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Tuesday, March 18, 2003

A few weeks ago, Eric Schlosser came to speak on campus. I'm in the middle of reading Fast Food Nation, so I decided to go to the lecture.

The thing that struck me is that most people don't know any other reality than that of a fast food nation. It was less than 50 years ago that the concept of fast food was even invented, but it's become so ubiquitous that I can't imagine things any other way. And I started thinking about how other industries have followed the model.

Take for example supermarkets. Most people go to Safeway or Albertson's because that's what's in their neighborhood and they may never know the difference. I had the wonderful good fortune to live walking distance from Cosentino's and learn the difference. They have fruit that's selected for its flavor rather than durability. They have butchers who wrap your one sausage for you rather than forcing you to buy a pound and a half of sausage in pre-wrapped styrofoam containers. They sell two different brands of milk, both BGH free, instead of the store brand with no such promise. I'd say 90% of shoppers don't know what they're missing. Certainly the first time I was in Paris, I was amazed at how much better the fruit tasted there than in California, where some of that fruit was almost certainly grown. I thought it was just a matter of French sensibility at the time, but it used to be more of a priority for local markets when they bought their produce individually rather than got whatever the Safeway corporation negotiated for and delivered.

So the lesson of Fast Food Nation needs to be more broadly applied. Buy from local markets, local independently run restaurants, and local service providers whenever you can. If you don't, what they offer may be lost to the nation forever. And the nation will be a poorer place for it.

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