Monday, April 10, 2006

Fast Food Nation II

The sky is darkening up the road apiece, and it has that look of a Weather Channel Storm of Distinction. If you make a living from fast food, you might as well head into it with a 10-foot metal rod upright in your hand and steel taps on your shoes. Pop culture won’t have seen that kind of lightning bait since Ben Franklin famously flew a kite.

That’s because the public will likely be preoccupied with a new entry on the best-sellers list. On May 10, the new book by Eric Schlosser goes on sale, and it promises to make his last work, the infamous Fast Food Nation, seem merely shrug-worthy in comparison.

In case you missed it, Fast Food Nation suggested that American health and culture was being undermined by the imperative of McDonald’s and other food corporations to profit even at considerable social cost. It was cogent, well-written, carefully researched and presented without vitriol, making it powerful criticism indeed. If you think I’m sympathetic, you’re right—to some of what he had to say. Schlosser once called me, at my prior place of employment, because he was looking for more info about a speech I had recorded and mentioned in a column. As I told him then, and feel even more strongly now, his argument was undercut by a base assertion that the nation’s food giants manipulate public tastes and preferences, instead of merely responding to them. He differed and we parted civilly (come to think of it, he still owes me the tape I lent him of the speech).

Now, after writing a relatively weak-selling book about marijuana and other staples of the underground market, Schlosser has come back with Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food.” Co-written with Charles Wilson, it’s a look at the unsavory aspects of quick-service, aimed at the traditional super-users of fast-food, kids.

“For McDonald’s, it’s ‘Attack on the Golden Arches II,’” Donna Goodison wrote in The Boston Herald last week. “But this round has the potential for a stronger dose of negative publicity.”

Consider some of the language. The food a pre-teen eats “helps determine whether you will enjoy a long, healthy life or die young,” reads the book’s introduction, as quoted in today’s Toronto Star. “The companies that sell fast food don't want you to think about it. They don't want you to know where it comes from and how it's made. They just want you to buy it.”

The danger that readers may rethink that buying behavior has hardly gone unnoticed by the big fast-food chains. Advertising Age reported that McDonald’s has already formed what the publication dubbed a “war council” to counter the backlash.

And it could be significant. Here we are, a full month ahead of publication, and the wave of publicity is already building.

I’m calling Schlosser’s publisher tomorrow to see about getting an advance copy. I’ll be sure to recount what I find as I read it.

I might have to bug them to get that tape back, too.

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