Fast Food Nation 

As a teenager, I traveled to South America and visited a farmers’ market where cows were slaughtered in the center square. Since I’m someone who typically buys his meat from a deli counter, my guide, an American, recommended I watch as each cow was stabbed, then left heaving, kicking and slowly crumpling in a mess of fluids. Once it was over, and I was sufficiently nauseated, he insisted we go for steaks; it’d be the best way for me to get past it.

Nothing could get me to eat a burger after watching Fast Food Nation. The reality I witnessed in South America pales in comparison to this dramatic depiction—based on Eric Schlosser’s best-selling book-length reportage—of industrial-scale rendering of cattle into beef. And whatever unnatural or unethical practices I suspected were behind my combo meals—I read the e-mail about steroids and de-beaking at KFC, just like everyone else—are expounded here tenfold.

Fast Food Nation is Traffic for Big Macs. Like the book, the viewer is introduced to every level of big-agriculture’s food chain, from the well-meaning vice-president of a thriving fast food company to illegal immigrants risking their lives to cross the border so they can work in dangerous and unseemly conditions processing that chain’s burgers.

Director Richard Linklater meanders through the lives of everyone here, much like he did with the teenagers of Dazed and Confused. At times this immersion is illuminating, but unlike his signature film, other times tediously depressing. (Wilmer Valderrama hasn’t had this much superfluous screen time since he was dating Lindsay Lohan.)

Either way, the result is a pretty damning portrait of an enormous industry with a frightening, multi-tiered grip on our society. (Note: it’s a one-sided, if not accurate, exposé bolstered by the DVD’s bonus features, which include a three-part animated tutorial on the evils of big agriculture, titled The Meatrix; based on The Matrix, it stars Moopheus.)

Fast Food Nation is more cautionary tale than dramatic brilliance, more important than entertaining. But if Super Size Me put at least a cautionary crimp in your drive-through habits, this film will be the definitive end to any future fast food temptations.
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