Social and Political Interactions in “Fast Food Nation” and “The Jungle”
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser both display different patterns of social and political interaction. The Jungle is an intense, emotional story of the journey of a poor Lithuanian family who moved to Chicago for a chance at a new life. What they didn’t know, however, was the amount of corruption, criminality, and political arrogance that was involved in the setting of their desired life. Fast Food Nation is a nonfiction novel about the factors of the fast food industry that influence all the countries around the world. Comparing these books and the information that they hold can show how disturbing businesses and their practices in the industry really are.
These novels bring to words the continuous struggles that workers face, which has been about the same since the 1900s. The Jungle is focused around the meat-packing industry of Chicago, while Fast Food Nation is focused around the fast food industry nationwide. Socially, these novels discuss the mistreatment and poor wages of the workers; politically, they discuss the bias of political people against the industry workers.
There were many instances when politics interfered with safe and fair business practices in The Jungle. One of those instances, which, unfortunately, was very common during this time, was the use of sickly and supposed “diseased” meat so the most profits could continue to be made. The cattle that were meant to be thrown out, were instead continued along the butchering line, being sliced into every possible portion of meat that could be sold. This occurred again with making sausages; everything was included in the sausage, from old sausage that had been rejected, meat that had been dumped on the sawdust-covered floors that workers spit upon, meat that had water from the roofs leaking on it, meat that rats would run on, then the rats were poisoned and used as well. All of this damaged, disgusting meat was injected with chemicals and colorings to make it look like worthy meat. The business owners did everything possible to earn as much money as they could, and to pay their workers as little as they could. Thankfully, the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act were passed in 1906. The Pure Food and Drug Act was put in place to prevent the production and sale of poisonous, untreated, chemically adulterated food and other products, while the Meat Inspection Act made it mandatory for the livestock to be examined before entering the slaughterhouses, and furthermore the carcasses after slicing. Since the passage of these acts, there have been multiple other acts passed as well in order to keep the quality of America’s meat at the highest sterility level as possible.
However, decades later when the fast food industry was booming and meat for hamburgers was on high demand, other aspects of the meatpacking industry were cut short. According to Fast Food Nation, one of the best-paying manufacturing jobs turned into one of the worst-paying manufacturing jobs, had a workforce of mainly immigrant workers, and rarely considered injuries. The injury rate in the business was about three times higher than that in a regular factory, with the rate of trauma overtime in the business about thirty-three percent higher than the average. In order to keep the business running smoothly with no interferences, the companies would have a list of actual accident in the workplaces, then a list that they would turn in to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Ironically, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle is mentioned in Fast Food Nation and explains how the accuracy of the story brought attention to the subject by government officials and even the president of the time, Theodore Roosevelt. Eventually, the multiple unions that worked nationwide were able to accommodate the wages and treatments they knew they deserved.
A way that big businesses interact socially is how they will do anything for publicity, even if it involves pursuing children. Fast Food Nation explains the thought process behind businesses using kids as their main source of income. They use their mascots, toys, building playgrounds, and other “kid-friendly” materials to lure the children to their restaurants or stores. Children can normally identify objects and their names, especially if they are ones that kids enjoy, between two and three years of age. Companies use their mascots to build up an emotional relationship with the children that can continue to grow as they age. Children are also targeted by companies’ mascots to promote food products and maintain as many sales as possible, even if their products are not beneficial or factors in a healthy lifestyle. When children are more able to recognize a company’s mascot, more likely than not, they are going to purchase from that same company.
Not only do companies grab at children through their mascots, but they also bring their advertisements to the school setting. School districts that were struggling would invest in big companies, like Burger King or Coca-Cola, for example, and receive large sums of money to advertise the chosen business. The restaurants would also sell their food as school lunches, and at one point, according to the American School Food Service Association, about 30% of public high schools in the United States offered big brand fast food for lunch. However, in 1985, a federal law was put into place to prohibit the sale of “Foods of Minimal Nutrition Value” to students during lunch at school. Then, in 2007, Maine was the first state to pass a law that prohibited the advertisement of unhealthy foods and beverages in their schools. One of the more serious examples of both political and social interactions in The Jungle is Phil Connor. He’s at the top of the political food chain, so he gets whatever he wants and whatever benefits him. He uses his power when he threatens the economic stability of Ona’s family unless she sleeps with him; of course Ona doesn’t want to risk the lives of her family, so she gives in. Ona wasn’t the only one to be assaulted, as it happened to hundreds of other women in the workplace (not counting the prostitutes). Unfortunately, it wasn’t until the 1980s that sexual harassment in the workplace was a problem that was considered. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission passed laws that prohibited sexual harassment and that it is a form of sex discrimination.
At the end of the novel, while the socialist party was being developed, Jurgis realized how similar the comparison was between the workers and the hogs that were being butchered; the packers wanted everything they could get out of a hog, which was the same as the what they wanted from the workers. The thoughts and emotions of the hog were dismissed, just as they were of the workers. This is the same in Fast Food Nation, with the workers of the food businesses, the majority being teenagers, as the hogs. Laws from the Fair Labor Standards Act were often violated, they received minimum wage and sometimes less, and worked far more hours than were necessary without having the knowledge to go against it. Basically, humans are treated like animals by their peers.
In conclusion, there were multiple social and political interactions involved in The Jungle and Fast Food Nation. These novels correspond one another and make it very clear to see how life really is in the meatpacking, and fast food, industries, and how unethical the businesses are. Thankfully, some of the practices have improved over time, but some are still very common today.
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