An extract from his 2001 Fast Food Nation, Book 2 in the Penguin 70s collection is a damning exposé of safety practices in the meat industry of rural America. An investigative journalist, Schlosser has used his words to lay bare the mistreatment of workers and the abuses of power within this section of the mass-market food chain.
I didn’t read Fast Food Nation in 2001, but I imagine it packed quite a punch when it was published. This extract details the processes of slaughterhouses that we know happen but perhaps don’t want to think about (if I’m honest, this is why I didn’t read the whole book when it came out). Before reading this Pocket Penguin, I’d blithely wanted to assume our thinking about what we eat, and where it has come from, has probably moved on since 2001 – but I suspect I’m being naïve, secure in my own particular echo-chamber, and I also suspect that food production is still as tied up in class-based economics (as is the way we talk about eating today) as it was at the turn of this century. Certainly, the catalogue of injuries and the terrible injustices of reduced or non-existent insurance payouts concern workers on the margins of American society – economic migrants, non-unionised workers, or people like Kenny Dobbins. Kenny’s loyalty to the Monfort Slaughterhouse in Grand Island, Nebraska, sees him repeatedly return to the plant after a series of horrendous injuries sustained whilst at work, before he is laid off without explanation once, as he finally realises, ‘They used me to the point where I had no body parts left to give … Then they tossed me in the trash can.’
This extract looks the changing economics behind the rise of large meat-packing companies, and the impact it has had on the independent ranchers and the workers who have little other option but to seek employment in the slaughterhouses. Without explicitly picking a side on the meating-eating/vegetarianism debate, it highlights the terrible practices which bring meat to our plates and makes for very sobering reading in 2018.