Media Advisory: Don't Know Much About Fast Food

May 04, 2006
Jay Lehr, Ph.D.

Eric Schlosser, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly and author of the controversial book Fast Food Nation, has a new book out titled Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food.

The following comments about the book can be attributed to Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director for The Heartland Institute, a 22-year-old nonprofit research organization based in Chicago. Permission is hereby granted to reprint Lehr's remarks in their entirety as an oped or book review, or to quote from these remarks in news coverage of the Schlosser book's release. Lehr can be contacted for further information by telephone at 740/368-9393 or by email at lehr@heartland.org.


Eric Schlosser's new book, Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food, is aimed explicitly at kids--teens and preteens--and tries to scare them away from the foods Schlosser has made a career out of demonizing.

Alas, the book is likely to succeed.

Schlosser and his coauthor, Charles Wilson, have put together a one-sided, emotional, and often inaccurate picture of the meat and poultry industry, the retail food industry, and their employees. The misleading pictures and rhetoric will likely be absorbed by many young minds, unequipped as they are to tell truth from lies.

Schlosser is simply wrong about most of the things he writes about. To start with, American agriculture leads the world in safety, quality, and production. America's food supply is safer today than it has ever been. If Upton Sinclair, author of the 1906 anti-meat industry novel we all had to read in high school, The Jungle, were alive today, he'd be amazed by the progress that has been made in the treatment of animals, working conditions, transportation and storage, and on and on.

Someone needs to tell Schlosser it isn't 1906 anymore.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested by America's farmers and food producers in technologies that restrict and prevent the growth and spread of food-borne pathogens. Just to clear up one point: Today's farmers are much better stewards of the land than the farmers of just a few decades ago. Point- and nonpoint-source pollution of groundwater in America's heartland are essentially things of the past.

Investments in technology as well as management innovations in American agriculture have led to workplace safety in the meat and poultry industries that is better than ever. Between 1991 and 2004, injury and illness rates in meat processing and meat packing plants decreased by 55 percent and 71 percent respectively.

Then there is the dubious notion that "fast food" is an accurate or in any way illuminating label for an actual class of foods. Dr. Elizabeth M. Whelan, president of the American Council on Science and Health, has remarked that saying "fast food" is addictive and causes illness and death "is ludicrous." She notes, "Food supports life, and contributes to obesity only when it is overused--that is, when we consume more calories (regardless of the source) than are expended in exercise."

Whelan goes on to say, "You will become overweight whether your excess calories come from beer, butter, beans, or burgers. True, many fast-food establishments serve up some gargantuan portions that can, in one sitting, get you close to the desirable calorie finish line for the entire day. But ultimately, consumers need to be responsible for what and how much they consume."

You won't find any sentiments like that in Chew on This.

It is interesting that Schlosser emphasizes in his book how food companies trick children into their stores and then feed them terrible food. Schlosser is in fact tricking young people into fearing the world's finest food supply in order to entice them into his web, where he can spin a tale intended to lead them away from capitalism into his failed socialist ideology.

The bottom line is that our environment and our food supply have never been cleaner or safer in man's history. Cancer rates are declining and life expectancy continues to increase. Farmers and food producers understand that the safety of America's food supply is the number one priority for American agriculture, which is why their investments in food safety exceed the requirements of the government.

What a pity kids aren't getting that message.


Jay Lehr, Ph.D. (lehr@heartland.org) is science director of The Heartland Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Chicago. He is the editor of many leading scientific reference books, most recently the six-volume Water Encyclopedia.

For more information about The Heartland Institute, visit its Web site at http://www.heartland.org or contact Michael Van Winkle, media affairs assistant, at 312/377-4000, email vanwinkle@heartland.org.