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Overlapping Pickles Forbidden
by Diane Schoemperlen

IN Making Fast Food: From the Frying Pan into the Fryer, Ester Reiter, an assistant professor in the sociology department at Brock University, examines the impact of the fast-food invasion on the labour force and contemporary family life. Fast food, whether we eat it or not, has changed our lives forever. According to an Information Canada poll, 70 per cent of primary school students questioned as to the identity of Sir John A. Macdonald thought he had started a hamburger chain. Before my son had turned four, he`d already revised the traditional children`s favourite for our modern times, "Old Macdonald had a hamburger..." Reiter`s book is a fascinating and highly readable study of the fast-food phenomenon that has become a symbol of life in contemporary society. Perhaps in an effort to determine whether the three-minute hamburger or the working woman came first, Reiter begins with a historical look at consumerism and the rise of the restaurant industry in Canada. She goes on to detail her own experiences as a worker at a Burger King outlet in Mississauga, Ontario. Here lies the heart of Reiter`s research, as she chronicles and confirms what we have suspected about fast food all along. The time-per-transaction standards, for instance, are three minutes for full counter service and 30 seconds for drive-thru: during these times the server must also "make the customer feel that they are not just paying cash for a service but that they are genuinely welcomed." Reiter concludes that "Burger King`s presentation of itself as a happy, clean, efficient place where the customer will be well treated is thus designed to divert attention away from the food it serves." In her examination of how such food is assembled (one would not want to go so far as to say "cooked"), Reiter notes that "there are no pots and pans in a Burger King kitchen ...almost all foods enter the store ready for the final cooking process ...Only the tomatoes are sliced on the premises." And even then, the manager, not the workers, must decide whether the slices are small or large, whether each Whopper will receive two or three. And a worker must not forget that "overlapping the pickles is forbidden:" Offering minimum-wage, three-hour shifts scheduled only one week at a time, stressful working conditions, and little room for advancement, Burger King draws from specific areas of the labour force: teenagers, adult women with young children, and retired seniors. Staff turnover rates are 300 per cent annually: "Loyalty is defined as obedience rather than longevity of tenure:" Reiter provides an in-depth analysis of how these workers are recruited, how they are treated on the job, how unions are kept out, and how the entire labour market is ultimately affected by this kind of employment strategy. In the final chapter, "Is This the Work Situation of the Future?;" Reiter addresses the larger issues raised by her research, "exploring the question of the relationships between the world of paid work and the world of consumption." She notes that "the challenge of the fast-food companies is to make money, lots of it, while retaining the pretence that they are doing the world a favour. This is the hypocritical essence of liberalism:` What began as a North American phenomenon is quickly becoming an international leveller as fast food goes worldwide: you can now have the same burger and fries in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe that you`ve been eating for years at your local strip mall. The cultural fallout of the fast-food invasion is terrifying. McDonald`s Japanese partner, Den Fujita, is quoted as claiming that the reason Japanese people are so short and have yellow skins is because they have eaten nothing but fish and rice for 2000 years. If we eat McDonald`s hamburgers and potatoes for a thousand years, we will become taller, our skin will become white and our hair blond.

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