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July 2004, Volume 10, Number 3

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Schlosser and Crister

Writer Eric Schlosser, author of a 1995 Atlantic article on strawberry pickers and Fast Food Nation, is back with a book that includes essays on drugs, strawberries and sex. Schlosser laments the US demands for marijuana, hand-picked strawberries and pornography, and argues that they are typical of the $650 billion underground economy (US GDP is $10 trillion).

Schlosser believes that the tie between drugs, strawberries and sex is the free market, in which "economic motives are the only human motives." He says that, since nurses and teachers are "underpaid," markets do not work-"Left to its own devices, the free market always seeks a work force that is hungry, desperate and cheap--a work force that is anything but free."

Schlosser decries the spread of casual labor markets from strawberries to the nonfarm economy: "The sort of black market labor once narrowly confined to California agriculture is now widespread in meatpacking, construction and garment manufacturing. The growth of the underground has lowered wages, eliminated benefits and reduced job security in these industries." He concludes: "If the current abuse of illegal immigrants is allowed to continue, the United States soon won't have to import a foreign peasantry. We will have created our own."

Journalist Greg Critser argues that 60 percent of Americans are overweight because the US food industry has succeeded in getting them to eat more. Adults need fewer than 3,000 calories a day, but US farmers produce almost 4,000 calories a day, and Critser argues that "Big Food" devised ingenious marketing plans to get Americans to eat more.

The key figure, according to Critser, is McDonald's David Wallerstein, who learned while managing movie theaters that the trick to getting people to buy more soda and popcorn was to offer "supersizes." People were more willing to buy (and consume) one big offering than two smaller ones. This led to the Big Mac and Big Gulp, and eventually many food sellers supersized their offerings to get consumers to spend more, since food is relatively cheap; many of those who bought more also ate more.

Schlosser, Eric. 2003. Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market. Boston. Houghton Mifflin. Critser, Greg. 2002. Fat Land. How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World. Boston. Houghton Mifflin.