Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal Chapter 2 Summary
by Eric Schlosser

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Chapter 2 Summary

Your Trusted Friends

Today there is a shrine in Oak Brook, Illinois. It is the Ray A. Kroc Museum, and it is a celebration of McDonald’s and its founder, located in the McDonald’s Corporate headquarters and only a short shuttle ride from its Hamburger University. Visitors can buy nearly anything there, all with the golden arches prominently displayed. There are some striking similarities between the McDonald’s franchise and the Disney empire, starting with the two founders. Born one year apart, both men were natives of Illinois and neither graduated from high school. They served together in World War II in the ambulance corps, and they each made their way to California and began businesses that changed the world.

Ray Kroc’s journey was more diverse and full of as many failures as successes before he discovered the McDonald brothers and their Speedee Service System later in his life. The brothers had experienced wild success, but they had become complacent and were not interested in expanding their company. Kroc had the gift of salesmanship, and he convinced them to allow him to market their restaurant concept across the country. One of his first actions was to write a letter to Walt Disney, asking if he would consider making McDonald’s part of his Disneyland development. Disney was not interested. When the theme park opened in 1955, food stands included Aunt Jemima, Stouffer’s, and Welch’s; but there was no McDonald’s.

Walt Disney’s approach to business was modeled on the Ford assembly line, and each artist and creator was monitored, timed, and expected to produce his quota. This mechanical and formulaic approach to entertainment was productive; however, the creative component of the empire went on strike and wanted to unionize. Disney’s political views were anti-union and he believed the strike was a Communist effort, so he promptly fired all the strikers. Ultimately he settled with the union, but he was ever after supportive of any effort to rid Hollywood of Communists, including the infamous blacklist. Whereas Disney was an ardent supporter of the Republican Party, Kroc was generally apolitical; however, he did funnel $250,000 to the Nixon campaign in a year when the fast food industry was petitioning Congress to lower the minimum wage for young workers. Both men held the view that the world is successful only for those who work hard; the others will not survive, and that is how it should be.

Despite Disney’s aversion to socialism and government intervention in a free market system, he needed federal aid to rescue his business. The strike was financially devastating for his company, so he garnered government contracts to produce military training and propaganda films. As much as ninety percent of his income came from this work. One of Disney’s passions was science and technology and how they could be used to make life better for Americans. He expressed that optimism in the Tomorrowland section of Disneyland, though it was rife with corporate sponsorship and marketing agendas. Today, Walt Disney is credited with pioneering a marketing strategy called “synergy.” Each of his ventures—movies, toys, television shows, amusement park, cartoons—actively promoted the others. This cross-promotion was masterful and effective, and it was ultimately embodied in the man himself.

Kroc had no such opportunities for synergy; instead, he relied on his years of experience as a traveling salesman to sell both himself and the McDonald’s concept. Children were his marketing target. This was a wise strategy because the baby boom was underway and America was a nation of families with young children. He sold McDonald’s as an all-American, family-oriented experience. In fact, every franchise was required to fly the American flag. In 1963, Willard Scott created a clownish persona named Ronald McDonald to become the company mascot. Kroc and his new company’s star were rising just as Disney’s was falling. Walt Disney...

(The entire section is 1,345 words.)