catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 24 :: 2006.12.29 — 2007.01.12


A drive-thru epidemic

“Food, one assumes, provides nourishment; but Americans eat it fully aware that small amounts of poison have been added to improve its appearance and delay its putrefaction.” Whatever was intended by John Cage aside, the world of fast food and instantaneous glut—this multi-billion dollar industry one dollar menu item at a time, complete with heat lamps, 64 oz. sodas, and French fried concoctions—is a receipt in most assured need of itemized audit.

Richard Linklater (A Scanner Darkly) brings us Fast Food Nation, his visual equivalent of the book upon which it is based, which is Eric Schlosser’s muckraking expose of the American culture's fascination with fast food, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal (2001). With a residual flair comparable to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1905), this modern ‘super sized’ analysis is actually a fictionalized account written by Schlosser himself alongside Linklater. The book and film expound and expand upon a cultural subject matter, Morgan Spurlock’s savory Super Size Me, that certainly needs to be just that, super sized. Many of us who are cantankerous to what some might note as the great culinary crock of Ray Kroc are desperate for some introspection on this insidious compulsion to drive-thru. While the masses are perhaps obese on convenience, they are also malnourished of reflection on the ramifications of such lifestyle. It is here that the film's impact should be most satisfying.

The film takes viewers on a drive-thru of the world of Mickey’s, the fast food chain restaurant home of “The Big One”, and the social players that live in this grand cosmos. Don Henderson is an executive who’s been sent by his boss into the field of small town America to subtly investigate a ‘special’ something that’s been discovered in the ‘special sauce’, so to speak. From the meat packing plant and its barrage of undocumented workers to the food handling precision of teenage employees, we discover a funhouse and slaughterhouse of human drama. Under the tutelage of Benny, a new delivery of workers discovers the high cost of low-price business.  Meanwhile, the worlds of corporate Americana coalesce with domesticity in this intriguing but chilling rendering of the truth about our ‘fast food nation’. With original music by Friends of Dean Martinez, the Linklater staples of cinematography by Lee Daniel and editing by Sandra Adair, the film features such players as Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Ethan Hawke, Avril Lavigne, Luis Guzman, Patricia Arquette, Wilmer Valderrama, and Greg Kinnear.

What is it about these mile-high signs that beckon us from the interstate highway into the idling and inching lines wrapped around building after building? Our food culture’s flair, extending from early innovations of individuals like Henry Ford and Walt Disney, has literally helped change the face of how we and our familial generations eat. This culture is fascinating but it is becoming moribund of its power and tantalizing deception. As ZZ Top noted in their 1983 hit, TV Dinners, perhaps an ugly cousin to the fast food world, “I throw ’em in and 'wave ’em and I’m a brand new man…” This fast and falsely efficient world is shedding light on the absurdity of the old idiom that “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.” To the contrary, we’re a culture in need of some expanse around our cognitive waste bands and this book and film can begin the feast. Schlosser and Linklater’s poignant call to arms is a small taste of home cooking that we all need to order up.

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