Seeking food for thought? Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food by Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson, a kid-friendly history of the fast food industry, makes a great read-aloud with older elementary or middle school kids. The book’s behind-the-scenes view into the industry’s secrets might just make your family re-think that next fast food meal. Pink grapefruit juice colored with dead bugs, anyone?
In an interview with TeachingBook.net, the authors say they wrote this version of Schlosser’s best-selling Fast Food Nation to get kids thinking about the consequences of a fast food culture. Your child will read about poultry houses packed with 30,000 chickens who never go outside, but also about Butch and Sundance, two pigs who escaped the slaughterhouse to live happily ever after. She’ll meet teens whose lives are affected by the industry, including an obese 16-year-old who eats fast food three to four times a week. After he has gastric bypass surgery to make his stomach smaller, the boy would need 15 hours to consume a Big Mac.
- Marketing to kids: He will learn he’s the target of sophisticated marketing campaigns. With adults drinking less soda, an industry newspaper suggests targeting 8-year-olds, who will have another 65 years to buy soft drinks. The authors then introduce a 12-year-old Alaska girl who launched a “Stop the Pop” campaign when she discovered that Eskimos in rural villages who drink four to five cans of soda each day have lost almost all their teeth.
- Hamburger Charlie, Ray Kroc, and Ronald McDonald: The book opens with the tale of 15-year-old Hamburger Charlie, who created burgers at a county fair in 1885. Forty years later, New Yorkers still preferred cow tongue and spinach to hamburger. That changed after the McDonald brothers opened their restaurant next to a high school and modeled it on assembly lines. Former failed salesman Ray Kroc franchised the concept nationally, creating an industry that helped shape American culture.
- “The bugs in your candy”: Fast food’s tempting smells and flavors are manufactured in a New Jersey chemistry facility, not grown in a garden. Using artificial flavoring and fragrances, chemists could make the pages of Chew On This taste like chocolate without altering its nutritional value, the authors say. Equally appetizing is their description of color additives. Titanium dioxide, a mineral that gives icing and candies their bright white colors, also is commonly used in white house paint. “So you can use titanium dioxide to ice your cake–or paint your house.” Still hungry? Carmine, the ingredient responsible for the pink or red color in some brands of strawberry yogurt, candies, fruit fillings, and pink grapefruit juice drink, is made from the dead bodies of small insects harvested in Peru and the Canary Islands. Yum!
- Not for Young Children: Descriptions of cow and chicken slaughterhouses are graphic and not for sensitive younger children; parents reading aloud could skip those parts. The animal rights and environmental issues presented are good topics for discussion with older children.
- A call to action: Schlosser, who says his favorite meal is French fries, a cheeseburger, and a chocolate shake, and Wilson clearly want to empower kids to take action. They suggest kids “change the world” by refusing to buy fast food from the big chains and urge them to “have it your way.”