Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal Chapter 6 Summary
by Eric Schlosser

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Chapter 6 Summary

On the Range

Ranchers in Colorado Springs are in conflict with environmentalists; however, the truth is that cities and city dwellers do more damage than ranchers. Colorado Springs grew so quickly that little planning was done to ensure the maintenance of its water and land resources. Pavement encroached and diverted the abundant water supplies into fewer and fewer streams and rivers. Ranchers are the ones who have created watersheds and employed other such conservation techniques in an attempt to restore and save the land for future generations. Although the land has been developed and spotted with eyesores such as stock car racing tracks, it is a beautiful place.

Ranchers and cowboys, the iconic figures of the West, represent independence and self-reliance; however, thousands of ranchers are forced out of business each year. A host of issues—including land prices, beef scares, inheritance taxes, and imported cattle—have contributed to their endangered status. Fast food chains have also contributed to the problem, as their increasing demand for beef has caused meatpacking plants to consolidate. McDonald’s is the largest purchaser of beef in America. It once purchased from almost two hundred suppliers; a few years later it bought from only five in an effort to increase product uniformity. A hundred years ago, American ranchers were in a similar plight as they strove to break the corporate trusts that effectively kept them from selling their cattle. Congress finally intervened, and for the next half century the free market prevailed and ranchers were able to earn competitive prices for their goods. Then, once again, federal regulations changed and meatpacking plants were able to depress the price of beef through market manipulation. Several of the major plants also operate their own huge feedlots and have little need for cattle from the smaller ranches.

The greatest fear of the ranching industry is that they will suffer the same fate as the poultry industry. It all started with McDonald’s Chicken McNugget at a time in America when fast food was eaten in a car or while on the move. At one time, only chickens that were too old to lay eggs were used for meat. Once the demand for chicken grew, however, the industry changed. Small producers could no longer compete with the large operations, and conglomerations emerged. Chicken McNuggets are “small pieces of reconstituted chicken, composed mainly of white meat, that were held together by stabilizers, breaded, fried, frozen, then reheated.” In 1983 they became the fast food product every child wanted. They, like the fries, were originally cooked in beef fat. Today they are cooked in pure vegetable oil; however, they are flavored primarily with beef additives and contain double the fat per ounce of a hamburger. Chicken used to be sold whole; now ninety percent of all chicken is sold in pieces.

Chicken consumption surpassed beef consumption in the U.S. in 1998. Poultry plants rely on independent contractors who own neither their land nor their...

(The entire section is 756 words.)