Renown journalist and author Eric Schlosser received an honorary doctorate degree at Occidental College on Thursday evening, where he spoke to a loaded auditorium about the past, present and future of our local food system. Los Angeles, Schlosser asserted, was the incubator for a fast food culture that has severely harmed the health of our nation as a whole. The commodification and industrialization of food all started with McDonald’s, whose first location in San Bernadino was opened in 1940. Now, nearly 75 years later, there’s hope that our city can correct its course and serve as a model for positive change.
I won’t go too far in depth to what Schlosser spoke about, as much of it is in his book Fast Food Nation. One thing that struck me as particularly apropos, though, was his summation of how McDonald’s changed the structure of kitchens. Instead of hiring a short order cook, a few unskilled employees were hired to repeatedly do one task — toasting buns, for instance — therein making workers disposable (and I imagine pretty bored!). With this system came the elimination of unions in the fast-food industry, and the decline of wages for it’s workers. It also evolved to become a mechanical restaurant chain that could produce food that was “everything, everywhere, always the same.” Fast food lost its humanity, as well as its sense of place.
Now here we are 10 years after Schlosser’s expose was published, and the world had changed a lot. Good, clean, fair food is a hot button issue, and the general populous has a strong desire for sustenance with soul. Heck, there’s even an organic garden on the White House lawn! There’s even hope in the quick service industry itself. Last night’s opening of Short Order, a casual restaurant dedicated to serving locally-sourced produce and protein, is proof. The space was packed to the gills with family, friends, and fans — all of whom eagerly anticipated the opening of a burger joint with a backbone.
Short Order, and hopefully many more to local establishments to come, will continue to push the agenda for fair food that tastes good, proving that Los Angeles is indeed an incubator for change.