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to do the job. He didn’t, and that afternoon Kenny found himself in the emergency room under an oxygen tent, his lungs scorched with chlorine gas, his body covered in blisters. After a month in the hospital Kenny returned to Monfort, where he suffered a broken leg, a shattered ankle, and a heart attackall on company time. Monfort then decided that Kenny was no longer worth their investment and fired him without warning or notification. Kenny didn’t realize that he had lost his job until his company health insurance deposit was returned. Stories like Kenny’s stand on their own as reminders of the consequences that workers suffer when corporations acquire leverage in global markets. Schlosser, however, effectively uses these cases as a springboard into the larger corporate and political structures guiding the transition to global capitalism. How, he asks, could Monfort legally treat Kenny with such cavalier disdain? His answer points to a 1991 Colorado law cynically promoted by its Republican supporters as “workers’ comp reform.” This law, which became the basis for labor legislation in many other states, imposed severe restrictions on workers’ comp payments, reduced the types of injuries that workers’ comp covered, and allowed employers to choose the physicians who would decide the severity of their employees’ injuries. The spiral of hell drops precipitously when Schlosser reveals that Torn Norton was the Colorado legislator who introduced this bill. Norton is a conservative Republican whose wife Kay was at the time vice president of legal and governmental affairs at ConAgra Red Meat, located in the very town that Norton represented. Schlosser’s keenly honed ability to connect the experiences of a man like Kenny with the machinations of a man like Norton underscores the depth of corruption in this “world that’s been deliberately hidden.” From the slaughterhouse, Schlosser moves to the meatpacking plant, an especially gruesome level of hell replete with horrors including E.coli, “mad cow disease,” and Phil Gran-uri. “Every day in the United States,” he explains, CC roughly 200,000 people are sickened by foodborne disease, 900 are hospitalized, and fourteen die.” A number of factors contribute to these figures, but one stands out: “The meatpacking system that arose to supply the nation’s fast food chains. . . has proved to be an extremely efficient system for spreading disease.” When the National Academy of Sciences warned that the nation’s meat inspection program required radical updating, the highly centralized meatpacking industry mustered its attorneys, greased the palms of the requisite representatives, and initiated a legal and political onslaught to prevent changes designed to make meat safer. The Reagan administration responded with a program euphemistically called Streamlined Inspection System USDA budget by reducing the number of federal inspectors. In essence, it aimed to privatize regulation. The Clinton administration moved to replace this farce of a program with a more systematic plan of federal oversight, but in 1994 their efforts were thwarted by Commander Gingrich and the Republican Congress. Over the next several years, Senator Phil Gramm filled his coffers with more money from the meat industry that any other U.S. senator. He did so while wielding his influence, as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, to prevent the modernization of the nation’s meat inspection system. Sucks for us, but not Gramm’s wife,Wendy Lee, who just so happens to sit on the board of the Iowa Beef Packersthe nation’s largest meatpacking firm. And so on. As these few examples attest, Schlosser uncovers and connects a welter of corruption that evokes pangs of sympathy for those teargassed, trash-can brandishing protesters. His stories succeed where the mainstream media failed. But now what? Does Schlosser have a prescription for change? In a concluding section entitled “how to do it,” he asserts, “Congress should ban advertising that preys upon children, it should stop subsidizing dead end jobs, it should pass tougher food safety laws, it should protect American workers from serious harm, it should fight against dangerous concentrations of economic power.” Yeah, sure. In other words, no, he offers no solution. \(One can hear his editor saying, “but you’ve got to suggest ly be expected to have one. Schlosser is an investigative reporter. He’s done his work exceptionally well. He’s left us to do ours. But without much of a pep talk. In fact, Schlosser’s portrayal of the American consumer leaves little hope that a genuine grass roots effort to dismantle the golden arches and just say no to McWhatevers has any chance of germinating into a mainstream movement. Schlosser’s fascination with the cultural and emotional power that something as simple as a Whopper can evoke overlooks the fact thatwhen you get right down to itwe as consumers ultimately keep fast food running. We can pull the plug anytime.. . If only those burgers weren’t so damn tasty. James McWilliams is an instructor of history at Southwest Texas State University. 6/8/01 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21