The Locavore’s Bookshelf: Chew On This

Eric Schlosser’s excellent book, Fast Food Nation is one of those works that is destined to become a classic work of non-fiction; the clarity of his prose and his arguments about the state of the US’s food culture, fat intake and fast food obsession ensure that anyone who reads the book -will- sit up and take notice of these problems. It is simply one of those books that cannot help but change the engaged reader once the information in it is digested and assimilated.

Chew On This, his newest work, which is written along as similar vein as Fast Food Nation, is however, aimed at a different audience, one that is the target of fast food marketing and is often exploited by the unfair labor practices of fast food restaurants: children and teens. Many reviewers have contended that Schlosser’s prose and language are too sophisticated for young readers; I disagree. Schlosser goes out of his way, for example, to neither talk down to his audience, nor to use language that is not likely to have been encountered by the average eight-year-old to teen reader. His grammar and syntax are also simple and direct, and his prose style is very conversational and informal, as if it is a transcript of a peer giving the skinny on the topic of fast food to some friends.

One rhetorical device Schlosser and his co-author Charles Wilson use to great effect is the personalization of the issues surrounding kids and fast food by presenting the specific stories of kids from across the country and Canada. In telling these tales the authors mostly get out of the way and allow their subjects to speak in their own words, which they use to narrate their own experiences. From the life of a teen fast food worker in West Virginia, to the tale of a young activist who fought against the sale of soda in her school, Schlosser’s tactic of allowing these young people to speak to their own experiences further enhances his point that fast food targets kids via marketing, and unfair labor practices, and that such marketing and maltreatment is neither ethical nor desireable.

In addition to personalizing the issue by giving examples from the lives of real kids, I hope that Schlossers illustrative examples also have the effect of inspiring his readers to stand up and act against fast food in large and small ways. Children and teens are often very idealistic and often have very passionate, informed opinions. However, they also often feel powerless to effect change in the word due to their young ages. Schlosser’s presentation of young people who -have- stood up for a cause and, in many cases, made positive changes in their communties have the potential to give hope and courage to kids of a similar mindset who may not believe that they are influential enough to make any sort of difference in the world of fast food.

Like Fast Food Nation, readers of Chew On This are likely to be propelled to think pretty deeply about food, where it comes from, how it is made and what goes into it. And that, to me, is the greatest effect that the book can have, whether it is with readers who are young or only young at heart.I think it is very important that young people be presented with an alternative view of fast food, so that they can make up their own minds about the issues surrounding it–with as much information as they need to make a wise and informed decision.

And that goes for everyone–not just kids–which is why I say that this book is well worthy to exist on the bookshelf of all people who are niterested in food and every locavore, no matter if they are eight or eighty.

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  1. It infuriates me that so many people think that things need to be “dumbed down” for teens! I am glad that Schlosser didn’t pander to that idea. I remember being a teen thinking, “Don’t patronize me. I may be young, but I am not stupid.” Teens are capable of all sorts of tremendous thought, if we only engage them.

    Little children too! They are sponges. Our neighbor, for example, is only three and her parents took her to a dinosaur exhibit at the Smithsonian. Afterwards, we adults learned more about dinosaurs from that 3-year-old than we ever cared to know.

    Comment by Sarah Irani — July 18, 2006 #

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