Cows live happy, contented lives until, full of years, they go to humane slaughter. The beef, free of all contaminants, is delivered to restaurants around the world, where skilled chefs convert it into a wide variety of delicious, nutritious, additive-free heart-healthy meals. There are no losers in the human-restaurant-agribusiness-bovine alliance.
And that, of course, is pretty much what the fast-food companies would have you believe. But that first paragraph needs to be stood on its head. Unfortunately, much of society remains under a collective illusion: ground beef tells no tales and its origins are mysterious.
So, where does a hamburger come from? Why do we have so many hamburger stands? How can there be so many restaurants where there are no visible cows? How does the beef get from the pasture to the restaurant? Who kills that cow? Who serves it? And who does this process, ultimately, serve?
Most people just hand over their money and receive a hamburger—that’s the entirety of the process. Like the cows awaiting execution in the high-density feed lots, we don’t give it a hell of a lot of thought.
When Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation became a bestseller, it seemed like the status quo might soon change. The book was published to great acclaim in the "pre-terror" America of early 2001. People clearly wanted to know more about the force that has come to replace our kitchens, dominate our landscapes, and define our national culture. In a grand muckraking tradition, Schlosser answered all of our questions, exposed previously hidden connections, and hinted at the larger philosophical significance of it all. Fast Food Nation may be the most important work of nonfiction in our time.