Do you know where your food comes from?

Investigative journalist Eric Schlosser takes a hard look at the fast food industry in America and how it affects society.

Eric Schlosser demands social justice from an industry that he says has largely damaged aspects of American lifestyle.

“An enormous industrial food system has arisen in America that treats animals, and people and the land as though they are completely disposable,” he told the audience at Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University. 

The first speaker in this year’s University Lecture series is the author of best-selling Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, an investigative report that explores the damages the fast food industry has inflicted on Americans. Schlosser said the fast food industry began to take shape a little more than 40 years ago when an eager salesman who valued uniformity, conformity, and efficiency at all costs bought McDonald’s from two brothers in Los Angeles.

Photo: Stacie Fanelli
Eric Schlosser spoke Tuesday at Hendricks Chapel.

Replay updates from Schlosser's talk from The NewsHouse's live coverage

“A whole new form of pollution began to spread in this country and enter people’s bodies,” he said of the emergence of the fast food industry.

That pollution, he said, has been made possible by practices by major corporations that include false advertising, animal cruelty and unfair labor.

“The food industry is the bedrock of every society. It makes civilization possible and yet our food system was radically transformed in a brief period of time without our knowing it,” Schossler said. “Major food corporations still don’t want the public to know what is in our food, how it’s made, where it comes from, and the effects it has on our bodies.”

Some of the practices major fast food corporations engage in include injecting hormones, steroids and antibiotics into animals that live on factory farms, he said. Most recently, technological advancements have even allowed companies to clone animals, a practice which he finds disturbing.

Margery Wong, a junior nutrition major, said she was surprised by some of the statistics Schlosser provided during the lecture.

“To learn that 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in the U.S. are for livestock, that was really shocking,” she said.

Schlosser said the dissemination of misinformation and lies has caused Americans to develop a perverse relationship with food. He added the obesity rate in America is currently one of the largest in the world; two-thirds of American adults are obese or overweight. Successful marketing on the part of the corporations has also caused an increase in obesity, eating disorders, and depression in young children. 

The fast food industry also exploits its workers, both the restaurant employees and migrant farm workers, who work long hours for minimum wage and little benefits.

“The ways in which the food system of today exploits the weak and the poor, how it concentrates power in the hands of the few, the way it threatens our fundamentals, our democratic system, to me, these things are un-American,” he said.

But he remains optimistic.

“A different system is not only necessary but possible,” Schlosser said.

He said the organic food movement and additional food related policies that will guarantee healthy food for all members of society would propel change. Apathy is another obstacle preventing changing in the food industry, and he challenged members of the audience to think about ways they can help by buying organic food or becoming politically involved.

The simple reason? “We are all connected,” he said.

Misty Mesaga, a Syracuse resident, 2009 SU graduate, and vegetarian listened to Schlosser speak to be inspired.

“I feel like he approached [the lecture] from a lot of different avenues and I think that comprehensiveness is very important to get people to understand the issues and to really care about the issues,” she said.

Schlosser ended the lecture with a quote by a Buddhist monk, who he said described perfectly why he continues to advocate for change in the fast food industry. “Once there is seeing there must be acting, otherwise what is the point of seeing?”

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