Looking for a riveting nonfiction work to sink your teeth into? Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation is an investigative nonfiction book that many students will find informative of the impact the fast food industry has had on American life. From discussing American dining culture to criticizing fast food’s effects on human health, Schlosser presents a multitude of hard-hitting facts that will provide an opportunity for open discussion and self-reflection in the classroom.

Often compared to The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, a work of fiction that aimed to expose corruption in the meatpacking industry of 20th-century America, Fast Food Nation reveals the shocking ethical issues ingrained within the fast food industry, exposing trends such as child-targeted advertising, the exploitation of minimum wage workers, and the hazardous conditions of modern meatpacking facilities. This book is a great way to introduce students to the concept of muckraking, known today as investigative journalism, and would be an excellent addition to English, history, or social studies class curriculums, or to any cross-curricular syllabus.

To dive even further into the text, you might encourage exploration of symbolism, including the significance of McDonalds’ golden arches and of ranchers. You can also examine key quotes and connect them to central themes of the book—themes involving nutrition and safety (or lack thereof), greed and consumerism, and the ramifications of bureaucracy and complex systems.

The book may even inspire your students to rethink their eating habits and pursue a healthier lifestyle—something we can all appreciate.

Summary of Fast Food Nation

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 2001
  • Length: 383 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 1240
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12
  • New York Times bestseller

This piece of investigative journalism dives headfirst into the fryer as author Eric Schlosser examines the fast food industry and its national and global influence. As the book begins with an overview of the history of fast food, it soon branches out to the specifics, such as the profitable methods of advertising to children, the working conditions of employees, and the range of ingredients that go into the products. Schlosser also criticizes the modern meatpacking industry, calling attention to the high risk of injury to its workers as well as the constant possibility of an E. coli outbreak. The final chapter warns that the spread of fast food chains around the world have increased obesity rates exponentially.

Content Warning: Fast Food Nation contains graphic descriptions of meat production that may disturb some readers.

What Your Students Will Love About Fast Food Nation

  • Discussing a topic that is relevant to the United States and to modern families
  • Debating the pros and cons of the fast food industry

Potential Student Struggles With Fast Food Nation

  • The one-sided view of the fast food industry
  • Disturbing scenes involving animal death

Learning Objectives for Teaching Fast Food Nation

  • Understand the business practices of one of the largest corporations in the world.
  • Recognize the historic origins of the fast food industry and its impact on American agriculture.
  • Investigate fast food’s short and long term effects on consumers’ physical and financial health.
  • Discuss the treatment of fast food industry employees and connect it to the state of turnover rates.
  • View the fast food industry through the perspectives of corporations and consumers.
  • Consider the ethics (or lack thereof) of the modern meatpacking industry.

Literary Elements in Fast Food Nation

  • Imagery
  • Investigative Journalism
  • Metaphor
  • Nonfiction
  • Symbolism
  • Theme

Major Themes in Fast Food Nation

Ethics — Much of the book focuses on where exactly the morals reside within the fast food industry and debates the industry’s necessity and importance.

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Consumerism — Huge corporations have a tight grip on both Americans and their own employees who are underpaid in the fast food restaurants.

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Individual & Society — The fast food industry affects people on a local and a global scale. Schlosser inspects how this industry influences both individuals and the population as a whole.

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Other Resources for Teaching Fast Food Nation

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