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‘Chew on This’ Is TeenGuide to Gross Food

Posted Sep 13 2008 3:59pm

I can trace many of my attitudes about food to one book: The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. His descriptions of how meat was processed in the brutal slaughterhouses of my Chicago hometown made me forever aware that food can be disgusting and dangerous.

So when my next-door neighbor tells me not to eat a particular brand of bagged salad, I’m not all that surprised. “Rodents are all over the processing plant where I work,” he once confided.

Another fan of “The Jungle” is Eric Schlosser, author of the exposé Fast Food Nation. Knowing my attitudes about food, my wife ordered for me his latest book, Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food. A quick skim – I have yet to read it all – revealed pictures of rotted baby teeth from too-sweet formula, and details on how chickens are slaughtered.

The book, co-authored by Charles Wilson, tries to teach teens how the food industry specifically targets customers. Writes the Los Angeles Times:

“Chew on This” is not a book about what kids should or shouldn’t eat. Schlosser and Wilson are smart enough to know that the last thing any 14-year-old wants is someone telling her what to do. Rather, the book tries to help kids make more responsible choices about food, as well as about the corporations their valuable dollars support.

Getting such a message to teenagers is difficult. But Schlosser, who freely uses the “gross-out card,” seems to get through to kids better than most, writes the Times. He must be effective: McDonald’s is mobilizing a “truth squad” to defend the company, writes the Times on a Wall Street Journal article.

Schlosser’s line of attack may be smarter than targeting nutrition concerns, which make Americans suspicious and argumentative. (Trust me, I’m an expert on this topic.) Teens are far more likely to be drawn in by the dark world of slaughterhouses and corporate marketing techniques than antioxidants.

And therein lies the genius of the book: Schlosser takes fast-food marketing and turns it into a weapon against the forces of bad food. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see if a few teens from today remember “Chew on This” as their “Jungle” 100 years from now?

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