Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation was released in 2001. It provided a good analysis and well structured arguments against the corporate greed of the fast food industry.
The recently released movie however is not a documentary, but instead a fiction. It is directed by Richard Linklater and co-written by Linklater and Schlosser. The movie follows a group of characters through all aspects of the fast food industry.
Fast Food Nation begins in Mexico with a group of workers crossing the border to the United States in search of jobs and a better way of life. They arrive in Cody, Colorado to begin work at meat processing plant for $10 an hour. Its hard, filthy work but attractive compared to jobs in Mexico that pay as low as $3 to $4 a day.
The meat processing plant is the major supplier of hamburgers for the Mickey’s fast food chain. Mickey’s finds out that research has shown that the meat from the plant is contaminated with fecal matter. (i.e. there is shit in the burgers)
One of the executives of the Mickey’s chain, Don Henderson (Greg Kinnear), is sent to Cody to look into the problem. High school student Amber (Ashley Johnson) works at the local Mickey’s outlet. The film also features a wide range of other characters that briefly interact throughout the film.
The film lifts the lid on the dodgy practices taking place in the fast food industry everyday. Amber is a typical fast food worker who gets up early every day, goes to school, studies hard and works every spare hour for low pay to make a bit of money in order to live a decent life. She ends up sick and tired of her job and unfortunately sees no other option but to leave.
The story also looks at the horrible conditions inside meat processing plants where low pay is also the norm and health and safety is sacrificed to speed up production. If you have never seen inside a meat processing plant this film will definitely be an eye opener.
If you knew that the plant in the movie looks much cleaner and safer than similar plants in Melbourne you may never want to eat fast food again.
Unfortunately the film doesn’t really explore how workers have resisted these harsh employment practices and unlike the book does not look at attempts by fast food and meat workers to unionise their industries.
In one part of the film a group of young student activists (including rock star Avril Lavigne) are outraged about the behaviour of the local meat plant. They embark on an unsuccessful mission to ‘liberate’ the poorly treated cows from a local holding pen.
Some scenes are full of rants from these students and Amber’s uncle Pete (Ethan Hawke). They are perhaps not the best way to get the message across. Nevertheless in essence this film exposes the harsh realities for workers under capitalism and the lengths fast food chains will go to in order to make huge profits.
This film will provoke interest from a wide range of people especially youth. It has already forced McDonald’s and KFC to spend millions of dollars on advertising to counter the negative perceptions of fast food this film will promote. These companies can not tell us they cant afford to pay their workers properly.
The problems outlined in this film are not unique but are symptoms of the sick capitalist system. The solutions to these problems lie in the hands of the workers.
Fast Food Nation screens nationally from October 26.
Reviewed by Anthony Main