Fast Food Nation

I recently reread the book, Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser, for the third time. Like my favorite novel, The Jungle, written by Upton Sinclair, Fast Food Nation is a story that warrants a refresher every few years.

The book’s raw depiction of the social injustices in the exploitation of low-wage workers, especially immigrant workers, and the conditions they are forced to work in, the horrendously inhumane way our farm animals are slaughtered, and the portrayal of how the fast food industry has permanently changed the American landscape, make Schlosser’s book an incredibly educational read.

Fast Food Nation begins with fast food’s inception in Southern California in the 1950’s and takes the reader on its journey to becoming the most powerful industry in the country.

“The basic thinking behind fast food has become the operating system of today’s retail economy, wiping out small businesses, obliterating regional differences, and spreading identical stores throughout the country like a self-replicating code.” (Schlosser)

The takeover of the American culture by the over-franchised fast food industry, including restaurant chains like Applebees, Olive Garden, and Chili’s, has led to the homogenizing of the country’s scenery. No matter what state you travel, you will find a McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Wendy’s, cluttered along the state’s roads and highways, not to mention malls filled with the same retail stores.

“America’s streets and malls now boast the same Pizza Huts and Taco Bells, Gaps and Banana Republics, Starbucks and Jiffy Lubes…Almost every facet of American life has been franchised or chained.” (Schlosser)

When I first read this book ten years ago, I made a conscious effort to patronize independently owned restaurants that are unique to its own cities, establishments that give individual towns character. I no longer wanted to support the conformity the fast food industry has created and thrives on.

There are other reasons I learned from reading this book that encouraged me to turn my back on the fast food industry. Another being its unfair stranglehold of keeping minimum wage low, by employing strong lobbyists, despite the industry’s multi-billion dollar profits.

The industry has successfully kept their workers from unionizing. McDonalds went as far as shutting down one of its restaurants where workers were close to forming a union.

The high turnover rate of employment makes it hard for workers to unionize, but in recent years there has been a strong  national push among fast food workers to raise the minimum wage. I completely support this, and after reading this book and seeing how unscrupulous, greedy owners take advantage of their workers while reaping huge profits, I don’t see how most people wouldn’t agree with giving the county’s minimum wage workers a raise.

I’m sure I’ll be citing this book in any future blog I write regarding animal and worker’s rights. The horror of slaughterhouses and the dangers to its workers as companies sacrifice worker safety for profit.

These days it’s important to be a conscientiousness consumer.

 

 

Why Not Raise the Minimum Wage?

I was recently told by a friend who works at a register that she doesn’t think she deserves $15 an hour. She told me she knows too many people working “skilled” jobs who get paid $12 -$13 an hour. I told her I thought her “skilled” friends were grossly underpaid.

Is $15 an hour a lot of money? Does it put a person on easy street? Is it the kind of money that spoils a worker so much that those workers lose all ambition to get better paying jobs? When have people ever been discouraged from making more money?

A worker making $15 an hour, full-time, will bring home an annual salary of about $31,200 before taxes.

Is that a lot of money? Even for a person working an unskilled job. Is that a lot of money in today’s terms?

There has been a lot of talk and protests supporting the effort to raise the current minimum wage of $7.25 to $15 an hour. Of course, there has been tremendous push-back, too. Particularly from business owners.

There have been numerous strikes by fast-food workers demanding an hourly wage of $15. Almost immediately the cries of “Big Macs would cost $8.00!” or “A small fry will be $5.00!” rang out. Which are both untrue.

According to ABC News, the cost of a Big Mac will increase by .68 cents and everything on the McDonalds Dollar menu will shoot up a whopping .17 cents, if the company who makes over 2 billion dollars a year would be forced to pay their employees a living wage.

As it stands, the Federal minimum wage for 2015 is $7.25. An annual salary of $15,080. The Federal poverty level for a single person is $11,770 and for a family of two, $15,930. Even for a single person, a minimum wage job doesn’t give much leeway from falling into poverty levels. Especially since not all jobs guarantee a worker full-time hours, nor do they all provide sick days.

A gallon of gas costs about $2.49, but not long ago they were hovering around, and above, $4.00 a gallon.

According to The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, between 2011 and 2013, the median annual income in the US was $52,047.

A new car today averages about $31,000.

The average annual cost of college tuition at a 4-year institution is $23,600.

Depending on where you live, the average price of a home can cost $300,000 or more.

In 2015, the average cost of healthcare insurance for a single person is $5,615 and $15,745 for a family.

When we look at these expenses, does $31,000 a year really seem like a lot?

The Federal minimum wage in 1975 was $2.10. An annual salary of $4,368.

A gallon of gas in ’75 costs .57 cents.

The median annual income was $10,257.

A new car cost $3800.

The annual cost of college tuition at a 4-year institution was $2265.

The average two-bedroom home cost about $51,000.

Healthcare expenses were less than $1200 a person.

In 1975, the difference between a minimum wage job and the median annual income was $5,809.

In 2015, the difference is $36,967.

The difference between annual college tuition between 1975 and 2015 is $21,335.

The price of a car has risen by $27,200.

Homes have increased by almost $250,000.

The price of healthcare has rose astronomically and for people without insurance, according to CNBC, medical bills were the number one reason for bankruptcy filings in 2013, far outpacing credit card bills or unpaid mortgages.

Yet, with all these increases in expenses since 1975, the rate of minimum wage has risen a mere $5.15. In forty years.

This is sad. I know a minimum wage job is supposed to be a starting point, but it should provide a person a living that affords food, shelter, clothing, etc. A person working 40 hours a week, shouldn’t be a pay check away from living on the street because they can’t afford housing.

A few years ago, McDonalds was caught instructing their employees how to file for government help. This infuriated me because here is a company making billions of dollars a year, and even though they can afford to pay a higher wage, but choose not to because of greed, they force their employees on government help, and the US tax payers foot the bill.

There are many people, wealthy people, CEO people, making tens of millions of dollars a year, who love the attitude my friend expressed about not deserving $15 an hour. They love that because they want Americans happy to be working for less. More money for them. And these people won’t shy away from snagging that extra money. They’ll knock their grandmothers down getting to it first.

And they won’t ask if they deserve it. They’ll just take it.

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*The source for all my data was Kaiser Family Foundation.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net