His father was once the chairman of NBC. And the 46-year-old native New Yorker was educated at Princeton and Oxford. But he hit failure when he tried his hand at writing plays and novels.
Then Schlosser pitched an article to The Atlantic Monthly. While the prestigious mag didn't like his idea, it liked his writing. So in 1994, the Atlantic published Schlosser's first piece of journalism, "The Bomb Squad." That's the writing equivalent of playing your first baseball game for the Yankees—and hitting a game-winning home run.
Schlosser is on a tour that includes a Portland stop for his new book, Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. The book, a version of his muckraking bestseller Fast Food Nation, is aimed at readers as young as 11.
WW: How can you possibly adapt such information-dense material for children?
Eric Schlosser: It was tricky. On the one hand, I wanted to write something that really respected their intelligence, and not write something that was condescending. On the other hand, it needed to be something they would actually be able to read, understand and enjoy.
But when I read this line in the book "Before the rise of labor unions...women and minorities faced discrimination on the job," it made me think Chew on This oversimplifies some parts of Fast Food Nation at great cost. Do you honestly believe discrimination is no longer a problem?
Oh my God, no. That problem's not solved by any means. I think in order for it to be accurate, it needs a slight modification.... I would say that women and minorities face less discrimination on the job when there is a strong union that is protecting their rights. If this implies that discrimination against women and minorities is a thing of the past, that's not what it's meant to imply.
Parts of your tour of a slaughterhouse in Chew on This weren't nearly as hard-hittingas the adult version in Fast Food Nation. Why edit it when kids are much more exposed to violence now, and have a higher threshold for graphic imagery?
It was tricky to give a sense of the dangers and horrors but also not go too far. We really tried to give the reality of modern meat production and the cruelty to animals as well as to the workers who process the animals. One thing I really thought about and wound up omitting was [the] robberies in fast-food restaurants section in greater detail. I didn't want to have lurid robbery [and] murder stories in a kid's book.
But that's the reality of the fast-food industry!
These are all valid points. I'd love to say, "You're totally wrong! I can't believe you'd even suggest that!" But I can't. These are all issues that went into trying to figure out how to edit it.
So don't all those omissions mean this book might not resonate as much with kids as it could?
So many kids are starting from a point of total ignorance about our food system, and what they're eating, that anything that helps them see the connection between what they're biting into and all the consequences for them and society is worth trying to do.... I really hope that other people write about this, make films about this, continue to be concerned. Because for anything to change, it's not going to happen because of one book or one film or one activist—you really need a movement of people who feel the same way and keep at it. I think a kid who reads this will come away informed.
Eric Schlosser will read from Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know about Fast Food at 7 pm Monday, May 15, at the First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave., 228-7219.
More than 1.4 million copies of Schlosser's 2001 book, Fast Food Nation, are in print.
The film version of Fast Food Nation, starring Ethan Hawke, Greg Kinnear and Wilmer Valderrama, will premiere this month at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival.