Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal Additional Summary

Eric Schlosser

Extended Summary

Part I: The American Way, the Beginning of the Fast Food Industry
The idea of fast food up until the 1950s meant food stands on the sidewalks of cities. And that was how Carl N. Karcher, one of the pioneers of the fast food industry, started out. He owned four hot dog carts in Los Angeles. He also owned a drive-in barbeque restaurant, which offered patrons the ability to drive up to outside stands and order meals from carhops (a wait staff who delivered food to people in the cars). China plates and real forks, spoons, knives, and glasses were part of the service. There was also the option of sitting down at a table inside the restaurant and placing orders with the wait staff. The drive-in part of the restaurant, though, was a novelty, and Karcher’s business thrived—at least until a new drive-in restaurant started selling 15-cent hamburgers not too far away. That restaurant was called McDonald’s Famous Hamburgers and was run by Richard and Maurice McDonald. Karcher soon discovered how the McDonald brothers could afford such cheap hamburgers. The McDonalds had grown tired of keeping a restaurant staff, having to replace broken dishes, and supplying a variety of food on their menu. So they revolutionized the restaurant business.

First, the McDonalds decided to offer a very limited menu. By doing so, they were able to do away with their wait staff and turn food production into something that resembled an assembly line. There was a cook, an order taker, and someone who wrapped the food. Everything could be eaten with one’s fingers, and all they sold were hamburgers, French fries, and milkshakes. Their food was cheap and tasted good, and the lines of people waiting to order some made Karcher go back to his drive-in restaurant and do the same.

Karcher’s new-styled restaurant was called Carl’s Jr., which, together with the McDonalds’ no-service restaurant, became the beginning of the fast food fad that would quickly sweep the nation. The success of Karcher and the McDonald brothers soon brought other entrepreneurs into similar businesses. William Rosenberg opened Dunkin’ Donuts in Boston; Glen W. Bell Jr. opened Taco Bell in San Bernardino, California; Keith G. Cramer started Burger King in Florida; Dave Thomas began Wendy’s in Ohio; and Thomas S. Monaghan opened his first Domino’s in Michigan. These were all independent businessmen who saw the potential of a good idea. The idea spread, and fast food chains expanded. By the 1970s, for example, McDonald’s had expanded from less than three hundred restaurants in the early 1960s to more than three thousand nationwide.

The incredible expansion of McDonald’s, however, was not the work of the brothers who had opened the first fast food restaurant. That accomplishment went to Ray Kroc, who took McDonald’s to the next level. Kroc was the man who talked the McDonald brothers into setting up franchises all over the United States. It was also Kroc who lobbied Congress to pass what is now called the McDonald’s Bill—a bill that allowed employers to pay sixteen- and seventeen-year-old employees wages that were 20 percent below the minimum wage. The bill passed. Then Kroc went to work to attract more customers, aiming his campaign mostly at children. First he unveiled his now-renowned mascot, Ronald McDonald, whom many children fell in love with. The next step was to build playgrounds at McDonald’s restaurants. Finally, toys were included with every child’s meal. Attract the kids, Kroc believed, and their parents will be forced to follow.

Part II: Meat and Potatoes

So the setting was established. The staff and the routine were set up. Customers were pouring in. But a new problem presented itself: how could fast food restaurants lower costs and make an even bigger profit?

Americans eat more than thirty pounds of frozen French fries apiece each year. Most of...

(The entire section is 1604 words.)