The Dark Side of Fast Food
This week, Fast Food Nation – the movie – hits the silver screen. While I recommend it to all who care about what has happened to our food industry, and who care for those who toil within its windowless walls, it is not for the faint hearted.
I got to preview the film last summer. I expected a tough and objective expose on the ways in which fast food has transformed our food system into one of the biggest threats to public health — much like Eric Schlosser’s book did. What jarred my expectations were the film’s opening scenes depicting the life and death journey of a small group of Mexican immigrants crossing the desert in search of jobs here in the US. Rather than exposing fast food’s impact on family farms or its insidious marketing to kids, the film bears witness to the day-to-day reality of millions of undocumented workers who keep our food system humming – not to mention our entire economy.
The film follows a young Mexican couple who land jobs in a meatpacking factory. Their excitement of finding paying work slowly fades into a painful awakening that the American dream they’re chasing is eating away their souls. Labor abuses, sexual exploitation, drug and alcohol abuse, the brutal slaughter of animals and dirty meat contribute to a nightmare so horrific that few of us want to acknowledge its existence, much less our complicity in it.
Fast Food Nation addresses the fundamental issue that under girds the entire fast food system: human exploitation. It exposes the corporate-driven, profit-hungry, obesity-causing threat to public health that the fast food industry is.
Fast Food Nation is not an easy or enjoyable film to watch, but it’s an important film to watch. I expect many viewers will leave the theatre numbed by the carnage of the film’s closing scenes. Others might consider vegetarianism as a way to opt out of the fast food system. While both are understandable and expected outcomes, we must also work – as advocates for family farms, environmentalists, public health practitioners, animal welfare activists – to promote food from family farms which is as local, sustainable and just in every way possible. This is the alternative to the fast food system that Farm Aid is working towards.