Political Film Society - Fast Food Nation

PFS Film Review
Fast Food Nation


Fast Food NationThe formidable challenge facing viewers of Fast Food Nation, directed by Richard Linklater, is whether they can see the film and continue to patronize fast food restaurants or ever eat meat again. There is much more than lettuce, tomato, and a pickle between the two buns of the “Big One,” the movie’s depiction of the “Big Mac,” from the beginning to the end of the film. What one learns is a host of unpleasant facts about the $330 billion fast food industry. Cows are herded into pens of a single megacompany in a fictional Cody, Colorado, fed genetically modified food, produce more urine and feces than the entire city of Denver, are slaughtered by underpaid illegal immigrants who work under unsafe conditions, and then fecal contamination and artificial ingredients go into beef patties, which contribute directly to obesity. One story revolves around the neverending trek of illegal aliens into the United States who become untrained workers at the slaughterhouse, encountering so much stress that some take drugs to keep going, fearful that they cannot otherwise meet production demands. A second story involves management’s search for the source of the fecal contamination, a trail that leads from a phony tour of a slaughterhouse to a cynical meat inspector. The third story involves work at a fast food restaurant, where employees wear uniforms, read from a script written by management, and occasionally spit into the food to exhibit some individuality. A fourth story is derived from the panorama of fast food restaurants and megastores that litter the streets of a small town which presumably once had some character. The final story is about students who want to do something about cruelty to animals, which are kept prisoner behind fences while wallowing in their excrement. The most politically aware characters are college students. When preparation of a protest letter is nixed because the industry has secured political cover by appropriate campaign contributions that buy off government officials, the idea emerges that the fences should be cut so that the cattle can roam free on the range, fully aware that their ecoterrorist act may violate the Patriot Act, which they note can be applied to those engaging in traditional civil disobedience (perhaps thinking of peace groups that have been under FBI surveillance). However, when the students do so, the cattle refuse to run free, so they are back at square one. Among the many quotable epigrams in the film, perhaps the most biting is “This isn't about good people versus bad people. This is about the machine that's taken over the country." For a film that exposes immigrant exploitation and corporate manipulation of the political system, based on the nonfiction book of the same title by Eric Schlosser (à la Upton Sinclair’s 1906 classic Jungle that brought about the formation of the Food and Drug Administration), the Political Film Society has nominated Fast Food Nation for an award as best film exposé of 2006. MH

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