UCR professor discusses fast food’s impact on American culture

Courtesy of UC Davis
Courtesy of UC Davis

UCR history professor Catherine Gudis spoke to the BBC Persian television station to discuss the impact of McDonald’s on American culture. As a 20th century U.S. cultural scholar who specializes in consumer culture, Gudis focused on the labor industry and practices which allowed the company to succeed and influence the food market in California’s Central Valley

McDonalds, which began as a small restaurant next to Monrovia Airport in 1937, expanded rapidly after its purchase from businessman Ray Kroc, who purchased the company in 1961. With the expansion, Kroc was able to industrialize the fast food chain across the world through the “speedy service” system, allowing the food to taste identical at every restaurant.

Due to this rapid industrialization, Gudis described how the expansion created a new form of economic efficiency which allowed it to grow. “On the one hand it’s a marker of industrial shift, that McDonald’s created models of efficiency for not only producing food in what is essentially an assembly line factory process, but also distributing it to people in a way that places the burden of labor on the customer,” Gudis explained.

Through this system, Gudis stated that the customer takes responsibility for certain parts of the labor such as receiving the food and throwing it away, allowing the corporation to save on costs by letting the customers handle parts of the process through their consumption.

Gudis explained that through the assembly line and labor processes, fast food has influenced the agricultural market by increasing the amount of genetically modified crops and the consolidation of the cattle market in California’s Central Valley.

“Fast food has such a might in the market that it is able to influence in the same manner that Wal-Mart influences… chickens are raised and brought to market not always in the healthiest fashion, with lots of antibiotics in quarters for living which are very close and pretty disgusting…because they have such a pull over the market there is a great deal of pressure,” Gudis elaborated.

The implications also led to a heavy reliance on immigrant labor by the corporations who produce the food, who often work in what Gudis describes as “near slave conditions.” “In Immokalee, Florida, who are growing the tomatoes which (sic) will then be utilized by corporate enterprises, whether by fastfood or by supermarkets are being turned into ketchup… when we look at the food chain we see (labor) practices that have been unregulated.”

The labor in the restaurants may be influenced differently in the future, according to Gudis, as wages are expected to increase in cities such as Los Angeles, which will implement a minimum wage of $15 in 2020. With this increase, the factory line method that entry level employees utilize may change.

Along with the wage increase, Gudis also attributes other factors such as health concerns and intense competition in the market for the recent decline in profits, which fell by 1.7 percent in February, the first time the franchise had a decline in over 50 years.

Fast food is still popular among students around campus, however, as second-year undeclared student Abigail Padilla states,”It’s really easy to just go out and buy it. It’s like really cheap, and I don’t always have a time to have a friend to drive me to go buy groceries.”

Local McDonald’s management representatives from the restaurant on University and 10th Street have not been available to comment on their recent sales.

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