"On any given day in the United States about one-quarter of the adult population visits a fast food restaurant. During a relatively brief period of time, the fast food industry has helped to transform not only the American diet, but also our landscape, economy, workforce, and popular culture," writes Eric Schlosser, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, in this hard-hitting exposé of the terrible consequences of this industry of instant gratification. The American addiction to fries, burgers, and sodas has spawned 44 million obese men, women, and children; suburban sprawl; car culture; industrial agriculture; and the largest group of minimum wage earners in the U.S. And now fast food has joined Hollywood movies, blue jeans, and pop music as one of the country's most highly valued cultural exports.

The chief purveyor of "the dark side of the All-American meal" is McDonald's, which is now responsible for 90 percent of the country's new jobs. It is the largest purchaser of beef, pork, and potatoes, and the largest owner of retail property in the world. It spends more money on advertising and marketing than any other brand, and this has paid off royally. In a survey, 96 percent of American schoolchildren could identify Ronald McDonald; the only fictional character with a higher degree of recognition was Santa Claus.

Although it is disgusting to learn about the tainted meat of many fast food operators, the most distressing material in this muckraking volume is Schlosser's delineation of the slick marketing of fast food to children, who are viewed as major targets for promotion campaigns in the schools and elsewhere. About one-quarter of American children between the ages of two and five now have a television set in their room. About one-fifth of the nation's one to two year olds drink soda. Schlosser points out that many elementary schools serve food from Pizza Hut, McDonald's, and Subway on special lunch days. With such arrangements already in place, fast food franchises have begun to fulfill their goal of cradle-to-grave marketing strategies.

Recently we read an article about the drink giant Coca-Cola's plan to provide Coke on tap in customers' homes. How scary is that? Very very scary given the realization that millions of parents will rejoice in pleasing their kids with such a surprise. Read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and take to heart his suggestions in the last chapter to halt the nightmare of a nation of brainwashed toddlers eating and drinking junk food and sugar water.