Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal Chapter 3 Summary
by Eric Schlosser

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Chapter 3 Summary

Behind the Counter

Since 1970, the population of Colorado Springs has more than doubled; as of this book’s writing, it is at nearly half a million. Since the early 1990s, it has “been one of the fastest-growing cities” in the country. Denver is four times larger, but Colorado Springs is bigger. It was once a quiet, quaint town—just like Anaheim, California. Also like Anaheim, Colorado Springs depended on military spending for its survival during World War II, including the building of several military bases and eventually the Air Force Academy. Along with these entities came the technology companies whose products were in demand by the military, and most of these came from California. The city prided itself on its liberal, forward-thinking ways and called itself “Silicon Mountain,” among other things. In 1990 James Dobson established his religious organization Focus on the Family, and an influx of evangelical Christians and Christian organizations soon followed. The political climate changed drastically, and today there is not one registered Democrat who serves as an elected official in Colorado Springs. In 2000, the Democratic Party did not even submit a candidate for Congress. The area has become as Republican as the South.

In the early ’90s, for the first time, more people left California than moved into the state—approximately a million people. This migration of primarily middle-class Caucasians has been dubbed “the new white flight,” and it left California as one of the staunchest Democratic states in the country. Those who left headed east to the mountain states, and in Colorado Springs there is a strange dichotomy between the ultrareligious right and the ultraliberal left. As the new century begins, “the cultural and physical landscapes of Colorado Springs are up for grabs.” In addition to technology, the restaurant business has grown faster than the population. In the 1960s it had only twenty chain restaurants; now it has twenty-one McDonald's alone. The restaurant model in this city is to follow McDonald’s: if McDonald’s opens a store, it must be a good site. McDonald’s was the one the leading buyers of satellite technology in the 1980s, and it used the data to predict future construction and development so it could be the first to purchase land for its franchises.

Almost two-thirds of the workers in the fast food industry nationwide are teenagers. Rather than training and maintaining an effective and productive workforce, the industry has chosen to rely on unskilled and rather transient labor, probably because they are more easily controlled. The assembly-line mentality of these chains puts a priority on speed and output rather than quality to make more money. This concept is known as “throughput.” The result is that virtually nothing in one of these chain restaurants—including pizza, burger, and taco restaurants—is actually cooked. It is prepared or assembled from frozen, premade products that are thawed or rehydrated and then heated. The production system is often elaborate and precise. The production manual for McDonald’s, for example, is 7,500 pages long and weighs almost four pounds; it details every minute element of consistent, efficient production. This produces standardized products and increases throughput, but it also increases the control a franchise has over its employees. Because there is no skill involved and productivity is all that matters, workers can easily be replaced until the fastest button-pusher is in the job; this makes workers as expendable as the paper products on which the food is served. Teenagers were plentiful for a long time; today, though, it is housewives, the elderly, the handicapped, and immigrants who are filling these low-skill jobs. English is now the second language of at least one-sixth of the nation’s restaurant workers, and about one-third of that group speaks no English at all. The numbers are even higher in the fast food industry, and...

(The entire section is 1,340 words.)