Fast Food Nation

Since the topic of fast food got on the menu of Hollywood film making we’ve seen films made like Super Size Me, and now Fast Food Nation. This time, rather than look at fast food’s high caloric content contributing to our obesity epidemic, the topic du jour concerns the lack of safety to our food supply. Anyone who doubts the relevancy of this topic only needs to look at the recent issues with the pet food supply here in America as an example.

The story is told as a fictitious plot that involves the apocryphal maker of a hamburger, known as “The Big One” (an obvious stand in for Mickey D’s Big Mac), and some graduate students in microbiology finding that there is bacterial contamination in the burgers. This results in a marketing executive taking a trip to Colorado to the slaughterhouse, and seeing firsthand how the meat is processed. Along the way, he stops for some burgers, and meets some folks willing to talk about what really goes on at the plant, and it isn’t pretty. Let’s just say they have to trim a few items to make a profit on a dollar menu item, and cleanliness and safety don’t make the cut. Yeah, it’s graphic at times, and makes us wonder if we should take up vegetarianism, but this half of the movie is true to the mission of the title with a compelling theme and plot.

Somewhere through writing this long screenplay, they decide to water the whole experience down with a subplot that takes up at least half of the film, and threatens to take it over at several points. Not content to just bash our food safety at fast food restaurants, the film departs into the exploitation of illegal aliens. They show them crossing the Mexican border, passing through safe houses, and ending up working at the same meat packing plant. Along the way, we’re reading the English subtitles to the Spanish dialogue that goes on and on, but is advancing the main plot at a snail’s pace- or not at all. It never really ties all together, and at several points it feels like we’re watching two separate movies that got pasted together in some video editing experiment for YouTube. Granted, maybe the point is that big business exploits the illegal aliens, but in my view, that is too large of a theme and should warrant a separate film, like in A Day Without A Mexican.

I think Fast Food Nation’s message would be better told in more of a documentary format like Super Size Me. Some of the scenes in the meat packing plant left me wondering how much of this truly happens, and what proportion is Hollywood’s version of it. It’s a shame that a century later than when Sinclair Lewis wrote about the unsanitary conditions in Chicago meat packing plants that not much has changed. If you’ve been looking for a reason to eat less McDonald’s, or just want to be shocked and grossed out, then Fast Food Nation is for you. The rest can proceed through the “Drive Thru” to other fare.

Overall Grade: C

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