I read Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma almost simultaneously, though it wasn’t on purpose. I was already reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma when I went home for winter break, and I’d been intending to read Fast Food Nation for a very long time. So when I found myself alone at my brother’s apartment with some time to kill before everyone got home and saw it sitting on his bookshelf, I picked it up and started reading, and was engrossed pretty quickly.
There are some common themes between the two books, which may be one of the reasons I was engrossed so quickly. The structure is very different, however. Fast Food Nation is a lot more journalistic, whereas Omnivore’s Dilemma is much more personal. Omnivore’s Dilemma was probably the book I would label as more enjoyable, whereas Fast Food Nation was fascinating and, sometimes, horrifying. Both were eye-opening, just in different ways. And both made me think a great deal about the food I eat.
I hate to write this entire review from a point of comparison, but it’s hard not to compare the two books. The main difference is that Omnivore’s Dilemma is about the entire food system in the United States, and Fast Food Nation is about fast food (obviously). This means that Fast Food Nation talks more about the people who are part of the institutions than does Omnivore’s Dilemma which is heavy on the biological impact (in both the ecological and human sense) of different ways of producing and consuming food. In Fast Food Nation we go inside the restaurants, the schools, the corporations, the slaughterhouses. While you have to take some of it with a grain of salt—the author clearly had an agenda, but then, how do you write a nonfiction book without an agenda?—it’s very thought-provoking.
I really do feel like my attitude towards food in general has changed after reading both of these books, although I’m not sure that it’s made a noticeable (enough) impact on how I shop or how I eat. And I think what both of these books did for me was to make me more aware of how much we don’t know in a society where the size of the population and our dependence upon people, states, and nations that are far-removed from us (none of which is necessarily a bad thing) mean that we are also far-removed from many aspects of life, such as the gathering and preparing of food, that were once an integral part of everyday living. It certainly gives you pause.