The book examines the complex and uncomfortable relationship between affordable but unhealthy fast food and America’s health crisis. Fast Food looks at the issue from many angles, ranging from the environmental impact of the the long-refuted use of beef fat in McDonald’s french fries to menu labelling to a range of health issues, including erectile dysfunction, linked to a fast-food-saturated diet.
Tension exists throughout between the call for government paternalism and the corporate ideal of the fast food consumer as a free market agent. Many of the fifteen essays emphasize the health-related parallels with tobacco regulation, emphasizing that within that industry strict government mandates for labeling and limiting advertising ultimately affected overall consumption and improved public health. While many of the facts that punctuate the chapters give pause — including the almost one million cows required each year to supply beef for McDonald’s in the U.S. alone — also under scrutiny are the economics of fast food, which is often more affordable when contrasted with healthier fare.
Despite the "Cheeseburger bill" meant to shield fast food corporations by establishing a burden of personal responsibility on the consumer’s parts, there is a debate whether menu labeling actually leads to reduced calorie intake, whether fast food chains intentionally target the poor and minorities, and whether a tax on fatty foods could effectively deter consumption of foods undermining the well-being of American consumers. The book does not discuss the role of the fast food industry as a major employer for teens, and the additional employee discounts used to incentivize fast food employees to consume those products.
The discussion of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest to create arable land can also support environmental science curriculum. As more schools integrate trade publications, such as Morgan Spurlock’s Supersize Me, into the health and wellness curriculum, this volume provides some short essays to extend and focus the discussion. But unlike that documentary, much of the science presented by either side related to fast food is not particularly convincing. One study attempted to demonstrate the healthfulness of fast food by examining the relationship between the number of fast food restaurants and the obesity level in each state, not factoring in that the market for those foods might vary within the state. As distribution of restaurants across the state would no doubt vary as well, a more local approach might have been more valuable. Another correlational study looked at the proximity of schools to fast food outlets. But do students in certain demographics tend to attend schools in more commercial areas? The setting of the students’ home could be equally relevant.
As a volume in Greenhaven’s Introducing Issues with Opposing Viewpoints series, most articles offer a direct argument and its counter. There is an introduction for each essay, questions to focus reading, and summary questions to push towards meaningful evaluation at the conclusion. One of the most valuable aspects of the volume are the six pages of straightforward statistics about fast food with source information that can be easily integrated as supporting details for a paper or assignment. The book also supplies organizations to contact for more information, books and websites for further reading, and a subject index. Recommended for school libraries.