aps nothing is so ubiquitous in 21st-century America as fast food. Fully one-half of the country's food expenditures takes place in restaurants, and the large majority of those dollars is spent on fast food. It is no surprise that the two best-known brands worldwide are McDonald's and Coca-Cola. In Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser examines fast food "as a commodity and as a metaphor," and his new book a fascinating blend of cultural history and groundbreaking reportage should prove of interest to anyone who's ever polished off a Big Mac and fries.

Fast Food Nation tours the slaughterhouses and potato farms that supply this country's franchises. Readers get a look at the factories that develop and manufacture the smells that make Value Meals and combo specials so appealing. From nutritional content to labor practices, much of the book's material is unsettling. Just as the nation's sensibilities were shocked 100 years ago by Upton Sinclair's vivid descriptions of meat packing practices in The Jungle, so too will today's readers feel a bit squeamish about the slaughterhouses currently operating. As Schlosser reveals, fast food has shaped the nation's landscape more than most readers would imagine, and his consideration of the fast food phenomenon as a cultural metaphor is especially intriguing. With sensitivity and insight, he explores the ways in which the explosion of franchised restaurants has contributed to the homogenization of popular culture. This proliferation, he posits, says something about our lifestyles. The increase in restaurant meals, for example, is surely symptomatic of a society organized less around the family than around obligations and activities outside the home. Eric Schlosser, a contributing editor of Atlantic Monthly, has created a narrative that is at once artful and eye-opening, humorous and uniquely significant. By examining this particular facet of American culture, he has shed new light on our nation as a whole.

Mark Rembert writes from Nashville.

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