Coming of age in the Reagan-Bush era had a big impact on me. For the past thirty years, so much of American society has been driven by selfishness and greed and a lack of compassion for people at the bottom. I've tried hard in my work to question those motives and offer an opposing view. I've tried to expose hypocrisy and corruption. But what I've tried to do, most of all, is simply to understand the times we live in: What is really going on? What are the driving forces behind the changes we're experiencing? How did things get to be this way?
Q. So how did the two-part article for Rolling Stone become the basis for a book?
After the article came out, it felt like there was still a lot more to say about the subject. There were a number of issues that I wanted to explore in greater depth. So expanding it into a book seemed the natural next step.
I found the process of reporting the article to be deeply moving. I spent a great deal of time in meatpacking communities, which are sad, desperate places. Seeing the abuse of these meatpacking workers really affected me. Meatpacking used to be one of the best-paid jobs in the country. Until the late 1970s, meatpacking workers were like auto workers. They had well-paid union jobs. They earned good wages, before the fast-food companies came along. It upset me to find that the wages of meatpacking workers had recently been slashed, that they were now suffering all kinds of job-related injuries without being properly compensated.
One of the more remarkable moments of my research occurred while I was visiting a home in the Midwest where a group of impoverished meatpacking workers lived. They were all illegal immigrants. And while I was talking with them, I learned that some of them had worked at a strawberry farm I'd visited for the Atlantic Monthly piece. That's when I realized that this was a really important story, one that deserved a lot more of my time and attention. California has been exploiting migrant workers from Mexico for a hundred years. But that form of exploitation had, until recently, been limited to California and a handful of Southwestern states. Now it seemed to be spreading throughout the United States. Finding that illegal immigrants were being exploited in the heartland of America, in a little town that on the surface looked straight out of a Normal Rockwell postcard--well, to me, this was something new, a disturbing and important new trend.
Excerpted from "Reforming Fast Food Nation," part of the book Food, Inc.: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer - And What You Can Do About It, available now from PublicAffairs (www.publicaffairsbooks.com). Copyright © 2009.