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101 Reasons Why I'm a Vegetarian by Pamela Rice

Inside Stories of Evil Imitation Meat Manufacturers

On Animal Suffering & Human Kindness

Excerpt from the VegSource Conference
Buddhist Rev. Heng Sure opening statement before the Spiritual Panel (15 minutes)

The Meatrix
Check out this cool new Flash presentation!

Good Eating: Questions and Aswers

The Fallacy Of Meat-Eating

Seeds of Great Compassion

Meat Broth


Diet for Smart People

Maternal Love

For Hundreds of Thousands of Years, The Stew in The Pot Has Boiled Up A Resentment Very Hard To Level

Eating Meat: People Eating Other People

On Vegetarianism

Beef flavor in McDonalds' French Fries

Not-so-happy meal

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The Fallacy Of Meat-Eating

Some people say we must eat meat in order to stay alive and that if one doesn't eat meat one will simply not get enough nutrition. This is a very erroneous point of view.

Originally, humans came from the Light-Sound Heaven. When they arrived on earth, they nourished themselves with something called "the flavor of the earth." This food was very fragrant and tasty, but when the gods from the Light-Sound Heaven started to eat it, they got greedy and wanted to eat more and more. They only needed to eat a little and it would have been enough to fill them. In fact they needed only to look at it and they could have gotten their fill. But because of their greed, they ate more than they needed.

When these gods overate, their appearance began to change- they got ugly. Because they got ugly, they began to feel jealous of others. They got jealous of who were more beautiful than they. Those who did not eat a lot had a pleasant appearance. But those who were good-looking got arrogant and said, "Look at you; how ugly you are!" And that's the problem with those who are good looking-they get arrogant.

So along with the jealousy and arrogance came greed, hatred, and stupidity. When those three poisons accumulated enough, "the flavor of the earth" entirely vanished from the face of the earth. After that, there was no more "flavor of the earth" to partake of.

Then another type of food appeared. It was called the "fat of the land." Although the "fat of the land" wasn't as good tasting as the "flavor of the earth," it was still quite delicious, and so there were many who were very fond of it. Since there was a lot of it around, people got greedy again, and again their appearances changed and they got even uglier. Those who didn't eat too much still had handsome features.

As a result, the same problems arose. The fat ones got jealous, and this time it was even worst than before. Those who were arrogant got even more so than before. They either grew sour or got extremely conceited.

When the fat of the land disappeared, something else grew in the fields, which was called "wild rice." It grew naturally, without cultivation. It didn't need to be planted or threshed or hulled. People could just go out and pick it. This rice was still quite delicious. But as time went by, people began to go out to the fields and gather the grain to store in their barns. Because they had greedy minds, they wanted to keep the grain for themselves so that others could not get any of it to eat. And then the wild rice disappeared.

After that, people had to labor and toil in the fields to grow their food. So they planted the five grains. This is the way that people obtain their food even to this day.

In ancient times, people did not have to eat meat in order to live, and their lifespans were very long. Some people lived for ten thousand years. The people of today have such short lifespans because they are so fond of eating nutritious food. Because of that fondness, they eat to the point that they shorten their lifespans.

If everyone can stop eating meat, then the human lifespan will increase and slowly, slowly it can climb up to 84,ooo years.



Seeds of Great Compassion


Mahakashyapa asked the Buddha,

"Why is it that the Thus Come One does not allow eating meat?"

The Buddha replied,

"It is because meat eating cuts off the seeds of Great Compassion."


Meat Broth

For hundred of thousands of years and ages,

There's been meat in the pot simmering in a stew,

Brewing up hatred, resentment and rage that will be hard to make level.

If you want to know the reason why this world id full of wars and fights.

Just listen one time to the cries that come from the slaughterhouse at midnight.




Waves of wars, madness and blood,

Sweep over us like a big flood,

This wound, so harsh and deep,

Is enough to make you and me weep,

By learning not to kill and fight,

We can save mankind from a terrible plight,

The number one very best deed,

Is just to stop eating meat.



Diet For Smart People

Smart people eat pure vegetables,

Stupid people find meat delectable.

If you don't want to end up dumb and daffy,

Go easy on the hamburger patties.



Maternal Love

Even animals love their young:

The dog licks her litter, the cow licks her calf,

The hen protects he brood, all together under her wing,

While mother eel curls up her own body and lovingly guards her babies.


But people, greedy for mouth blessings,

Feed on other's offspring.

Animals feel pain as much as we human beings.

They have tears, too; perhaps you haven't seen them.


For Hundreds of Thousands of Years, The Stew in The Pot Has Boiled Up A Resentment Very Hard To Level

Ven. Master Hsuan Hua

In the world today, there are too many who take life and too few people who save lives. Everyone knows only how to kill. Everyone has neglected to liberate life. When you kill someone, he will want to kill you back. This mutual revenge lead to the cycle of rebirth in the world of the five turbidities. When will this cycle of mutual vengeance ever come to an end? The ancients have said, "For hundreds of thousands of years, the stew in the pot has boiled up a resentment very hard to level. If you want to know why there are calamities and wars in the world, just listen to the sounds from a slaughterhouse at midnight." We should base our lives on the words of Confucius: "When I see those who are alive, I do not wish to see them die. When I hear their sounds, I cannot bear to eat their flesh. Therefore, a gentleman does not go near the kitchen." For hundreds of thousands of years until now, there’s been a pot of stew. You’re eaten from the pot of stew and so have I. This stew is a meat broth. It contains a resentment which is deeper than the sea, which is very hard to level. It’s not easy to subdue these feelings of enmity. Do you want to know why there are wars, floods, fires, and epidemics in the world? What is the reason for the suffering, killing, and bloodshed brought on by wars? Why do people seek each other out to take revenge? Because there has been too much killing. If you don’t understand, just go near by the slaughterhouse and listen to the sounds that come from there at midnight—the pigs calling out, the lambs crying, the cows wailing... They are all there pleading, "Please spare our lives, Mister! Please spare our lives, Elder! Please spare our lives Buddha!" But we pretend we don’t see or hear them crying out, and we go ahead and kill them without second thought. As soon as we kill them, the one thought of hatred that those cows, sheep, and pigs give rise to will lead them to seek revenge in the future. This lead to disaters such as world wars and all kinds of accidental deaths. These all result from the taking of life.

However, even such retribution is not enough. Now the most devastating things are cancer and all kinds of strange diseases. Why have these appeared? Because people have eaten too much meat. Nowadays, the air is polluted, the earth is polluted, and the water is also polluted. This polluted air, polluted earth, and polluted water have produced a toxic substance, and when animals eat food which contains this kind of toxin, the poisonous energy passes into their system. Although it may just stay in their bodies and not take effect, if we eat the meat of these animals, the poison will pass into our bodies and cause us to develop all sorts of strange and incurable diseases.

These diseases which are hard to cure do not happen by chance. Behind them, there is a ghost with a grievance who wants the person’s life in payment. So now I see a lot of little ghosts everywhere, trying to make people pay with their lives or causing them to suffer various strange diseases. These little ghost were fetuses who were aborted before they had a chance to develop into complete human beings, so they are very ruthless. They may rupture people’s hearts, or injury their livers, kidneys, or gall bladders. They destroy your five organs so that you have to die whether you want to or not. Why are they so malicious? Because you killed them first, and now they want to take revenge. Diseases caused by vengeful ghosts cannot be cured no matter what kind of doctor, Chinese or Western, you see. All you can do is take your meals and wait for death. After you take your last breath, it’s your turn to seek revenge. What I’m telling you is the most genuine Sutra!

If I say more, people may not want to listen. However, I have a fault which is that I’m willing to say something regardless of whether or not people want to hear it. I’m especially willing to say the things that people don’t want to hear. So those of you who have come here should prepare yourselves psychologically. You should tell yourself, "I don’t want to listen, but I’ll be patient for a little while and see what he has to say." What do I want to say? I want to explain the character ( ) for ‘meat’ in Chinese. This character ( ) has the element ( ) ‘mouth,’ but the bottom line is left out, meaning that the mouth is open! Why is the mouth open? To eat people! So, "In the character for ‘meat,’ there are two people." There is a character ( ) ‘person’ inside and another ( ) ‘person’ outside. This show that meat is inseparable from people. However, people should not be inseparably attached to meat. This represents a person who is eating the meat and a person who is being eaten. One person’s head is sticking out of the mouth, and the other person is inside the mouth. But since the mouth is not closed, that person may fall out. When he fall out, he may become a person again. When he becomes a person again, he will go and eat the person who was eating meat. They mutually devour each other. So, there are two people in the character for ‘meat’, and "The one inside is covering the one outside." The person inside and the person outside are bound up in this relationship. "Living beings eat the flesh of people." Since it’s people eating people, might that person be my friend? I don’t know. Could it be my relative? Don’t know. Could it be my father, mother, or ancestor? Don’t know. This "not knowing" presents a lot of problems, so it would be best it everyone didn’t eat meat.

Aside from not eating meat, there’s another essential secret to preventing sickness. What is it? Not losing one’s temper. If you don’t have a temper, then your karmic creditors who want to take revenge by making you sick will have a hard time finding you. But as soon as you get mad, there’s a hole for the ghost to get in. Once the ghost finds its way in, your illness becomes more and more severe. If you want to be healthy, long-lived, and free from illness, the secret is not to eat meat, not to lose your temper, and not to smoke or drink. These are all ways to stay healthy. You shouldn’t ruin your body and bring all sorts of illness on yourself. If you do, then you’ll have to find a doctor and pay him money, and still he might not be able to cure you. Isn’t that a lot of trouble?




-by the Venerable Abbot Hua

The City of Ten Thousand Buddhas

For hundreds of thousands of years, the stew in the pot

Has boiled up a resentment very hard to level.

If you want to know why there are calamities and wars in the world,

Just listen to the sounds from a slaughter-house at midnight.

This poem is directed toward those who eat meat and drink bouillon made from mutton, or beef, or pork. Or maybe it's cat broth or dog soup, or rat soup. Or maybe it's made from ants or mosquitoes. At any rate, the reason for the ingredients of these different kinds of broth is that for a very long time, people have assumed that they have the right to take the lives of other living creatures in order to enhance their own. In order to bolster their own physical strength and at the same time to enjoy the flavors of flesh, they deprive other creatures of their lives. That's why people eat meat. But the resentment--the anxiety and hatred--contained in that broth is as deep as the sea. That is because life after life we mutually kill and eat, eat and kill—we eat each other's flesh. You eat my meat, and then I will turn around and eat your flesh. We slaughter and devour each other in this way. and that is why the enmity is as deep as the sea, and the "resentment is very hard to level."

Every living creature longs to live and loathes to die. But we participate in the "survival of the fittest," as we use our power to take by force the lives of other creatures--we rob them of their lives. And at that moment before death, they experience tremendous hatred. Within their minds they harbor this hateful thought of vengeance: "You are killing me now? Well, In the future, I'll kill you. You are going to eat my flesh? In the future, I will eat yours." And they hold onto this resentment, until it becomes as deep as the sea and the mutual antagonism is very hard to level. There's no way to resolve those feelings of resentment .

So, "If you want to know why there are calamities and wars in the world"—people all over the world wonder why there are countries that fight with other countries on a world-wide scale. Why do such wars come about? There are man-made wars involving weapons and troops and there are natural disasters of water and fire. Such things happen all the time in this world. Previously it was North and South Vietnam at war; now it's Argentina and Great Britain bombing each other. Why? It's because of too much killing karma—there's such a long history of mutual slaughter which has become so complex that there's no way to clearly reckon the books. So people just strike out at their fellow, beings, using modern weaponry, tanks, guided missiles, trying to overpower the strength of the opponent. So, "If you want to know why there are wars and calamities in the world, just listen to the sounds from a slaughter-house at midnight." You'll hear the pigs crying and the cows moaning and the sheep bleating, screaming and wailing, beseeching people to spare them their lives. And when you hear those sounds, you will have a good idea of where the wars and weapons come from. There's another poem that reads,

In the Chung Wen character for meat are two people.

The one Inside has been caught by the one outside.

So when living beings eat the flesh of other living beings

If one really stops to think about it, isn't that just people eating people?

The Chung Wen character for meat, is a picture of a mouth--an open mouth, since the horizontal stroke at its base is missing—and inside the mouth is a picture of a person, while outside the mouth is a picture of another person... wait ing. The person outside the mouth hasn't gone in yet. The person inside the mouth would like to escape, but can't. He's stuck inside the mouth. The one inside has grown while inside the mouth, so although the enclosure is only three-sided, he can't get out. Why is he stuck there? Basically this is a pictograph of a person being eaten by another person. The one who is eating the meat is on the outside—he still resembles a person. But the one on the inside is already no longer a person. He has turned into an animal. Not only has he turned into an animal, but he's been trapped--detained there. He can't go up and he can't go down; he's stuck right in there. He's as cooped up as if he were in a pen. The pen could be a pig pen, or a sheep pen, or a cow pen. The person on the outside is keeping watch over the pen so that the animal can't escape. He intends to eat that animal's flesh. So the poem reads: "In the character for meat are two people."

And there's another obvious thing about this character: those two people have an irrevocable connection between them. The one eating and the one being eaten have an involvement with each other that cannot be severed because they are bound up in resentment. They'd really like to get at each other.

In this way living beings eat the flesh of other living beings. Think about it. We people are living beings and what we eat is other living beings. So this is a case of living beings eating other living beings. Horses, cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, and dogs are all animals. And all other creatures are also living beings.

There are those who say, "Well, those creatures have been put here by God just for people to eat." Oh? Well, for whom were people put here to be eaten by? It can't be said that creatures were put here by the gods specifically for people to eat. What's really happening in this case? It's just survival of the fittest. People are more clever and more strong, and they rely on those qualities to usurp the lives of other living creatures by force. Think about the Interrelationships involved in eating meat. Isn't it simply a case of people eating people? Since this is the case, let's return to our analysis of that person inside the character for meat who has now turned into an animal--a cow, a sheep, a horse, a pig, a chicken, a dog—any one of the different kinds of animals.Can you be sure that the animal you are eating has no connection with you? In the Shurangama Sutra it says, "Sheep get reborn as people." Well, if sheep can be reborn as people, so can cows, so can horses,and so can pigs. It's just a matter of changing clothes, putting on a different face, and putting on a new head, and then we people don't recognize who those animals are any longer. They have changed clothes, so you don't recognize them. But maybe the one you are eating is an old friend of yours. It's not for sure. But still that's a fairly distant connection, too. Take it a little further: maybe that pig or sheep or cow you are eating was your father or mother in your last life, or some other past life. If, when you are about to take a bite of meat, you consider: "Perhaps this meat I am about to eat is my former father's flesh or my former mother's flesh," can you understand how unfilial it would be to eat that flesh? So, "Isn't it just a case of people eating people?" A person eats a pig's flesh and that person dies, turns into a pig, and the pig he ate returns as a person to eat the former person's pig's flesh. As we go on and on like that, mutually eating one another, the enmity grows deeper and deeper. The more resentment that accumulates, the more we're driven by rage to devour each other.

So now you can see, the desire to eat good things is motivated by a sense of deep resentment and enmity. That is the propelling motion behind the desire to eat delicacies containing meat: the drive to bolster our own lives through the sacrifice of others. People who pride themselves on being "gourmets" are usually driven by very heavy karmic obstacles that spur them on to an ever-increasing gluttony for other creatures' flesh.
Why did I bring this subject up? It's because in this world right now, there are many strange diseases and wars. These weird diseases are created from killing karma--from mutual taking of life. These wars are also the result of mutual slaughter. Therefore, the more people there are who can cease killing and liberate the living, the quicker we can completely do away with wars.

On Vegetarianism
By Liang Ching-Wen at the Buddha Hall on the evening of Tuesday, May 1st, 2001


All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, Venerable Master, Dharma Masters and fellow cultivators, Amitabha! My name is Liang Ching-Wen, my Dharma name is Gwo-Wen. I'm a guest from London, England.

Last year when I came here, I had some conversations with a few friends regarding Taiwan's present vegetarian food industry. One of them really hoped I could speak before the assembly to let people know that they ought to be careful when buying vegetarian food. Do not think that if the packaging states it is vegetarian that we can be without worries, and also buy a portion to offer to the Sangha members. So today, let's discuss this problem together.

This January when I was in England, I saw a TV report about England's popular fish and chips. There is currently a shortage offish; therefore people no longer have fish with their meal, only chips. Presently the mad cow disease is very serious in England—over 10,000 cows were buried. France, Holland and other parts of Europe are all facing the same crisis. Taiwan's pigs and Hong Kong's chickens have come down with foot and mouth disease. Many people have become vegetarian after learning that the land animals have contracted this serious disease.

Not long ago we heard D.M. Ran's story about the retribution of eating meat being so horrible, but for those who have brought forth the resolve to be vegetarian, are we really eating vegetarian food?

One Dharma Master told me that before she left the home life, Shr Fu knew she was a great cook and warned her "not to cook delicacies for the left-home people. You'd only cause them to give rise to false thinking. Thus, you'd create offenses instead of generating merit and virtue." There are so many things to offer, why choose to offer food? I believe that all of you, after listening to my report, will become more cautious so as to prevent making offerings that will result in offenses instead of merit and virtue.

In England there are many people who eat vegetarian food but it's only simple food. Of course, it doesn't meet our standards. Onion, garlic, green onion, and fish are considered vegetarian there as well.

I have a few friends who have eaten Taiwan's vegetarian food and know it is very delicious. They keep encouraging me to import it to England. I was not interested until last year. One day before I went back to Taiwan, a friend called about a culinary exhibition in England. She had reserved two booths for me and pressured me to purchase vegetarian food for the exhibits. I was left with no choice.

Coincidentally, during the flight I read some news about a food exhibition at the World Trade Centre in Taipei, which would be two days after my arrival in Taiwan. So I contacted the vendors, large and small ones. After the contacts, my disappointment and sadness grew more and more each day. Some of the vendors are not vegetarians, even though they're manufacturing vegetarian food. I didn't understand why they are selling vegetarian products yet not eating vegetarian food themselves. Also, another reason for my sadness was that I couldn't finalize any business deals with them.

Then one day I read an article from a Buddhist magazine written by a Dharma Master. The title was "None of the Buddhist Monastics in Taiwan Eats Vegetarian Food." The story, which happened a few years ago, was as follows-this Dharma Master was on a train and encountered a youngster who told him that none of the Buddhist monks and nuns in Taiwan is eating vegetarian food. It turned out that he was a deliveryman for a fish puree factory. The boss paid him a high salary and asked him to send the fish puree to different vegetarian factories everyday. Although he felt guilty, because of the high salary he continued to do it. This Dharma Master didn't take what he said seriously, until recently when a laywoman who was suffering from her bad karma came to seek his help for a repentance. Only then he realized the seriousness of this situation and quickly wrote this article in order to publicize it.

It turned out that she was an employee of a vegetarian food manufacturer. One day, she unexpectedly discovered that the manager poured the fish puree into the raw vegetarian mix. The boss was afraid that she would speak out so the boss increased her salary. Although she felt guilty about this matter, she still did it because she cared about her high salary. Only after she felt sick did she regret her greedy conduct which had harmed not only others but herself as well. Nevertheless, it was too late.

Even though there are some vendors who were already vegetarians before starting vegetarian factories, among the vendors that I have contacted, some were selling vegetarian food strictly for profit. A few of my friends in Taiwan try to convince me that when I run a business I must make a profit. Therefore, in order to make a profit, we shouldn't consider others. I repeatedly told them that I have my own principle of doing business. I definitely will not sell something I do not eat. They think I have a problem in my thinking.

After reading that article, I realized why I couldn't obtain the business deals. It was because of the blessings and compassion from the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and Shr Fu that allowed me to avoid committing the heavy collective karma that would cause us to fall into the hells. Businessmen because of profit will add special ingredients—not only fish puree but MSG as well. And what is MSG made from—do we know?

So everyone when you're eating vegetarian food, try to eat natural food primarily. Do not care too much about the taste so that you don't break the precept of eating only vegetarian food without even being aware of it.

Talking about food, there are people here who complain that the food is not delicious and don't feel like eating it. Actually we are living in a very blessed place without realizing it.

Now I want to tell everyone about a matter that is happening everyday. Three months ago in England I saw a program on the BBC. The President of North Korea was building up his armies. They turned many paddy fields into planting drug plants, to sell drugs. As a result the nation is in poverty. Many people died of starvation. Furthermore, the corpses were not wasted. Because there isn't any food, those who are alive eat those corpses. They sell the body at the market as pork, which is marked "fresh meat." People know that means it is human flesh.

Over 100,000 children are without clothes and homeless. At the market if they pick up any food found on the ground, people will chase them away as if they're dogs. Sometimes when they find food as small as a pumpkinseed in the mud, they quickly swallow it because for them it is like they have found a treasure.

Food aid, rice, corn, and wheat sent from America and other countries to North Korea are sold at the black market by their government. They are selling them openly with the original packaging intact. North Korea and China are separated by a river that is not very wide, and everyday there are many adults and children who risk their lives fleeing from North Korea. Many of them are killed.

A young Korean revealed this fact and risked his life when contacting the Western countries about it. He used a hidden camera to film the scenes. He said the purpose of risking his life is for the world to know the actual suffering that is happening in his country. There was a reporter from England who went to North Korea to meet this young Korean. The reporter was there four days on a tourist visa. Before he left, they had agreed to meet at a specific time and place. However, after waiting for a long time he never saw him. Even later when the program was shown, there was still no sign of this young Korean.

The Iraqi war has resulted in over 100,000 children being hospitalized. They are suffering from the lack of facilities and medicine, yet their president is unwilling to receive any medical aid from overseas. A few days ago I heard a volunteer from Mexico who said there are a lot of poor people in Mexico who sleep in paper boxes.

Throughout the year, we live in CTTB, which is like Amitabha's Pure Land. Outside of CTTB, many people are suffering from wars, hunger, and diseases. I constantly think if every leader of each country in this world were a Buddhist, could this suffering not occur? If this Saha world became a vegetarian world, would this prevent wars from happening again?

CTTB is a big place but when compared to the whole world, it is still very small. However, it is a very important place, Shr Fu said CTTB is a center for world religions, how can we make it happen, spread and glorify this idea? In order to relieve the suffering of living beings we should deeply ponder this issue and practice everyday. CTTB is Gwan Yin Bodhisattva's place of cultivation. I hope that every one of us is able to become like Gwan Yin Bodhisattva and have unconditional kindness and compassion for all beings. Amitabha!


Subject: Beef flavor in McDonalds' French Fries

Dear Dharma friends,

For those of you who are vegetarian and are concerned about what kind of  ingredients are used for McDonald's French Fries, McDonald's representative has confirmed that they indeed use beef in their "natural flavors" for french fries as being disclosed from the following article: http://www.jsonline.com/enter/books/feb01/fast20021901.asp

Just a side note, we should be skeptical about "natural flavors" especially those that simulate beef, chicken, shrimp, or pork taste.  I've noticed several "non meat" instant noodle packages in supermarkets that do not list in English any meat product in their powder ingredient, but in fact do list them in Chinese.  So if it doesn't say vegetarian, it's very likely that it's REALLY not vegetarian.  The same is true for Vietnamese flavoring powder packages too for pho? bo`, pho? ga`, etc... since they are meat extracts.  So be just careful.

Here's the response from McDonalds:
> >Thank you for taking the time to  contact McDonald's with your questions
> >regarding the ingredients in our french fries.
> >
> >For flavor enhancement,  McDonald's french fry suppliers use a mniscule
> >amount of beef flavoring as an ingredient in the raw product.  The reason
> >beef is not listed as an  ingredient is because McDonald's voluntarily
> >(restaurants are not required to list ingredients)follows the "Code of
> >Federal Regulations" (required for packaged goods) for labeling its
> >products.  As such, like food labels you would  read on packaged goods..
> >the ingredients in "natural flavors" are not broken down.
> >Again, we are sorry if this has caused any confusion.
> >
> >We hope you  have found this information helpful and that we have the
> >opportunity to serve you in the  future.  Thank you, again, for
> contacting
> >McDonald's.
> >
> >Megan
> >Home  Office Customer Satisfaction Department
> >
> >ref#:665483
> >
> >------------------------------
> >You wrote:
> >
> >Could  you please look at the content of this URL and
> comment? I am a
> >vegetarian and  sensitive about what goes into the
> things I eat. This
> >webpage implies that flavour made using animal
> product is used in the
> fries
> >served at McDonalds. can you confirm or deny?
> >
> >Thanks.

Forwarded by K. Huynh on 03/13/01 11:05 AM

Not-so-happy meal

Book depicts side of fast food industry that's hard to digest

of the Journal Sentinel staff
Last Updated: Feb. 19, 2001

It's dinnertime, and the glowing Golden Arches beckon.

On the Web
Eric Schlosser talks about his book, 'Fast Food Nation,' at the Pfister Hotel on Monday. Photo/Ronald M. Overdahl
Photo/Ronald M. Overdahl
Eric Schlosser talks about his book, "Fast Food Nation," at the Pfister Hotel on Monday.

Book review: 'Fast Food Nation'

But before you grab the usual burger and fries, Eric Schlosser wants you to consider how those fries got their sensational flavor, and the conditions in the slaughterhouse where the ground beef for that juicy Big Mac originated.

"People should know what lies behind the shiny, happy surface of every fast food transaction," Schlosser writes in his bestseller, "Fast Food Nation," which began as a two-part investigative article for Rolling Stone and evolved into a 270-page expose on "The Dark Side of the All-American Meal."

Schlosser, in Milwaukee on Monday to promote the book, said in an interview that he doesn't aim to shut down the fast food industry. Consumers can have it their way, he said, but they should make informed decisions based on factors such as how the growth of fast food has influenced conditions in slaughterhouses.

Schlosser maintains that a nation's diet can be more revealing than its art or literature. He said fast food has become such a big part of pop culture that only Santa Claus is more recognizable to children than Ronald McDonald.

On any given day, about one-fourth of the U.S. adult population visits a fast food restaurant. In any given month, more than 90% of American children eat at McDonald's.

If you chart the rise of obesity in the United States, it neatly parallels the growth of the fast food industry, Schlosser said. The increase in childhood obesity is particularly disturbing, he says, alleging that super-sized sodas and Happy Meals are among the contributing culprits.

"The whole experience of buying fast food has become so routine, so thoroughly unexceptional and mundane, that it is now taken for granted, like brushing your teeth or stopping for a red light," Schlosser writes in "Fast Food Nation."

In 1970, Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2000, they spent more than $110 billion. In fact, Americans now spend more money on fast food than on higher education, personal computers, computer software or new cars, Schlosser said.

But the ads for burgers and fries rarely mention the ingredients, Schlosser said.

Fast food has been carefully designed to taste good, Schlosser said. In fact, one of the biggest surprises in his research was a visit to International Flavors and Fragrances in New Jersey, one of the world's largest flavor companies.

"The flavor factory is like a symbol of how different this food is from the kind of food made in your kitchen," Schlosser said.

The legendary "subtle something" that makes McDonald's french fries a cut above the competition used to come from frying the fries in beef tallow. But when McDonald's switched to vegetable oil in 1990, it wanted to maintain the subtle beef taste, so the company added a "natural flavor" made at a flavor factory, Schlosser said.

McDonald's will say only that natural flavor comes from "an animal product."

Schlosser wants consumers to know that the flavor is manufactured, not created at a restaurant.

He gets most riled up when he talks about fast food marketing aimed at children, who are still developing their tastes and eating habits.

McDonald's could introduce a healthful Happy Meal six weeks from now, if it wanted, Schlosser said.

"I've been in the labs. They can make anything taste good," he said. "It doesn't have to be tofu burgers, as long as it comes with a toy."

Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 20, 2001.