So I went to an advance screening of Fast Food Nation at MPAA offices here in D.C. this morning, at it was one of the oddest movie experiences of my life. Because I wasn't going to be the one writing about it, I didn't do much advance reading about it, and ended up assuming it was going to be a Super Size Me-style documentary version of the Eric Schlosser book.
Not quite. It was an oddly star-filled drama starring Greg Kinnear as a (mostly) well-meaning fast food industry executive, Wilmer Valderrama as an exploited illegal immigrant from Mexico and Bruce Willis as an evil meat supply middleman. As my colleague Peter said, it was a target-rich environment for mockery, as it took its cliched lefty verities with great seriousness. A scene where a foursome of earnest young eco-activists cut through a fence to free a herd of cows was especially hilarious.
The real evil guys in the movie are the (unseen) executives of the local meat processing facility which provides tainted hamburger patties to the fast food industry. In addition to the manure in the meat is the ever-present danger of severe injury to the workers. The plant in the movie is depicted as being a workplace deathtrap; at one point one of the characters describes severe injuries as happening "every day."
Which made me wonder - just how dangerous is the meat processing industry? And how dangerous compared to other lines of work? It turns out that working in meat processing is fairly dangerous - workplace injuries are much higher than average for all private employment - but that shouldn't be terribly surprising given that it's the only industry in which dismemberment is the primary workplace goal. I did notice however, that there are more dangerous lines of work. Beet sugar manufacturing, for example. Much more dangerous. And roughly as dangerous as being a slaughterhouse worker is being a courier. That's right - bike messengers are the real heroes.