Monday, September 15, 2008

Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser

I finished this book a couple weeks ago. It surprisingly came off as relatively non-biased, even though it takes on an industry that is not only unfavorable but basically terrifying. Almost every aspect that this book covers of the american food industry has a sympathetic character at some point, from owners of franchises to cattle ranchers. It's definitely one of those fact-confirming books, like everyone has ideas about the horrid things that happen within the food industry, and this confirms it, and then goes into detail about it. Some things that were mega-interesting to me was that the flavor of most food (the processed kind) is completely designed and engineered in a lab and that the difference between "natural" flavors and "artificial" flavors is basically non-existent. It was also really fascinating to read about how the "cleanest" meat usually ends up in fast food and that the gnarliest meat, the stuff that can't be sold to the general public, is instead used in school lunches. I know that this idea is obvious and everything, but it's completely deplorable that this country puts so little value into education, even down to the food that's provided. School food always makes me think of this time I had a job taking yearbook photos, and I was at some Olympia school working and they had a huge cart of vegetables in the main hallway, and it was totally fine for kids to just leave class for a vegetable break and go and grab some carrot sticks. It was the coolest thing ever!!!!!

This subject also makes me think of the slow food movement. There are a lot of aspects that I completely agree with and am excited about, such as making a connection between what's on your plate, where it came from, and how it got there, or sustainability, or the idea of preserving regional differences and stopping the homogenization of the world. However, and slow food advocates continually deny this, but there is such a huge class gap in this that I feel like a lot of these ideas are rendered useless. A couple weeks ago there was this whole slow food festival weekend, and past the fact that they made some of the civic center grounds into a garden, almost nothing was free. All the workshops and lectures and stuff were all in the $20 range, while actual slow food meal parties or whatever tended to land in the $50 range. The parts of the population (and I'm mainly talking about the U.S. here) that would benefit the most from education about these ideas, and implementing these ideas into everyday life are poor people and people below the poverty line, and at this point the slow food movement doesn't seem to have taken the time to reach out to and include these populations into the movement. I think it would be much more valuable and revolutionary to take these basically anti-corporate ideas and make them so they weren't so built for upper-middle class.


saralibrarian said...

GRuB (Garden Raised Bouunty) does it in olympia!
i've never heard the term "slow food movement" before but it seems like that's what GRuB is all about... teaching people to grow their own and such... providing the instruction and the materials for free for individuals with low incomes.
they must have something like that in san fran too, right?

p.s. just finished "deep suburbia" last night! we'll be adding a copy of your zine to the zine collection here at the olympia timberland library. :)

marissa magic said...

The only thing I can think of here is the mission pie shop which is basically a store front for a at risk youth program that involves gardening and sustainability education. I think programs like this are great beginnings, I just wish they were more wide spread. The majority of what I've seen and read on "slow food" is professors and chefs from uber fancy restaurants talking about sustainability and growing your own food, but in those discussions I feel like there isn't much talk about how those theories could and should affect low income people, past stating that these things could be a solution to the world food crisis.

Tobi Vail said...

Vandana Shiva:
talking about "slow food" and globalization...i think she provides the missing analysis you are seeking and is taken very seriously by the "slow food" advocates i've encountered.

maggie said...

there's definitely a trendy/high end element that exists in the slow food movement but I think there's also a more grassroots one as well. I live in the more working class part of portland and there's definitely signs of it all over. just about everyone grows food in their yards, esp their front yard. I see people talking to one another all the time about what kind of fertilizer is best for tomatoes, are they watering enough, etc. the elementary school I walk by has a huge garden that they obviously use and teach the kids how to grow their own food. the farm that I get my CSA from donates shares to low income families and when you sign up asks for like $20 to help support that program. I mean it's not all grass feed lamb shanks and truffles.
that said there are two grocery stores near me - the new seasons (portland's version of whole foods) and safeway. each store's clientele is almost totally divided along class and racial divides. though oddly enough the safeway doesn't seem to be any cheaper at all.

CO said...

I also never realized there was a slow food movement. I only ever heard of slow food restaurants so i figured it was some new marketing gimmick targeted at comfortably middle class health freaks. i also thought things like growing vegetables in your yard or the local natural market making a decision to sell local over imported organics were related to macrobiotic and/or global warming concerns. but from this discussion, and the video, they both seem to be part of the slow food movement.
is this correct? also does anyone know how geography affects how classist the slow food movement is?
Is it different in Italy/Germany (where Wikipedia says it started,)India or the USA ?

Tobi Vail said...

well i think Food Not Bombs, while not offically "slow food" does address some of these problems. as far as mutual aid/anarchy goes, they do good work in terms of turning surplus (dumpstered/deleted/expired food) into food for poor/broke people from a variety of class backgrounds. this is not to say that the issue of there sometimes being trust fund crusty punks running it is to be ignored, but the overall focus is on feeding people who need free food and that is pretty rad. that it happens all over the place demonstrates the effectiveness of the method and as well as the intensity of the need. hunger should be satiated with surplus; there are enough resources, they just need to be more fairly distributed. those are the core issues.
GRUB does this with a focus on sustainability, as do some of the other local farms Maggie mentions in PDX.
marissa, your analysis is refreshing on this front. the real issue i think is globalization, so our conception fo class has to be rooted in how disproportionate distribution of resources impacts the majority of the world's population, who have less than they need. that's where Vandana Shiva comes in. Sorry if I sounded dismissive at first, I didn't meant to. Thanks for posting!