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Book advises kids to fast from fast food

By Stephanie Olson

Associated Press

"Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food." By Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson. Houghton Mifflin. 304 Pages. $16.

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Did you know that the meat in one hamburger might have come from hundreds or even thousands of cows?

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That one can of Coke contains more than 10 teaspoons of sugar?

Or that Chicken McNuggets have more fat per ounce than a hamburger?

These and other interesting -- and disturbing -- facts are revealed in "Chew on This."

The book by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser is similar to his best-selling and eye-opening "Fast Food Nation" (2001) but is aimed at readers 11 and older.

He and co-author Charles Wilson provide an overview of the history, development and state of fast food today. Readers learn about the industry's effect on our communities, our health and the environment, and it's not pretty.

"Chew on This" is a powerful and fascinating expose of the industry that explores the rising obesity rates and health problems associated with fast food, as well as the unsanitary, environmentally damaging and cruel practices used in its production.

The book will appeal to children's natural curiosity (and their fondness for being grossed-out) by taking them through the raising and slaughtering of animals destined to become fast food. Kids also learn about the potential health consequences of eating the stuff through a pictorial tour of the human body that shows the damaging effects a high-fat, high-sugar diet has on the brain, heart, kidneys, liver and spine.

With their innate sense of justice and fair play still intact, kids should be outraged to learn about the treatment of workers in fast-food restaurants, the bullying tactics used on farmers and ranchers, the horrifying conditions endured by slaughterhouse workers and the senselessly cruel treatment of animals.

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"Chew on This" is interesting, informative and even galvanizing, but it's also very saddening. By learning how the fast-food industry works, we get a glimpse of what we have lost -- family farms and ranches, natural food and a connection to the food we eat.

The fast-food industry has almost done away with the family farm and ranch. As Schosser tells it, conglomerates control almost every aspect of the raising and pricing of cattle and chickens to the detriment of the environment and our health, as well as to the livelihood of farmers and ranchers.

He makes the straightforward case that fast food has contributed to the homogenization of our communities. Ray Kroc, the genius behind McDonald's, was obsessed with making sure that every French fry and every hamburger was the same from one McDonald's to another. This sameness has now migrated to our towns, where highways from coast to coast are repetitive stretches adorned by the same familiar group of fast-food logos.

It's especially significant that this book is aimed at children, since they are the primary consumers of fast food and the primary target of its billion-dollar marketing. Also, teens form the ideal work force for the industry: part-time, unskilled workers who will accept low pay without benefits.

"Chew on This" not only describes the problems, it tells teens how they can help change the system through profiles of individual and community efforts. But in the absence of legal reform of the industry -- which is unlikely because of its influence in Congress -- the authors' main advice is to just stop eating the stuff.

As they point out, you can change the world by changing what you eat.

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