"Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser, Introduction–Chapter 4

In this exposé, award-winning journalist Eric Schlosser explores the effects of the American fast food industry on global health, labor conditions, and the environment.

Here are links to our lists for the book: Introduction–Chapter 4, Chapters 5–8, Chapter 9–Afterword

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. pristine
    completely free from dirt or contamination
    It looks like the backdrop of an old Hollywood western, just another gorgeous Rocky Mountain vista. And yet Cheyenne Mountain is hardly pristine.
  2. mundane
    found in the ordinary course of events
    The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexcep­tional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or stopping for a red light.
  3. unprecedented
    novel; having no earlier occurrence
    The centralized purchasing decisions of the large restaurant chains and their demand for standardized products have given a handful of corporations an unprecedented degree of power over the nation’s food supply.
  4. franchise
    an authorization to sell a company's goods or services
    Almost every facet of American life has now been franchised or chained.
  5. conformist
    someone who follows established standards of conduct
    “We will make conformists out of them in a hurry ... The organization cannot trust the individual; the individual must trust the organization.”
  6. iconoclast
    someone who attacks cherished ideas or institutions
    One of the ironies of America’s fast food industry is that a business so dedicated to conformity was founded by iconoclasts and self-made men, by entrepreneurs willing to defy conventional opinion.
  7. quintessential
    representing the perfect example of a class or quality
    A hamburger and french fries became the quintessential Ameri­can meal in the 1950s, thanks to the promotional efforts of the fast food chains.
  8. inextricably
    in a manner incapable of being disentangled or untied
    Indeed, the cor­porate culture of McDonald’s seems inextricably linked to that of the Disney empire, sharing a reverence for sleek machinery, electronics, and automation.
  9. previous
    just preceding something else in time or order
    What we eat has changed more in the last forty years than in the previous forty thousand.
  10. espouse
    take up the cause of someone and use it as one's own
    While publicly espousing support for the free market, the fast food chains have quietly pursued and greatly benefited from a wide variety of government subsidies.
  11. stratified
    socially hierarchical
    Ru­ral communities are losing their middle class and becoming socially stratified, divided between a small, wealthy elite and large numbers of the working poor.
  12. transient
    lasting a very short time
    These changes have made meatpacking — once a highly skilled, highly paid occupation — into the most dangerous job in the United States, performed by armies of poor, transient immigrants whose injuries often go unrecorded and uncompensated.
  13. ramification
    a consequence, especially one that causes complications
    Hundreds of millions of people buy fast food every day without giving it much thought, unaware of the subtle and not so subtle ramifications of their purchases.
  14. hegemony
    the dominance or leadership of one social group over others
    His career extends from the industry’s modest origins to its current hamburger hegemony.
  15. purveyor
    someone who supplies provisions, especially food
    They didn’t care if you had a nice day, and yet were as deeply American in their own way as any purveyors of Speedee Service.
  16. contraption
    a device or control that is very useful for a particular job
    The Insta-Burger Stove was an elaborate contraption.
  17. element
    one of the individual parts making up a composite entity
    Twelve hamburger patties entered it in individual wire baskets, circled two electric heating ele­ments, got cooked on both sides, and then slid down a chute into a pan of sauce, while hamburger buns toasted in a nearby slot.
  18. embroil
    force into some kind of situation or course of action
    He became embroiled in more than two dozen law­suits.
  19. genial
    diffusing warmth and friendliness
    He exuded the genial optimism and good humor of his old friend Ronald Reagan.
  20. philosophy
    any personal belief about how to live
    “My whole philosophy is — never give up,” Carl told me.
  21. incorporate
    include or contain; have as a component
    Many of the exhibits at the Ray A. Kroc Museum incorporate neat technological tricks.
  22. demographic
    of or relating to the characteristics of human populations
    They perfected the art of selling things to children. And their success led many others to aim marketing efforts at kids, turning America’s youngest consumers into a demographic group that is now avidly studied, analyzed, and targeted by the world’s largest corporations.
  23. various
    of many different kinds lacking any uniformity
    In 1972, Kroc gave $250,000 to President Nixon’s reelection campaign, breaking the gift into smaller donations, funneling the money through various state and local Re­publican committees.
  24. enterprise
    an organization created for business ventures
    Despite a passionate opposition to socialism and to any government meddling with free enterprise, Walt Disney relied on fed­eral funds in the 1940s to keep his business afloat.
  25. precarious
    not secure; beset with difficulties
    The animators’ strike had left the Disney Studio in a precarious financial condition.
  26. succinctly
    with concise and precise brevity; to the point
    His faith in the goodness of American technology was succinctly expressed by the title of a film that the Disney Studio produced for Westinghouse Electric: The Dawn of Better Living.
  27. segment
    one of several parts that fit with others to make a whole
    Disney’s passion for science found expression in “Tomorrowland,” the name given to a section of his theme park and to segments of his weekly television show.
  28. encompass
    include in scope
    Tomorrowland encompassed everything from space travel to the household appliances of the future, depicting progress as a relentless march toward greater convenience for consumers.
  29. qualm
    uneasiness about the fitness of an action
    And yet, from the very beginning, there was a dark side to this Tomorrowland. It celebrated technology without moral qualms.
  30. benign
    pleasant and beneficial in nature or influence
    Some of the science it espoused later proved to be not so benign — and some of the scientists it promoted were unusual role models for the nation’s children.
  31. industrial
    of or relating to commercial enterprise
    Within a decade of its opening, Dis­neyland was no longer set amid a rural idyll of orange groves, it was stuck in the middle of cheap motels, traffic jams on the Santa Ana freeway, fast food joints, and industrial parks.
  32. synergy
    the working together of two things to produce an effect
    Among other cultural innovations, Walt Disney pioneered the marketing strategy now known as “ synergy.” During the 1930s, he signed licensing agreements with dozens of firms, granting them the right to use Mickey Mouse on their products and in their ads.
  33. surreptitiously
    in a secretive manner
    They send cultural anthropologists into homes, stores, fast food restaurants, and other places where kids like to gather, quietly and surreptitiously observing the behavior of prospective customers.
  34. proprietary
    protected by trademark or patent or copyright
    The Char­acter Lab, a division of Youth Market System Consulting, uses a proprietary technique called Character Appeal Quadrant Analysis to help companies develop new mascots.
  35. ethos
    the distinctive spirit of a culture or an era
    McDonald’s began to sell its hamburgers and french fries at Disney’s theme parks. The ethos of McDonaldland and of Disneyland, never far apart, have finally become one.
  36. gambit
    a strategic maneuver
    “In one of the most despicable marketing gambits,” Michael Jacobson, the author of “Liquid Candy” reports, “Pepsi, Dr Pep­per and Seven-Up encourage feeding soft drinks to babies by licensing their logos to a major maker of baby bottles, Munchkin Bottling, Inc.”
  37. inculcate
    teach and impress by frequent repetitions or admonitions
    In the absence of good wages and secure employment, the chains try to inculcate “team spirit” in their young crews.
  38. specification
    the act of naming explicitly
    Company specifications cover every­thing from the size of the pickle slices to the circumference of the pa­per cups.
  39. laissez faire
    a doctrine that government should not interfere in commerce
    When it comes to wage rates, however, the company is remarkably silent and laissez-faire.
  40. interrogate
    pose a series of questions to
    In 1973, amid a bitter organizing drive in San Francisco, a group of young McDonald’s employees claimed that managers had forced them to take lie detector tests, interrogated them about union activities, and threatened them with dismissal if they refused to answer.
  41. anomie
    lack of moral standards in a society
    The turmoil of an earlier era has been replaced by a sad and rootless anomie.
  42. platitude
    a trite or obvious remark
    Norman Brinker — a legend in the industry, the founder of Bennigan’s and Steak and Ale, the current owner of Chili’s, a major donor to the Republican Party — spoke to the conference in language that was simple, direct, and free of platitudes.
  43. tantamount
    being essentially equal to something
    Disobeying the McDonald’s Corporation became tantamount to violating the terms of the lease, behavior that could lead to a franchisee’s eviction.
  44. gall
    irritate or vex
    Until 1961 the brothers retained ultimate authority over the restaurants which bore their name, a fact that galled Kroc.
  45. obligate
    force somebody to do something
    Coble’s bill would for the first time obligate franchise chains to act in “good faith,” a basic tenet of the nation’s Uniform Commercial Code.

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