Fast Food Nation: Chapter 1 Summary
In the first chapter of the book, Eric Schlosser explains the birth of the fast food industry and the rapid development of the fast food industry through the eyes of one of its founders; Carl
Karcher, the founder of Carl Jr.’s fast food chain. Schlosser focuses the reader’s attention on the stiff competition and the cutthroat industry of fast food to emphasize how the fast food industry used to emphasize the ideals of capitalism and of America. Through the eyes of Carl, Schlosser shows the development of massive fast food chains like McDonalds, Taco Bell and his own Carl
Jr.’s in postwar America. Schlosser makes the 1940’s seem like a time when the economy was great and big dreams were possible. His purpose in describing the founders of the fast food industry is to explain the industries humble roots. Schlosser entitles the chapter “The Founding
Fathers”, which parallels the creation of the USA to the birth of the fast food industry. Much like
Carl, the creators of these fast food places were young adults chasing their dream, which became larger than they ever imagined. Likewise, the United States began with humble roots; a revolt for freedom from an oppressive government which dwarfed into the creation of the most powerful nation in the world. Schlosser neglects to mention the struggles that the region faced from the influx of Mexican immigrants and the racism that accompanied them. The era featured the famous “zoot suit” gangs and the clash of the white middle class and the Mexican lower class.
He ignores these elements to make the reader view the era through rose colored glasses.
Schlosser paints the era of California as a time of postwar peace, in which the ideals of capitalism openly flourished. Schlosser’s ultimate purpose in creating the passage and putting it first is to make the fast food industry much more benevolent to remove the bias that s/he may have had entering the book. The passage allows Schlosser to start from a clean slate and describe his overarching ideals that the food industry was not initially as bad as it is today, but rather it became the monster that it is today from the pressure to succeed.
In the development of the fast food industry the role of food was revolutionized. No longer did the American people have to go to restaurants to eat or cook their own food, but rather they could go to fast food places to give them easy food to feed themselves and their kids for very cheap. Food was now not only good but cheap, which was unheard of during the time period. It seemed too good to be true and in reality it was, but at the time no one paid attention to the potential health issues fast food could cause. Food was now not only something that humans needed to survive but were a social gathering among people. With the development of car hops
(who were usually attractive young girls) people became more social with the way they ate and the ability to make food quickly and cheap allowed for the younger generation to afford to eat with their friends and eat quickly (whereas at a restaurant they would have to wait). Through the innovations of the fast food industry food took the new role of comfort and enjoyment, which was especially appealing for a nation that just came out of World War II and was enjoying the benefit of a booming economy and birth rate. As families got bigger and times got better, fast
food industries appealed to a changing way to eat for a changing generation, unlike anything their parents have seen.