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Other segments from the episode on January 22, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 22, 200: Interview with Eric Schlosser; Commentary on the punk rock band MC5.

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DATE January 22, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Eric Schlosser talks about his book, "Fast Food
Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal"
MARTY MOSS-COANE, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.

The new book "Fast Food Nation" isn't just about how fast food has changed our
diet, it's about how fast food has transformed our landscape, economy, work
force and popular culture. Schlosser is a correspondent for The Atlantic
Monthly. He's written extensive articles on such subjects as marijuana, the
economics of the porn industry and the prison industrial complex.

Schlosser says that the flavor industry has become crucial to fast-food
production. Fast food is so highly processed that much of the flavor is
destroyed. It falls to the flavor industry to manufacture ways of putting the
flavor back in, through the sense of taste and smell. Schlosser visited the
International Flavors and Fragrances company, which adds aroma to french fries
as well as deodorant, dish-washing detergent and furniture polish. He told
Terry he was given blindfold tests with test tubes of fragrance.

Mr. ERIC SCHLOSSER (Journalist): Well, I really enjoyed my visit to IFF. It
was like visiting Willy Wonka's factory. And the flavor industry came out of
the perfume industry because they both deal with these very volatile essential
oils and the sense of smell. And so the taste test that I had at IFF was a
taste test without any food. They would dip--or I would dip a slip of paper
into a bottle containing this liquid and then smell the paper. And with your
eyes closed, it was extraordinary how powerfully you could get a sense of
those foods. The most incredible was grilled hamburger. And I dipped a small
piece of paper into a bottle of liquid, closed my eyes and smelled, and you
could have sworn there was someone grilling burgers in the room.

TERRY GROSS, host:

Now is this because of them reducing the essence of hamburger into this test
tube or is this all chemically done?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, all aromas from foods are composed of very, very complex
mixtures of chemicals. And by creating a recipe with the right chemicals, you
can conjure up the smell of, and the flavor of, just about any food that you
want. If you go into a grocery store and start looking at the packaged foods,
or you look at the ingredients in fast food, there'll always be this phrase
right around towards the end, `natural flavor' or `artificial flavor,' and
those ingredients are a huge mix of chemicals that are put together to create
the sense of that food.

GROSS: What's the difference between natural and artificial flavor?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, the difference between natural and artificial flavor is
that people prefer to see natural flavor on their foods, and it costs a little
more, but ultimately the distinction is a little bit arbitrary. I mean,
natural flavors and artificial flavors are being manufactured at exactly the
same specialty chemical plants. One chemist told me that the difference
between a natural flavor and an artificial flavor is that the natural flavor
is made with an obsolete technology. What's happened is that we have come to
rely so much on processed food that is frozen or dehydrated or it needs to be
microwaved, that the taste of our food now comes from these factories. And
it's not necessarily dangerous or bad for you, or it's not necessarily
something to be afraid about. It's just, I think, a very telling detail about
what's happened to our food system in the last 30 to 40 years.

GROSS: What I often wonder is are these flavor enhancers intensified flavor?
In other words, like, if you're eating fast food, does it taste even more
hamburgery or even more french fry-like than a home-cooked hamburger or french
fry would taste? And, if so, what impact does that have on your taste buds?
Does unprocessed food start to seem meek and mild in comparison?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, the flavor industry has gotten to an incredibly
sophisticated point in its development, so that they can create flavors that
are extremely subtle and lifelike. Or they can make flavors that are exactly
what you described, that are intense exaggerations. And they have flavors that
they now invent for particular markets. They have flavors that are directed
at particular age groups. For example, children's flavorings tend to be much
stronger. And some of these fast-food flavorings would be much stronger. But
if you go to a health food store, it's remarkable how many health foods that
are processed, have natural flavors that are being made by the same companies,
and they tend to be more subtle and sophisticated. This industry has
developed, again, in the last 25 to 30 years and it's got segments and market
niches for every kind of consumer you can name.

GROSS: Do most of the fast-food, say, hamburger and french fry restaurants go
for the intensified approach to flavor?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, fast-food flavors tend to be less subtle than most
other flavors. And in the book I write about french fries. McDonald's french
fries are legendary for being the best-tasting french fries in the fast-food
industry. And if you look at the list of ingredients in McDonald's french
fries, there's a hint why. At the end, there's a phrase `natural flavor,' and
that flavor most likely is a beef flavor. McDonald's used to fry its fries in
beef tallow and switched to vegetable oil in 1990, but they still wanted to
maintain that very subtle taste of beef and that's where it comes from, from
the natural flavor. McDonald's will only acknowledge that that natural flavor
comes from, quote, "an animal product," unquote, but doesn't go beyond that.
And the fries are delicious.

GROSS: So the beef taste is the flavor enhancer stuff that's done at the
chemical plant?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Absolutely. There is a flavor additive in McDonald's french
fries that is manufactured and added during the processing phase that gives
them that extra little oomph.

GROSS: My guest is Eric Schlosser and his new book is called "Fast Food
Nation."

You visited a plant in Idaho that's one of the biggest french fry factories in
the world. You say you saw 20 million pounds of french fries, most of them
destined for McDonald's. Tell us a little bit about the process.

Mr. SCHLOSSER: The french fry factory was extraordinary. From the outside,
parts of the inside also, it could have been an oil refinery. It was just a
gigantic, gigantic factory where potatoes enter in one end, and out the other
end are these sealed bags of perfect-looking french fries that are frozen and
ready to be reheated all over the United States. And there are electric eyes
that spot imperfections in the french fries as they go down the conveyer belt
and compressed air blows the defective fries off of the belt and miniature
knives controlled by robots and machines cut off the imperfections and then
return the fries to the conveyer belt. It's an extraordinary thing to see.
And, again, the fries that I had there were delicious, but it's a very far cry
from how french fries used to be made, which was to peel the potatoes in the
back of the restaurant, cut them up and fry them.

GROSS: There are people in lab coats monitoring the french fry process. What
are they measuring?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: They're measuring the sugar content of the fries. One of the
key things about fast food is maintaining a uniformity and a consistency so
that the food tastes everywhere exactly the same. And they want to make sure
that each batch of fries is going to be exactly the same in size, shape, sugar
content so that they'll fry the same way.

One of the main points of the book is exploring how these huge fast-food
companies have led to a similar centralization in how we produce our food.
That's completely changed to how food is produced and processed and eaten in
the United States.

GROSS: Yeah. Before we get to the processing and production of food, let's
talk about the uniformity from franchise to franchise in the fast-food chains.
I mean, having this huge french fry plant is one way of ensuring that the
french fries are uniform. What are some of the other standards that are set,
for instance, at McDonald's?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, McDonald's has a huge, thick book which is known as the
bible, which is how everything is to be done within the restaurant. Not only
that, but the kitchens at McDonald's are highly dependent now on technology
that requires as little skill as humanly possible to operate. And so working
in a McDonald's kitchen is really a process of responding to various flashing
lights and buzzers. And by creating this incredibly complex operating system
reflected in the manual, and all this technology at all these different
kitchens, they can accomplish two things: They can make sure, as much as
humanly possible, that the food tastes everywhere exactly the same; and they
can reduce their dependence as much as possible on having to hire any skilled
labor whatsoever.

In the early days of McDonald's, they needed skilled, short order cooks. But
by having everything in a book and by having everything dependent, both on the
food arriving--they're frozen and already processed--and on these machines in
the kitchen, they can rely on workers who don't have many skills and aren't
going to gain many skills.

GROSS: Well, you write about how the meat industry is being transformed. You
say chicken was first. And part of the reason why chicken was transformed was
because of chicken nuggets. What did chicken nuggets do to the chicken
industry?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: The Chicken McNugget had a revolutionary influence on the
poultry industry. Chicken was already growing in popularity because of its
health benefits, as opposed to beef, but the Chicken McNugget was the first
mass-produced manufactured poultry commodity. And whereas most people used to
buy their chickens whole and cook them in an oven, the Chicken McNugget really
sped up the development of value-added foods in poultry. So that now the
overwhelming majority of chicken is bought in pieces or as McNuggets. And it
also helped bring to prominence a company called Tyson, which is now the
biggest chicken company in the world, and which manufactures a huge proportion
of the McNuggets for McDonald's and also supplies poultry to 90 of the 100 top
restaurant chains.

GROSS: You say that fast food encouraged a system of production that turned
many chicken farmers into little more than serfs. What do you mean by that?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, that wasn't only the fast-food industry. It was really
the rise of these big poultry companies. And as the industry
concentrated--and the concentration both in the poultry industry and in the
meat industry is in response to the concentration in the restaurant industry
and in the supermarket chains, because McDonald's doesn't want to deal with
100 suppliers. They want to deal with three or four or five. So as their
suppliers get bigger and bigger and more powerful, the farmers who raise
chickens have fewer and fewer people to sell their chickens to.

And you can really look, by region after region, as these chicken companies
have gotten more and more powerful, they have come up with contracts for the
poultry growers that are really ultimately little different from sharecropping
contracts. For example, in almost all of these contracts, the big poultry
company owns the birds from the moment that the eggs are dropped off until the
moments that they're brought in and picked up at the farm for slaughter. But
the grower has to do all the capital investment to raise these chickens. And
the average income of these poultry growers is extremely low. In some cases,
the average is about $15,000 a year.

And what you see in the poultry industry is really the fear of a lot of
cattlemen also, that the ranchers of America are going to soon become like the
poultry growers and little more than sharecroppers.

GROSS: Whey are they concerned that the beef industry is going to take the
turn that the poultry industry did?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, in the book, I write about how their concern is that
they're going to become like chicken farmers simply because they saw how
chicken farmers went from being independent farmers essentially to
sharecroppers. Now their reason of concern is quite simple. Tyson is
planning right now to purchase IBP, which is the largest beef meat-packing
company in the United States. And many people think that Tyson may use the
same methods with ranchers, or try to use the same methods, that they have
successfully used with poultry farmers.

GROSS: You visited a slaughterhouse. How has the approach to killing cattle
in a slaughterhouse changed recently?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: At the same time that the fast-food industry has grown
exponentially in the United States--and I just want to give a quick sense of
how fast and sudden this growth has been really. In 1968, there were about
1,000 McDonald's. Now there are about 28,000 McDonald's; and there are 2,000
new ones every year. At the same time the fast-food industry grew, the
meat-packing industry was revolutionized. And again, in order to supply
McDonald's, you needed big, big meat-packing companies that could provide a
uniform product. And one of the things they did in these meat-packing plants
was to almost bring a fast-food mentality to how they treat their workers
there.

Meat-packing used to be one of the highest-paid industrial jobs in the United
States, and remained so until the 1970s. Now it's one of the lowest-paying
industrial jobs in the United States. It's the most dangerous industrial job
in the United States. And the pay is terrible and the working conditions are
terrible. And I saw that in the meat-packing plant that I visited in the High
Plains.

GROSS: What was the most dangerous about working there?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: The speed of the production line has been increased so much
that it's almost unbelievable. In the '70s, when there was a strong union
work force, these production lines slaughtered about 175 cattle an hour. Now
they slaughter anywhere from 350 to 400 cattle an hour down one single
production line. And cattle are being slaughtered and processed essentially
like they were 100 years ago. There are some power tools, but basically the
most important tool in a modern slaughterhouse is still a sharp knife being
wielded by a human being. And when you have hundreds of people along the line
with knives working at an incredibly fast pace, people get cut. They cut
themselves. They cut people next to them. And the most common industry--the
most common injury, I'm sorry, in a slaughterhouse today is a laceration, is a
cut.

GROSS: So you think that working conditions have gotten worse in the
meat-packing plants. Let's talk a little bit about working conditions for the
people who give you the burgers and the fries, the people who actually work in
the fast-food restaurants. I think most people know that there are few
full-time jobs for people who work at fast-food operations. What are the
wages like?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, the wages in the fast-food industry are the lowest of
any industry. And just to put things into perspective, I mean, the working
conditions in America's meat-packing plants are the worst that I've ever seen.
And I did a long piece on migrant labor in California. It's nowhere near as
bad in America's fast-food restaurants. But the pay is the lowest. The
fast-food industry is the largest minimum wage-paying industry in the United
States.

The industry made a deliberate decision that, instead of having a small,
well-trained, relatively well-paid work force, they would instead have a
large, poorly trained, poorly paid work force. And as a result, there is huge
turnover in the fast-food industry, anywhere from 300 to 400 percent a year,
which means the typical fast-food worker quits or is fired every three to four
months.

Because so much of the knowledge and the skill is built into the operating
system, is built into the technology that they have in these kitchens, it's
really a job that involves following orders and doing things according to the
book with very little initiative, and it's deliberately kept that way.

GROSS: Well, you could argue that this type of job has its place,
particularly for teen-agers who don't necessarily plan to keep a job for a
long time. They can get a job, make a few dollars and leave.

Mr. SCHLOSSER: There's no question there are some very good things about
these fast-food jobs. Some of the poorest, most disadvantaged people in
America get their first jobs at fast-food restaurants, as do many teen-agers.
But there's no reason why these jobs need to be structured this way.

There's one fast-food chain that stands apart from the rest, which is In and
Out Burger in California. It's a large, regional chain. And starting workers
at In and Out earn $8 an hour. The typical manager at In and Out earns
$80,000 a year. They provide medical coverage, dental coverage to full-time
workers. They have very low menu prices. And they're very successful.

So the fast-food industry has pursued a certain model of labor organization,
which is anti-union, which is really keeping workers as unskilled as possible.
But it was by no means inevitable they'd do so, and it's not the only way.
If you look at the rise of the fast-food industry, it's directly linked to
the decline in the minimum wage in the United States. The minimum wage peaked
around 1968 and declined 40 percent for the next 20, 25 years. That's when
the fast-food industry grew exponentially. And if you look in Congress...

GROSS: You mean decline according to the cost of living.

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Declined in real terms. The minimum wage fell by 40 percent
after 1968. And those are the years that the fast-food industry grew
exponentially. And if you look in Congress, the fast-food and the restaurant
industry are the biggest opponents of any rise in the minimum wage. And
that's because they've set up their restaurant kitchens so that they're
dependent on large numbers of unskilled, poorly paid workers.

GROSS: Have the fast-food operations worked to keep out unions?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: McDonald's, in particular, has been expert at keeping out
unions. Again, part of their labor structure, labor organization is ideal for
keeping out unions. If you have 300 to 400 percent turnover, people quitting
every three to four months, if you have large numbers of unskilled workers or
teen-agers or recent immigrants, these are the most difficult people for labor
unions to organize traditionally. So part of the turnover and part of their
recruitment of recent immigrants and teen-agers is intentionally, or maybe
unintentionally, part of their anti-union efforts.

GROSS: One of the chapters in your book has the subtitle An Ideal System For
Pathogens. Do you think that fast food is connected to the rise in food-borne
illnesses?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, there's no question that the concentration and the
restructuring of the meat-packing industry in particular is a perfect vehicle
for the widespread transmission of all kinds of pathogens. And you really see
that with E. coli 0157:H7, which is the hamburger bacteria that is especially
lethal for small children and the elderly.

GROSS: Well, tell us more about that. Why? What accounts for it?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, if you went back in time 25 or 30 years ago, ground
beef was typically produced by small processors or it was made in the back of
a grocery store from old scraps--or leftover scraps of meat. So when you got
a package of ground beef there may be portions of one or two different cattle.
Maybe only one cattle in that package.

The typical fast-food hamburger today has pieces of, dozens, if not hundreds,
of individual cattle in it. And that's because the ground beef is being made
at gigantic processing plants, often near these same slaughterhouses in the
High Plains. One of these plants can produce 800,000 pounds of ground beef a
day. And it's just a gigantic admixture of thousands of cattle. If one of
those cattle is sick, it contaminate an enormous amount of that ground beef.

One estimate is that one diseased cattle can contaminate 32,000 pounds of
ground beef. And that ground beef isn't being sold locally like it was 25 or
30 years ago. That ground beef may be shipped throughout the entire United
States and often overseas. So one sick steer can created havoc and make
people sick throughout the United States and in foreign countries.

GROSS: And is that directly related to fast food or just to, like, all the
changes in meat processing?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: All the changes in meat processing, but you have to keep in
mind that the McDonald's Corporation is the largest purchaser of beef and pork
in the United States and the second largest purchaser of chicken. So an
enormous amount of the changes that we've seen in meat-packing has been to fit
the needs of McDonald's, of Burger King and the other fast-food chains.

GROSS: Are there any special safety precautions that the fast-food chains
take in preparing meat and chicken to make sure that infection isn't spread
from the food?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: The fast-food chains, after the Jack-in-the Box outbreak,
have really worked hard to prevent contamination in the meat and everything
else they sell. The fast-food contracts with the meat-packing companies are
extremely stringent in terms of the testing of the meat and what level of
bacteria count is allowed in the meat. And they require stringent testing for
E. coli 0157. And Jack-in-the-Box really took the lead in insisting on that.

So the meat that's being sold in McDonald's and Jack-in-the-Box is the most
tested meat in the United States. The unfortunate thing about that is some of
the dirtiest meat and some of the least tested meat is being sold to America's
supermarkets and being served to American schoolchildren in the schools. The
fast-food companies have demanded much more stringent bacterial testing than
the US government has for the American people. One of the odd...

GROSS: Did you find that paradoxical?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, one of the ironies is that the fast-food companies have
played a central role in creating the conditions for these pathogens to
spread. But right now are avoiding the worst consequences because they have
the buying power to insist on the cleanest need. So a rational government, or
a rational system of government would demand for ordinary consumers the same
level of testing and hygiene that the fast-food companies are now getting from
their suppliers.

GROSS: Now you mentioned that McDonald's is the company that buys the most
beef and pork in the United States. What do they do with the pork?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, they are now adding bacon to their burgers.

GROSS: Oh, sure.

Mr. SCHLOSSER: And they serve it with their breakfasts, with their breakfast
meals. And, you know, McDonald's purchasing decisions have an incredible,
incredable affect on commodity markets. This past summer, anticipating
protests against biotech foods, McDonald's basically told its suppliers it
would no longer purchase any genetically engineered potatoes. And as a
result, the market for genetically engineered potatoes in the United States
just about vanished. McDonald's control and power over these markets, on the
one hand, has a lot of harmful effects; on the other hand, I think it has a
great deal of potential for changing the way that things are and changing a
lot of the abuses. If McDonald's were to say tomorrow that it would no longer
purchase beef from meat-packing plants where workers were being mistreated, I
can guarantee you that the working conditions in those meat-packing plants
would change immediately.

GROSS: McDonald's not only buys more beef and pork than any other company in
the United States, it operates more playgrounds than any other private entity.
I think we've all seen the playgrounds attached to McDonald's restaurants.
Why are they emphasizing playgrounds?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, McDonald's made the decision, very early on, that it
would be a place for families and that it would address a great deal of its
marketing to children. And adding playgrounds to its restaurants was just
part of that strategy. And, again, there's an insidious side of it, of
targeting children, but there's also the side that in a lot of communities,
where local governments are unwilling to build playgrounds, McDonald's is a
place where people can bring their children to play. Now there are costs for
that because McDonald's is marketing to children food that is extremely
unhealthy for children.

GROSS: And what's unhealthy about it for children?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, if you look at the Happy Meals and the children's meals
being sold by the fast-food companies, they're extremely high in saturated
fats and salts and sugars. And children develop their taste for food that
then become life-long tastes, in these early years. And the fast-food
companies have encouraged eating habits that have led to an enormous rise in
obesity, not only among children, but also among adults in the United States.
If you look at the rise in obesity in the United States on a graph, it neatly
parallels the growth of the fast-food industry. Now fast food isn't the only
cause: a lack of exercise and spending too much time in front of the TV are
contributing factors. But worldwide, wherever the fast-food restaurants have
gone, obesity has increased at roughly the same rate.

MOSS-COANE: We'll continue with Terry's interview with Eric Schlosser after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Eric Schlosser. His new book is called "Fast Food Nation:
The Dark Side of the All-American Meal."

So one other facet of the fast-food industry I want to ask you about and that
is fast-food restaurants have become big targets for robbers. And you say
that the fast-food chains are even bigger targets than gas stations and
convenience stores. Why is that?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, it's very hard to get the exact numbers on restaurant
robberies because the restaurant industry has fought and fought against having
anyone compile them nationwide. But the convenience stores and gas stations
that used to be such an easy target, as well as the banks, have taken all
kinds of steps, in the last 15 to 20 years, to prevent being robbed. Which
leaves fast-food places. Which, increasingly, are open late at night, are
staffed by young employees and have an incredible amount of cash on hand. So
fast-food restaurants are now much more attractive targets than convenience
stores. At 7-Eleven's the average robbery now gets about $37 because of how
they manage their cash at 7-Eleven.

If you hit a fast-food restaurant in the right way, at the right time, you can
get thousands and thousands of dollars, and young employees. And I found this
again and again, when I spent time with high school kids who are working at
these restaurants, they had no idea that these were such dangerous jobs in the
very early hours when the restaurant's opening, or in the late evening hours,
right before closing time. One of the most chilling statistics is that about
two-thirds of all fast-food robberies are committed with the help of current
or former employees. So these are inside jobs and I think that statistic
shows you the degree of loyalty that these employees have to their businesses.
There's enormous turnover and there's a feeling that their employer doesn't
care about them, so these places are fair game to rob.

GROSS: Well, I imagine some people might take a job in the first place with
the intention of later robbing the store. The whole point of the job is to
scope it out inside.

Mr. SCHLOSSER: That's absolutely true, but if you look at the people who the
fast-food chains tend to employ and the demographic for robbery, there's a
very close correlation between economic background and age, ect., ect. Short
of robbery, though, studies have found that more than half of fast-food
employees who don't commit a robbery steal from their employers, and that
doesn't include eating food that they're not supposed to eat. So I think that
on both sides of the labor equation, there's not a great deal of loyalty, at
the moment, in the fast-food industry.

GROSS: I think your book, in some ways, reads like a lot of tradeoffs. You
know, fast food is comparatively inexpensive. It's, you know, about the
cheapest food you can eat. But there are tradeoffs that come with that. The
employees aren't well paid, there's a lot of ripple effects in the rest of the
economy and the food industry that haven't necessarily been good. Did you
find this to be a series of tradeoffs yourself?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, I tried to write something that wasn't black and white
and that didn't demonize people and that tried to show the complexity of
what's happened. And in the fast-food industry, I don't think that most of
the people are bad people, I think they're businesspeople. There are enormous
tradeoffs and what I really tried to show was the real cost of this food
because it is inexpensive food and it is convenient and most of it tastes
pretty good. It's designed to taste good. But I tried to show all the other
consequences that you don't think about and that aren't reflected in the menu
price of fast food.

GROSS: Consequences like the ones we've been talking about. Any other
consequences you want to mention that you haven't referred to?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Well, the main consequences are the influence of that
fast-food industry on the service sector economy and how work is structured.
They really changed the American diet. A hamburger, french fries is really a
post-War American meal. And, as we were just talking about, obesity. I mean
the cost of obesity is 300,000 people a year dying in the United States and
$250 billion in health costs. One thing we maybe haven't talked about as much
is, literally, the influence of fast food on the landscape and on the
community. The fast-food industry, and particularly McDonald's, created a
business model that's been imitated all across the retail economy. The whole
idea of creating a specific retail environment and then reproducing it again
and again and again, thousands of times in different places, really started
with McDonald's and the fast-food industry.

And now, you know, the founders of the Gap were quite open about how they were
inspired by McDonald's and KFC. But also Sunglass Hut and Banana Republic and
all these other chain stores that have made the outskirts of one American
community almost indistinguishable from the outskirts of another American
community, really started out with the fast-food industry and it spread across
the world so that you can be very, very far away from the United States and
have the odd feeling that you've never left home.

GROSS: What are a couple of the most absurd moments that you witnessed while
covering the fast-food industry?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: It's hard to pick. There were so many. I think that being
at the Flavor Factory(ph) was an extraordinary experience and that was a
fascinating day. I went to a fast-food convention at the Mirage in Las Vegas,
where Mikhail Gorbachev was the keynote speaker, and that was a really surreal
experience because here was the former head of the great enemy of America,
really speaking in the temple of the new America and praising fast food and
seeking investment from fast-food executives. And it reminded me of the days
in ancient Rome, when in ancient Rome, whenever they conquered another
country, they would bring the conquered leader of that country and put him on
display in the circus. And seeing Mikhail Gorbachev before these fast-food
executives had somewhat the same feel to me.

GROSS: If you were king of the world, is there anything you would want to do
to reform the industry?

Mr. SCHLOSSER: If I were king of the world, I would really try to internalize
the costs that they're imposing, left and right, on the rest of society. And
the business has so been driven solely by the profit motive, without any
regard for some of the consequences and I think that many of these
consequences were unintended, unintentional, that I'm not blaming them
personally. There's a very big difference between having 1,000 McDonald's and
having 28,000 McDonald's. The first thing that I would do, the most important
thing I would do would be prevent them from marketing food to children that is
extremely unhealthy for children. And in Western Europe, you're finding
countries are banning the advertising of unhealthy food to children. It's one
thing if a grownup wants to walk in and get a triple cheeseburger with bacon
and a large order of fries, but Happy Meals that are advertised so
aggressively to children shouldn't be so unhealthy.

The other thing that I would do if I could wave a magic wand and change the
industry: This summer, McDonald's issued new rules for its suppliers about
how poultry and livestock should be treated. And this was in response to
protests by animal rights organizations. And so McDonald's has issued edicts
saying that animals should be treated humanely by its suppliers. And I would
really like to see McDonald's take the same interest in human beings who are
being employed by these suppliers. McDonald's, again, could change the
working conditions in these meat packing plants almost overnight if it
demanded these changes. And meat packing is the most dangerous job in the
United States today.

GROSS: Well, Eric Schlosser, I want to thank you very much for talking with
us.

Mr. SCHLOSSER: Thank you, very much.

GROSS: Eric Schlosser is a correspondent for Atlantic Monthly and the author
of "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal."

MOSS-COANE: Coming up, we remember the '60s band, the MC5. This is FRESH
AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Profile: Punk rock band MC5
MARTY MOSS-COANE, host:

It's been said that the Velvet Underground didn't sell that many records but
everybody who bought one, started a band. That's often the case with
influential groups. Today, Ed Ward looks at the MC5, which wound up a legend
because of their political stance and because of their influence on the punk
rockers who came a decade after them.

(Soundbite of concert)

Mr. ROB TYNER (Singer, MC5): Whama, whama, five, five, five. Huh, huh, ha,
hey, ho, ho, ow, ow, yeah, ungh, hey, ungh, hey, oh, huh, yeah, ungh, yeah,
yeah, oh, ungh, yeah. Hey! Star child. Brother Wayne Clamett. Brother
Wayne Clamett. Oh, yeah. My, my, oh, yeah.

ED WARD reporting:

In the '60s, everyone knew there'd be a revolution. And everyone knew that
one of the most integral parts of the revolution would be rock 'n' roll. The
only snag was, where would it come from? The Beatles and The Stones were
wealthy men already. No matter how much they mouthed their support, they were
suspect. Plus, they were British. What was needed was an American band to do
the job. This was the weight the MC5 wound up carrying and it was both their
blessing and curse. They had the revolutionary credentials: They were
working-class, they had the support of their peers and they were really good.
The MC stood for Motor City and nobody in Detroit argued, they deserved it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. TYNER: (Singing) Since night time is the right time to spin the one you
see, when I call my baby, don't follow me. I'm in the mood. I'm in the mood.
I'm in the mood. I'm in the mood. Oh, Lord, I'm in the mood. I'm in the
mood. Come on. All right.

WARD: They were loud, bratty and looked like stars. They idolized James
Brown and Sun-Rah(ph), alongside Chuck Berry and when John Sinclair, who
became their first manager, saw them, he knew he found what he wanted.
Sinclair had a plan to organize the white working class as efficiently as the
Black Panthers did in their community. He was a jazz fan, a poet and a
charismatic guy, so his White Panthers had attracted a core of idealistic
youth. The MC5 became their official band. Their shows at Detroit's Grande
Ballroom were legendary, thanks to the fervor of the White Panthers' minister
of information, Jesse Crawford, who whipped the crowd up before the band
played a single note.

(Soundbite of MC5 concert)

Mr. JESSE CRAWFORD (Minister of Information, White Panthers): Brothers and
sisters, I want to see your hands up there. Let me see your hands. I want
everybody to kick up some noise. I want to hear some revolution out there,
brothers. I want to hear a little bit of revolution.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. CRAWFORD: Brothers and sisters, the time has come for each and every one
of you to decide whether you are going to be the problem or whether you are
going to be the solution.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. CRAWFORD: You must choose, brothers, you must choose. It takes five
seconds, five seconds of decision. Five seconds to realize your purpose here
in the planet. It takes five seconds to realize that it's time to move, it's
time to get down with it. Brothers, it's time to testify and I want to know,
are you ready to testify?

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. CRAWFORD: Are you ready? I give you a testimonial, the MC5.

(Soundbite of music and cheering)

WARD: Electra Records signed the MC5 in a flash, recording them live at the
Grande over Halloween weekend, 1968. But they made a huge mistake:
Introducing the second song, the album's title track "Kick Out the Jams,"
vocalist Rob Tyner had used an expletive never before heard on a record. The
band had subsequently overdubbed the phrase `Brothers and sisters,' but the
record company went ahead with the uncensored version. Wholesalers, in
droves, followed the lead of Detroit's biggest record chain and refused to
stock the album. It charted well, but air play was zilch and Electra dropped
them. A fan came out of the woodwork, a rock critic named Jon Landau. He
offered to produce their second album and after they signed with Atlantic, he
did. With John Sinclair jailed for marijuana possession, the band was on its
own. It toned down the politics slightly and made "Back in the USA," a more
radio-friendly album, almost.

(Soundbite of album "Back in the USA")

Mr. TYNER: (Singing) All right, kids, let's get together and have a ball.
Sitting in the classroom, give your heart a blindfold. Stomach gets a feeling
and your head begins a wheeling. You didn't hear what the teachers say.
Because the news is going down about the rock (unintelligible) band's in town
and you know I just got to hear that band play. Tonight.

Singers: Tonight.

Mr. TYNER: Tonight.

Singers: Tonight.

Mr. TYNER: Tonight.

Singers: Tonight.

Mr. TYNER: Oh, tonight.

WARD: Landau's studio inexperience showed. The mix was terribly thin and
diluted the power of what it sounded like, in John Sinclair's words, `A guitar
army.' The album flopped. The band continued to tour but they found it hard
to get jobs outside of the Midwest. The hippies on the West Coast hated them,
the East Coast didn't know what to make of them and Britain was busy with its
own acts. But Atlantic gave them a second chance and a staff producer, and
the resulting album "High Time" was a masterpiece.

(Soundbite of album "High Time")

Mr. TYNER: (Singing) She still don't give a damn about evolution. She's a
liberated woman, she's got lonesome blues. She's like a dinosaur, she's going
off the wall, she going to make it, hold on to save. She's got a heart a
heart of gold, going to save the bitch's soul from going down Satan's highway.
She can, I know she can. I know she can, she's my sister pain. Such truth,
such beauty...

WARD: But this time the album sold even worse. It was 1971. There would be
no revolution. The band was racked with drug problems and internal
squabbling. And finally, in 1972, they called it quits, but not before they'd
done a short European tour. It's significant that the last recorded document
that we have from the MC5 is a song about cars.

(Soundbite of MC5 music)

Mr. TYNER: (Singing) Put it in first and then I punch it, listen to the
engine roar, lay a patch of rubber for a block and a half, then I push it on
down through the floor. Do I roll? Well, I guess, thunder express. I've got
a LS7 454 with a MC cam. I've got a voodoo head...

WARD: Yes, there would be no revolution, but there would be young kids who'd
listen to the MC5 and started their own bands. There would still be rock 'n'
roll.

MOSS-COANE: Ed Ward is a writer living in Berlin.

(Credits)

MOSS-COANE: I'm Marty Moss-Coane sitting in for Terry Gross.

(Soundbite of "Kick Out the Jams")

Mr. TYNER: (Singing) Yeah. Well, I feel pretty good and I guess that I
should lately now baby. 'Cause we all got to do them when the lesson grooves
gets hazy now baby. I know how you want it so much when it's tight, the girls
can't stand it when you do it right. 'Cause up they're up on the stands and
let me kick out the jams. Yeah, kick out the jams.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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