Eric Schlosser appeared at the University Book Store this afternoon to promote his newest book, Chew On This, a kids book about food that follows in the path blazed by his super-best-seller Fast Food Nation. The goal of the book, he explained, is not to tell kids what to eat but to tell them what they are eating.
That's not what he started with.
What he started with was an invitation for audience members to approach him for discussion after the event or ask questions during the Q&A period if they disagree with him.
Because apparently some people who disagree with him have taken to exercising different tactics. They have (allegedly?) written defamatory letters to schools hosting him and arranged protests and leafletting. There's a whole new website devoted to refuting him. These groups have alleged that he is anti immigrant, that he advocates drug use for children, that he is a communist.
This comes after a Wall Street Journal article (swiftly denied by the parties named) revealed internal memos from McDonald's telling franchise owners how to respond to publicity surrounding the book and the upcoming movie version of Fast Food Nation, including plans for a 'truth squad' to discredit 'the message and the messenger'. McDonald's swiftly denied that the memos had any basis in truth. But hey, look at this, it's all happening exactly as outlined.
Schlosser seemed unintimidated and determined, definitely on the defensive. He announced that at every signing he has done so far about the book, there has been someone from the meat-packing industry in the audience - sometimes a person he recognized and approached, other times someone who approached him and self-identified. And he wanted that to happen again today. He had an intense look in his eyes, scanning the crowd as if to pick out the 'mole'. Suddenly I put a different construction on the presence of the uniformed security guard standing obtrusively nearby. I wouldn't be surprised to learn he's received physical threats in the last weeks.
Schlosser moved on to the content of the book and held up an illustration of the cutting edge marketing technology in fast food these day - MRI testing for kids. Not to see if they're sick - to see which ads make the 'brand awareness' area of the brain light up the most. That's gotta be good for you. What executive dreamed this up, and how long ago did they sell their souls to Satan?
Unfortunately at that point I had to sneak out so I missed the rest of the talk. I popped back in later and he was still signing books, an hour and a half after the start of the event. I guess he really connected with the (large) crowd.
A Crappy Drawing(TM) of Eric Schlosser at the University Bookstore on May 13, 2006