built into the machinery in the kitchen. And that's why the turnover rate in the fast food industry is amongst the highest in the American economy. The average fast food worker quits or is fired every three or four months. But that doesn't hurt the bottom line, because these workers are interchangeable. This is a McJob. And unfortunately, again, other industries have seen this model and have imitated it, and you see a growing low-wage work force and incredible control over the workplace.
McDonald's is one of the most anti-union companies in the world. McDonald's on at least three occasions has shut down a restaurant as soon as the workers voted for a union. There are very few industries that would rather shut down than do business with the union. Most of the time they will let the union in and then very carefully and quietly work to get the union out within a year or two. So the McDonald's labor system has had a huge, huge impact.
The fast food industry is the largest employer of minimum-wage labor in the United States, and it should come as no surprise that the fast food industry is one of the biggest opponents of minimum- wage increases in this country. And some of the fast food chains, like Wendy's and Jack-in-the-Box, have even thrown support behind making the federal minimum wage voluntary and allowing states to have minimum wages lower than the federal minimum. So that's what they want, are cheap, interchangeable workers.
Being a fast food worker is a tough job, but being a meatpacking worker is about a thousand times worse. And the meatpacking industry was restructured enormously by the power of the fast food industry. McDonald's is the largest purchaser of beef in the United States. When they were a small company, McDonald's bought their meat from 125-150 small suppliers all over the United States. But when Kroc’s edict became the rule - uniformity, conformity, everything the same at every location - they didn't want to deal with small meat suppliers anymore. They wanted to deal with big, big meatpacking companies. And you saw incredible concentration in the meatpacking industry in the last 25 to 30 years.
I'm going to read you a little part from the book that describes another part of Colorado. How many of you have spent any time in Greeley? A fair number. Greeley is a city that has been transformed largely to serve the needs of the fast food industry. And I'm just going to read you a little bit about Greeley.
"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. The smell is worse during the summer months, blanketing Greeley day and night like an invisible fog. Many people who live there no long even notice the smell. It recedes into the background, present but not present, like the sound of traffic for most New Yorkers. Others can't stop thinking about this smell, even after years. It permeates everything, gives them headaches, makes them nauseous, interferes with their sleep. Greeley is a modern factory town, where cattle are the main units of production, where workers and machines turn large steer into small, vacuum-sealed packages of meat. The billions of fast food hamburgers that Americans now eat every year come from places like Greeley.
“ConAgra’s used to run the slaughterhouses in Greeley, but now it's a company called Swift & Company. And there are two enormous feedlots in Greeley. Each one of them can hold up to 100,000 head of cattle. At times, the animals are crowded so closely together in these feedlots it looks like a sea of cattle, a mooing, moving mass of brown and white fur that goes on for acres. These cattle don't eat grass off the prairie. During the three months before slaughter, they eat grain dumped into long concrete troughs that resemble highway dividers. The grain fattens the cattle quickly, aided by the anabolic steroids implanted in their ears. A typical steer will consume more than 3,000 pounds of grain during its stay at a feedlot just to gain 400 pounds in weight.
“The process involves a fair amount of waste. Each steer deposits about 50 pounds of urine and manure every day. Unlike human waste, this manure isn't sent to a treatment plant; it's dumped into pits, huge pools of excrement that the industry calls lagoons. The amount of waste left by the cattle that pass through Weld County,” which is where Greeley is, “every year is staggering. The two feedlots run by Swift & Company outside Greeley produce more excrement than the cities of Denver, Boston, Atlanta, and St. Louis combined.”
So this is the modern meat machine. These are the feedlots that feed the mega-slaughterhouses. And no nation in the history of the world has ever had feedlots like this or slaughterhouses like this or raised animals like this.
I talked about the impact of McDonald's. The concentration of the meatpacking industry was largely driven by the need to serve the fast food industry. And one of the things these meatpacking companies did, as soon as they got big and powerful, was to cut wages and break unions. So that at the Greeley slaughterhouse you had very well paid union workers until the early 1980s, when the union was broken. Slaughterhouse workers were some of the highest paid industrial workers in the United States, like autoworkers, until the last 20-25 years. Now they are some of the lowest paid industrial workers in the United States, and there is a very high turnover rate. It's the most dangerous job in the United States, measured by the amount of serious injury. So at these slaughterhouses the typical worker is three times more likely to be injured than at an ordinary American factory. The rate of cumulative trauma injury, which is severe neck, back, shoulder, wrist injuries, not the kind of carpal tunnel you get from your keyboard, but really serious cumulative trauma injury, is 33 times higher than in American industry as a whole.
And what the meatpacking companies did was to get rid of skilled workers and come up with an interchangeable work force. About 80% of the workers are non-English-speaking; about a quarter of them are illegal immigrants. They are living in terrible poverty and suffering terrible injuries. This has consequences for everybody, not just for the people in Weld County whose taxes are now higher to pay for the emergency-room visits and for the schooling and for all the social-service needs of these poor meatpacking workers.
But even those of us who can't work up pity and compassion for poor meatpacking workers should be concerned about this. If you eat meat, you should be very concerned about what's happening in these meatpacking plants. Unfortunately, even if you're a vegan and you wouldn't go near any meat, if you have children who go to school with children who eat meat, this is of huge importance, because the rise of the fast food industry and the changes in these slaughterhouses has been accompanied but a huge rise in food-borne illnesses in this country. Over the last 25 years it climbed to the point where every year in the United States 76 million people are sickened by something they ate and more than 5,000 people are killed by something they ate. That's an incredible number. 5,000 people dying of food poisoning every year. That's more than were killed at the World Trade Center. It's extraordinary. I'm not claiming that these people ate fast-food hamburgers, but there is no question that the centralized, industrialized system for food production that we've created in a very brief period of time to serve the fast food industry is just a perfect way for spreading disease far and wide.
The workers, for example, at these slaughterhouses who get injured usually get injured because they're being made to work too quickly. They make mistakes and they cut themselves so they get hurt. And the same mistakes can often contaminate the meat when they're trying to remove certain parts of the animal that shouldn't be eaten. Unfortunately, most people who are sickened by meat are sickened because the meat contains fecal material and was contaminated in the slaughterhouse. And it shouldn't be there.
People eat meat all over the world, and yet it's remarkable how loose our food safety standards are. In the book I go into the very close relationships between the meatpacking companies and the USDA and the government regulators that are supposed to be keeping this stuff out of the meat. It's remarkable how much power the meatpacking companies have. For something like E. coli, E. coli 015787, which is a very dangerous bacteria that can be in ground beef, the meatpacking companies fought viciously against any testing of the ground beef for E. coli.
In 1993, 700 people, most of them children, were sickened by E. coli spread by Jack-in-the-Box hamburgers. And even though 700 people, mainly children, had been sickened, when the USDA, under Clinton, said, “We're going to start testing for E. coli,” the meatpacking industry immediately took them to federal court to prevent any testing of the meat. Right now the federal government has no power to order contaminated meat off the market. If there is a toy in the Happy Meal that could conceivably choke a child, the government can immediately order it off the market, but if there is ground beef in a hamburger that could kill the child, the government does not have that power because the meatpacking industry doesn’t want them to have that power. So all government recalls are voluntary.
It's quite remarkable when you step outside the United States to see how things are done differently elsewhere. I was talking to some Danish meatpacking officials. Denmark, believe it or not, is one of the biggest meat exporters in the world. They have a gigantic hog industry. At a Danish slaughterhouse, if any salmonella is found anywhere in the building - it could be on a desk, it could be on the floor, in the corner - the slaughterhouse is shut down, and it's not allowed to reopen unless all the salmonella tests are negative.
We have a different system in this country. There is no limit on how much salmonella can legally be in your ground beef. The Clinton administration tried to impose a salmonella standard, but the Bush administration doesn't feel that one is necessary. So when you go to the supermarket to buy ground beef, that meat could be completely full of salmonella, and it's perfectly legal to sell. Salmonella is not likely to kill you, like this dangerous E. coli can, but over a million Americans are sickened by salmonella every year and tens of thousands are hospitalized. When you look at the meatpacking industry, you see a textbook case of an industry controlling the government agencies that are supposed to be regulating it.
The last chapter of Fast Food Nation looks at mad cow disease and the possibility of mad cow disease coming to the United States. I wrote that three years ago and felt very strongly that mad cow disease would come here. It's not that I had some great prophetic wisdom or insight into the future. It's just that anybody with common sense who looked carefully at the problem would realize that our government was being incredibly irresponsible in its measures to keep BSE out of the country. So there were many scientists and there were many, many investigative reporters who were warning that mad cow disease would come here.
When you look at how the government has responded to it, you need only look at the USDA. The head of the USDA right now, Ann Veneman, her mentor, who brought her to the USDA, was the head of the American Meat Institute. The chief spokesman for the USDA, who is constantly telling us on TV that mad cow is not a problem in the United States, before joining the USDA in the Bush administration she was the chief spokesman for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. She set up a Website on BSE and mad cow disease, and that Web site said mad cow disease is not a problem in the United States. And you can go on and on and on.
One of the most remarkable cases unfolding right now, the USDA feels it's unnecessary to test for mad cow disease widely in this country, but there is one meatpacking company in Arkansas that out of some sense of social responsibility, and also because they want to be able to export their meat, has announced that they're going to start testing every cattle that they slaughter for mad cow disease. And the USDA's response has been they're threatening criminal action against any company that tests those cattle for mad cow disease. This government and this industry does not want any testing of the meat done. And like I said, you can look back to the Jack-in-the-Box outbreak. They don't want any trace-back of the meat and they don't want any recall powers. And it's not because they want you to get sick. They just don't want to be held legally liable for the meat; they don't want to be held responsible for it.
So these are some of the consequences of the fast food industry, which is at the height of our food pyramid.
If McDonald's were to say tomorrow that every steer that's slaughtered has to be tested for mad cow disease, they would be. And in looking at food-borne illness, I mentioned, even if you're a vegan, this is an issue for you. E. coli 015787, which is carried in ground beef and is one of the most dangerous pathogens, about 10% of the cases are spread hand to hand. So you don't have to eat a hamburger, you don't have to eat any meat to be at risk or to have your children at risk from these pathogens.
I've talked about some of the consequences of the fast food industry. I could go on and on. And I won't, because I'm interested in hearing questions. But we could talk about the rise in obesity that has coincided perfectly with the rise in the fast food industry; the fact that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that of the children born in the year 2000, one out of every three will develop diabetes in this country, and of the African American and Latino children born in the year 2000 one out of every two will develop diabetes. This is a catastrophe not only for their health but for the society that's going to pay the medical costs. So, again, even if you're completely self-interested, these are huge, huge costs for our society.
You wonder why children are becoming obese. They're being targeted by the fast food chains with their advertising, which is aimed at children as young as . In Time magazine a few months ago, a study was done of the eating habits of American toddlers. These are kids roughly 16 months old. And more than one-fifth of American toddlers are eating French fries every day. So this is a health time bomb waiting to go off.
None of this was inevitable. And a lot of my book is an attempt to show how it didn't have to be this way and about how decisions that were made led to it being this way. Each of you is connected to this system immediately by your purchasing. And when you buy food, you are supporting the companies that produce it and the way in which it's produced. So if you care about these problems, the first thing I would recommend is, don't go to McDonald's. Don't go to any one of these restaurants. I stopped once I finished my research. It's quite possible to eat without going to fast food restaurants. Somehow Americans did for more than 200 years before this industry became so powerful. In addition to this boycott of fast food, people can get involved on all these different issues.
Whether it's sprawl, whether it's food safety, whether it's worker safety, it's amazing what a small group of very determined and highly motivated people can do. Just look at the Bush administration right now. They believe fully in what they're doing. And it's in a direction that I don't like.
The other couple of points I just want to make before finishing my rant is I have been strongly attacked because of this book and I've been called a socialist and a communist and all kinds of stuff. And I am really not antibusiness at all or anti-corporate. I was in the Soviet Union when it was the Soviet Union, and you don't want your government doing any of these things for you. But in the great pendulum of American history, the pendulum has swung way too far. It's one thing to believe that corporations can be the most efficient means of producing the things we like, and it's another thing to have corporations running the foreign policy of the U.S. or running the energy policy of the U.S. or having coal companies coming up with the clean air policies of the U.S. or lumber companies determining what we should do with our national forests. So it's not a question of being a socialist or anti-business. It's about a sense of proportion. And that proportion has been completely lost.
I'm about to end my rant. But I'm a great believer in looking outside the bubble and believing that we have the power to change things and not just sit in the drivethrough on the way back home to watch the big-screen TV. So thank you very much.
I was wondering how safe it is to just get a steak in a supermarket as opposed to eating fast food. Is it safer?
And also organic beef is that better? Is that safer and cleaner?
With the safety issue, I really tried hard in the book -- and I don't know if I succeeded -- I don't want people to be afraid of their meat. When I think of the things that I personally worry about, it's so much more likely to end for you on the road to Denver than because of any steak you eat. The reason that I'm angry about it is if statistically the odds are slim that I'm going to get sick from eating a steak, they're pretty high that somebody is right now as we speak. When I was mentioning the dangerous forms of E. coli, E. coli 015787 and other ones that create these Shiga toxins, which can destroy your vital organs, 100,000 Americans are going to be sickened by it every year. That's a lot of people. That's way too many.
In terms of who is really at risk, children are really at risk. Children and the elderly I think shouldn't eat ground beef. Or if they eat ground beef, it should be cooked completely. And the elderly shouldn't probably prepare ground beef because bringing it into your home, it's almost like the ground beef that you would buy in the supermarket, you almost have to treat like a biohazard. It's horrible to say, but these organisms live on the countertop for days. It only takes a few of them to make you very, very ill. If you're a healthy, fit adult, most likely you won't get sick. But some people do.
I support organic production completely. And I don't know if it's better for me to eat organic foods. When it comes to pesticide residues, some of them may be bad, maybe some of them aren't. But when you buy organic foods, you're supporting a whole system of production that is sustainable, that is connected to how people have been raising food for millennia, whereas this factory-farmed meat, this fast food system of production is so recent. It's only in the last 25 or 30 years we've been raising cattle this way, and already we have E. coli, mad cow disease, unbelievable environmental harms from the runoffs from these lagoons, etc. etc. So I would urge people to eat organic for the sake of sustainability. And if you eat a burger, cook it well.
You're saying that the steaks do have the hazards, but they're safer than --
The reason that a hamburger is so much worse is – I’m just going to be blunt. Let's say manure gets sprayed all over the meat at the slaughterhouse. Muscle meat is sterile, so the manure will be sprayed on the outside of the steak, and if you cook the steak, you're cooking and killing the bacteria on either side. There are people who are really paranoid about this, and it's true that if you pierce the steak with a knife or with a fork, you're introducing bacteria from the outside into the inside. I can't worry about that. If you cook the outside of the steak, you will be fine.
Ground beef is so dangerous because you're mixing together -- a typical fast food hamburger has pieces -- in the first version of the book I had an error, and it bothered me, I said that there are pieces of hundreds of cattle in one fast food hamburger. There are actually pieces of more than a thousand, if not thousands, of different cattle. So what you have is a much greater risk of being exposed to a contaminated animal and many, many surfaces of the meat that are ground together and exposed to bacteria.
What they do now is they take the bad meat sometimes - and this is against the law - and they grind it up with the good meat. And if you add a little bad meat to a lot of good meat, you don't smell or see the difference. Bon appetit.
Could you give us your insights regarding the collaborative trends between our public-school school lunch programs and the fast food industry?
A very, very disturbing set of statistics that explains why American kids are so unhealthy is that 30% of American high schools now serve branded fast food in the school and 25% offer daily physical education. Because we have not been willing to pay to educate our children, schools have been forced to find money through all kinds of means. And one of the ways that they've been able to find money is by inviting fast food companies and, even more disturbing in some ways, the soda companies into the schools. It's an immediate source of revenue for the school. But I think they're not doing these kids any favor, because they're imposing huge, huge costs on these children.
Soda consumption is right now one of the best markers for obesity, and studies have found that you can have a very good sense of whether a child is going to be obese by how much soda they're consuming. And some American teenage boys are now getting 10% of their daily calories from soda, which is really, really not a good thing. So the fast food industry is looking and the soda industry is looking for any way they can to market their goods. They know that eating habits are formed when you're young, and you can fight against them your whole life but you have them your whole life.
And McDonald's and Coca-Cola, for example, are like this. The most profitable thing that the fast food chains sell is soda. McDonald's is the largest seller of Coca-Cola in the world. The hamburgers they break even on, the French fries are profitable, and the sodas that they sell are just a gold mine. McDonald's would be delighted if you came in and ordered a soda and then left and didn't bother to buy any of the food. So it's tragic. Basically what's happening in the schools is sacrificing the future health of our children in order to have annual revenues right now.
I have two questions. One, what’s the hardest part of the artistic process, being a writer as it relates to your family doing this kind of in-depth research and things like that?
And the second question is, the expression that the pen is mightier than the sword, do you believe that being a writer you can have more of an impact than being in politics? And if that's not true, why don't you run for office?
The hardest part of my work is I've really tried to write about subjects and people who don't get written about in the mainstream media, and that means traveling. So the hardest part is traveling a lot and being away from my family. The hardest part for them is probably having to listen to me talk to them about soda when we're at a restaurant and I just don't want to buy them soda. We're not food Nazis. So my children have suffered, and I feel badly about that.
I am a writer because that's what I love to do. I think that all writers and all artists have an obligation to the society to think about what's happening and try to understand it and then try to express something based on it. But I think everybody has that obligation. Writers just get more public credit for it. But I think that everybody, whether you're a doctor, a lawyer, a bus driver, you all should be concerned about these issues and in your own way trying to work on them. So I don't want to give too high an elevated position to what I do. Certainly I'd rather be the head of the USDA right now, because if I was, I would have all kinds of things that I would do to the meatpacking industry to make them produce safer meat. There is just no way I would ever become a politician, because I'm totally ill equipped for it.
I'm here with my book club, and one of the gals sitting next to me was asking -- was kind of alarmed, and I was too, about the statistic about children, one out of three with diabetes, in the African Americans and Latino, one out of two. How is that attributed to fast food or to food safety or to the food industry?
This came from a study that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did this past year, which is looking at the trends in obesity in the United States, and particularly the huge growth in obesity among American children. In looking at obesity, it's not related to ethnicity as much as it's related to poverty. The more well educated and the wealthier you are, the less likely you are to be obese, because you have access to good medical care, and when you get too big, your doctor says you've got to do something about it. It's the poor. It's the poor who are really suffering from this.
So what they did was they did a study of the rise of obesity and the rates of the rise in obesity, the connection between obesity and the development of early-onset diabetes. Early-onset diabetes was a very rare, very rare condition until the last 25 or 30 years. It's a terrible disease, and it's a terrible disease for children to have. Fast food is not the only cause of obesity, but when you look at what's changed in the American environment over the last 20 to 30 years, it's not our gene pool. Perhaps people are less active, but our diet has changed and the amounts of food and the types of food that we're eating have changed. And it's happened overseas. You can make a graph internationally and look at Japan, look at Great Britain, and look overseas. As fast food consumption rises, so does obesity. I don't think it's the only cause. All of these epidemics have a variety of vectors. But I would argue that the super-sizing of America has been connected to this fast food.
Do you think any of the increases in the future of the fast food industry are going to be in some ways necessitated by our population growth rates?
No, I don't. I think that the fast food industry has been able to expand because the real cost of the food is not reflected in the menu price. So it's very cheap food when you buy it. I think that the movement against fast food right now is where the environmental movement was 30 years ago. It used to be that factories could dump their pollution into a river or pollute the air freely, without any repercussions, and the people who would be sickened down river or the people who would breathe the polluted air, that was just the way it went. Those factories and those companies were able to impose their costs on the rest of society. I think the same thing is true of the fast food industry and the meatpacking industry right now.
And if you were to take all these social costs that they're imposing on us and make them pay the price, not only would their menu price go up, but they would have to produce food differently.
I don't think that you can produce livestock - we haven't even talked about how chicken is being raised - I don't think you can produce livestock this way without all kinds of social costs. Antibiotic resistance is one. When you have this many animals crammed together, you need to give them antibiotics to prevent them from just being wiped out. I don't think there is anything inevitable or necessary about this system.
ESPN X games is one of the great events that has come to Aspen in the last few years, extremely successful. You walk into the X games and the first thing you see is a giant trailer for Mountain Dew and a giant trailer for Taco Bell, two of the main sponsors. And no one even seems to flinch. What frustrates me, and maybe you can talk about it more, is how do we begin to change this. It just seems it's so accepted and so okay to be just pumping this stuff down kids' throats. No one even questions, really, how tightly that marriage is.
It's not okay. That's the first point. And you can't take on for yourself the obligation to change the world, because if you start with that premise, you're going to fail immediately. But to the degree that you can control your own purchases, it's amazing. For McDonald's or Taco Bell to be harmed, it's not that everybody tomorrow decides not to eat there. These are businesses that are predicated on growth, and constant growth. Their stock price is very much pegged to their growth. If their growth diminishes because 1%, 2%, 3% decide not to go there anymore, it has a huge impact. Taco Bell was in terrible financial trouble just a few years ago because they were showing declines of 2, 3, 4%. There are more people than you would think who are starting to feel this way. Europe is way ahead of us in terms of their awareness of food and consciousness of food. And, again, aside from all the moral and ethical reasons not to eat this food, the costs are going to be incredible from having a nation of obese and sick people. It's that simple.
If there were one company I would really urge you to boycott, it would be Taco Bell. It is a huge purchaser of tomatoes from Florida, where there have been half a dozen cases of slavery among tomato pickers and other migrant workers. And the workers there are asking for the unreasonable raise of one penny per pound of tomatoes that they pick. Taco Bell is the purchaser. Taco Bell, thanks to some of the animal rights groups, has a very strong animal welfare policy. They say they will not buy any meat from suppliers who mistreat animals. And we're trying to get them to extend the animal welfare policy to two-legged animals.
I guess that's a perfect introduction to my question. I was going to ask, if the USDA is not protecting humans, and meat that's not fit for human consumption goes to the animals, and it is in pretty much all of our animal products, have you investigated anything at all in the animal fields with the illnesses of animals being related to not-fit-for-human-consumption meat?
First, as I said, the USDA is doing a very bad job of protecting animals even, because cattle may be getting mad cow disease. I've investigated animals to the extent of having visited some of these factory farms and seeing how the animals are treated and the use of antibiotics and steroids. And we were talking about the factory-farm chicken. These birds are hatched and then delivered to one of these poultry houses, where they live with tens of thousands of other animals. And they don't leave until they die, and they have a terrible life. So I have investigated it to that point. But there are a lot of very well organized, very effective animal rights campaigners. And I'm focusing my energy more on human rights, which is much harder to get sympathy for. Thank you.
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