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Book reviews

Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal
By Eric Schlosser
Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004


By Stephany Moore

The 19th century was an era of great economic, technological, and social growth for America. Henry Ford developed the first Model-T in the 1900s and his assembly line production was introduced in 1913. The Great Depression of the ‘30s gave rise to Social Security. With the ‘50s came color TV and the opening of Disneyland. Microsoft was founded in the ‘70s and in the 21st century the obesity epidemic became a great issue. The question is, “What has been around through the years of America’s growth and development that has shaped what it is today?”

Follow Eric Schlosser as he journeys through the growth of American culture and one of the greatest, most successful businesses in our nation: the fast food industry.

Schlosser paints a vivid picture of the fast food industry’s growth into a super power in the business world, shaping and revolutionizing not only the diets of Americans, but also the values of immediate gratification and self-entitlement our society has come to embody.

The journey begins in Southern California, the birthplace of fast food. Schlosser follows Carl Karcher, a “founding father” of the fast food industry. Karcher pursues the dream of owning his very own hot dog cart, the first depiction of fast food, which would later inspire him to open Carl’s Jr. restaurant, one of the first franchised fast food chains in American history. At the same time, competitors Richard and Mac McDonald developed their own “Speedy Service” at their restaurant. What the brothers didn’t realize was that they had just embarked on multibillion-dollar company that would later be one of the most recognizable corporations to Americans of all ages.

Though the fast food industry was founded upon dreams of the future and the simple pleasures of providing a speedy quality service, Schlosser discovers that it has developed into something quite different. With the exceptionally rapid advances in technology, CEOs and other top executives of these franchised companies may have lost sight of the American dream of peace, happiness, and prosperity. Although the technology greatly increased the speed of production, Schlosser writes that it forced small farmers, processors, and wholesalers out of business, and took advantage of the potato farmers and chicken growers, who are underpaid with no escape from the mounds of debt they have incurred.

In possibly the most graphic chapter of the story, Schlosser takes the reader on a tour through the meatpacking plants, unearthing the dangerous, gruesome, inhumane conditions the IBP employees are tricked into working in. This is exploitation at its finest.

Schlosser is a skilled artist, painting the scenery of the American landscape and how it has transformed from greener pastures filled with hopes and dreams of the American people to a technology driven power hungry nation that capitalizes on the misfortunes of others. This disturbing, yet captivating journey of the rise of the fast food industry will leave you questioning whether you will ever again order a standardized, quarter-inch, crispy, salted French fry.

 


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Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate
By Kelly Alexander and Cynthia Harris
Gotham Books 2008

Reviewed by Annarose Hart

With enough gumption for an army, Clementine Paddleford blazed the way into the culinary world one kitchen at a time. Kelly Alexander’s and Cynthia Harris’s biography, Hometown Appetites, is an intimate look into Clementine Paddleford’s legacy.  Paddleford set the bar high in the world for getting the true perspective of what it means to eat in America.  Paddleford shaped the way people tasted, felt, and viewed a meal from the hometown American kitchen through her chronicles of all matters relating to food; keeping her personal life tucked away.

Her mother’s charm, whit and preferences stuck to Paddleford like honey. One of Paddleford’s truly touching literary works is, A Flower for my Mother. Portions of the book appeared in This Week magazine. Feel the impressions of Mother to daughter. From the chapters Backbone and a Lilac Hedge Paddleford writes, “And I hear her say as plain as print, “Don’t whine over evils daughter, sharpen your teeth on them.” True grit was born.

Alexander and Harris leave no stone unturned to rediscover Paddleford’s palette of life. Hometown Appetites explores Paddleford’s career with brief glimpses into her personal life. The reader dances in and out of an atypical marriage, an acquired daughter and the discovery of what it means to charm the taste buds of an entire country. Not everything in her life was a piece of cake. Hometown Appetites does not only tell the story of the life Paddleford lived, but it slips in recipes that allowed her to define her own world as she made her own rules.  The writers rediscover what it meant to be Clementine Paddleford, and can see how she thrived in the food journalism world at its infancy.

Mother of Food Writing and culinary Sherlock Holmes Clementine was the chosen one to find kitchen secrets for the public eye. She goes as far as coaxing secret ingredients from famous chefs who have kept their recipe secret for generations. When she was not successful in these endeavors, it was common for her to nail down the exact recipe from a dish with the test kitchen staff.

Young KSU graduates hits the road

She traveled the country with a constant gusto; cape and neck ribbon secure. Paddleford, never a dreamer and miles away from being sensitive, was in truth a sentimentalist.  Rooted by her mother’s strong upbringing Paddleford always held on to the words of her mother, “Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where your backbone ought to be.” The reader is constantly aware of her mother’s influence.

Paddleford’s lifestyle revolved around working diligently, and having plenty of fun along the way. This can be traced back to A Flower for my Mother, Mother Teaches Common Sense. “Nobody, no matter how poor, need take only the meat and potatoes of life. Just help yourself out to some of the strawberries with sugar and cream.” And oh! Did Paddleford find the cream! Without her mother’s influence, Paddleford would have been an artist without a patron.

Unlike Sherlock Holmes, Paddleford had a staff of fulltime admires constantly informing her of what to do, where to go, what to eat, and who to meet. Her fans gave color to her research, and gave a glow to her writing. Not only was the typical housewife an involved constituent, like other home economist journalists had, but they were men and women from all walks of life; army, professors, businessmen, politicians, and ranch hands alike. They filled the cities, the worked the family farm, and they all followed her recipes.

Throughout Paddleford’s life, she possessed an abundance of guts and persistence. Paddleford did whatever it took. She would go anywhere, taste and ask anything even with a high profile chef. Leaving no small detail unattended.  As quoted in Hometown Appetites, Paddleford about her beat: “It’s always important. It’s always interesting. I never find foods or food materials dull.” Paddleford had an ending appetite for knowledge. She showed no mercy in her quest for the perfect recipe.

Every assignment and pitch left Paddleford yearning for more. She sought out more perspectives, more dishes, and more untold secrets of the perfect casserole than anyone else in her field. She was relentless. Copy editors didn’t know what to do with her. Staff could not decide what to think of her. Everyone knew she was brilliant.

Book details writer’s cats, professionalism

Lovers when in and out of her life as often as the days of the week changed. Her constant companions where her cats. Hometown Appetites shares if a guest did not care for her cats, she did not care for the guest. It took everything to make her happy, and sometimes nothing at all. Paddleford didn’t have a taste for the nightlife. “Paddleford rarely went to evening events, preferring dinner at home. A long bath, a glass of wine, and playtime with her cat.”  Her lifestyle never kept her from a routine awakening of 5 a.m. to get a start on her daily columns. Her columns, books, features, and interviews were widely circulated throughout America, and Paddleford was a widely recognized professional.

Clementine Paddleford’s struggles through cancer and friendships never impaired her relationship with food and the people who touch it.  Her strong coffee kept her writing, and her admirers keep her work living.

Over time the strides she made for women in journalism, and journalists in the kitchen seem to have drowned in the history journals, personal blogs and websites that clutter the modern world. Alexander and Harris have preserved a fine history of Clementine Paddleford. Paddleford’s identity is reveals itself in the collection of books and papers Paddleford left to Kansas State University, as her alma mater to the Kansas State Agricultural College.

The world is in need of a Paddleford to request and deliver the truth of our hungry world. Our world is faced with the question of what is our food, and who is it made by. Paddleford informed America. Without her, people from all lifestyles are starving. Without Paddleford, who will find the cream of life?

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