Children often recognize the McDonalds logo before they recognize their own name: Fast Food Nation (2001)

Jonathan Cooper
3 min readJan 13, 2015

It was back in 1998 when investigative journalist Eric Schlosser’s first part of “Fast Food Nation” appeared in the pages of Rolling Stone.

Nearly 17 years ago — beneath a cover featuring Shania Twain (that should give you some context of how long ago we’re talking) — the subhead of Schlosser’s story read:

After four decades, our obsession with fast, cheap food has transformed our towns and farms and flooded the labor market with low-paying, dead-end jobs. Is this a healthy menu?

Schlosser’s vivid narrative tells the story not just of how McDonald’s transformed America’s diet but also how the fast food chain transformed the American culture, noting that “almost every facet of American life has now been franchised.”

Throughout his reporting Schlosser highlights not only the dietary impact of McDonald’s and the fast food industry as a whole but he also focuses on the agriculture impact, the economic impact, the advertising impact, the environmental impact and more. (His article later became a best-selling book and also a Richard Linklater movie starring Greg Kinnear.)

The new McDonald’s TV spots — “Archenemies” and “Signs” — have been all the buzz the past few days.

Signs — which launched during The Golden Globes-features a chorus of children signing a cover of Fun’s “Carry On” against visuals of Golden Arches signs showing messages relating to the Boston Marathon bombing to anniversary wishes to plea to “Keep Jobs In Toledo.” The campaign even includes a Tumblr account documenting each sign’s story.

Archenemies creates a sense of nostalgia by co-opting everything from King Kong and The Wizard of Oz to Super Mario Bros. and Rockem Sockem Robots. Understanding the outlook Ray Kroc — the chain’s founder — had on marketing and advertising, it’s no wonder McDonald’s decided to borrow from our collective childhood.

“A child who loves our TV commercials and brings her grandparents to a McDonald’s gives us to more customers,” Kroc is quoted in Schlosser’s article.

Schlosser’s reporting goes on to highlight internal McDonald’s documents that state:

An emotional connection to McDonald’s that customers had formed “as toddlers” was now eroding. The new advertising had to make people feel that McDonald’s still cared about them. “The challenge of the campaign,” wrote a company vice president, “is to make customers believe that McDonald’s is their ‘Trusted Friend.’”

And in case you were falling out of love with your trusted friend, here are a few more highlights from the press kit that accompanied the launch of Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal in 2001:

(Note: You can read the entire press package here)

• Roughly 12 percent of all American workers have worked at McDonald’s.

• The golden arches are now more widely recognized than the Christian cross.

• Children often recognize the McDonald’s logo before they recognize their own name.

• American children now get about one quarter of their total vegetable servings in the form of potato chips and french fries.

• The typical teenage boy in the United States now gets about 10 percent of his daily calories from soda.

• McDonald’s is now the nation’s largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes. It is the second largest purchaser of chicken in the United States.

• Hundreds of local slaughterhouses used to supply the United States with beef; today thirteen large slaughterhouses supply most of the nation’s beef.

• A typical fast food hamburger contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of cattle.

• Because fast food is so highly processed, much of its flavor is destroyed, so the tastes of most fast food are manufactured at a series of special chemical plants in New Jersey.

• Chicken McNuggets contain beef additives, while McDonald’s french fries derive some of their flavor from “animal products.”

Jonathan Cooper

Writer, husband, father | Creator of Thinking & Drinking: The Craft Beer Card Game | www.ThinkingDrinking.Beer | @ThinkingDrink