of today's finest long-form journalists, Eric Schlosser, author
of the best-selling books "Fast Food Nation" and "Reefer
Madness," visited Elon and talked about his work in three sessions
Nov. 16 and 17.
has applied his exhaustive investigative reporting techniques in
settings across the United States to dissect vital issues, including
food safety, workers' rights, the war on drugs, the epidemic of
obesity and marketing to children. He appeared in two question-and-answer
sessions, and gave his main presentation Nov. 16 in McCrary Theatre.
He led that
appearance off with the declaration: "Ultimately, this talk
is going to be a critique of our nation's unchecked faith in the
free market and the worship of money above everything else."
research for the book "Reefer
Madness: Sex, Drugs and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market"
unraveled the inside story of three major "black market"
aspects of the U.S. economy: pornography, marijuana and illegal
migrant workers. In the book and in his talk at Elon, Schlosser
detailed the underground economy tied to the marketing of the three,
exposing the greed and hypocrisy involved in their survival.
the long hours he spent finding and getting to know and build a
reporter-source trust relationship with people on the inside of
the drug trade and in the secret, hillside shanty towns that hide
thousands of undocumented workers in the United States.
huge black market in the U.S. really made me think about our free
market," he said. "You hear this word 'freedom' used again
and again ... but freedom for whom? For the buyer? For the seller?
The worker? The employer?"
He spoke in
favor of legalizing marijuana, using statistics, storytelling and
humor to illustrate his point that it is much less dangerous to
society than alcohol. Putting the issue in historic perspective,
he said, "The plant was associated with minorities and the
subcultures of society the majority doesn't like," explaining
that it was a way to control poor people, minorities and working-class
Moving on to
the topic of the black market of low-paid workers - usually immigrants
from south of the U.S. border, but also from other nations of the
world - Schlosser began with the fact that even those who make minimum
wage as documented workers are being treated unfairly. "What
has happened to the minimum wage?" he asked. "It's now
lower - adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1950 - 54 years ago.
The minimum wage peaked - when adjusted for inflation - in 1974.
The poorest workers in America have gotten a pay cut of over 40
a passage from his book that describes the 12-hour workdays and
horrible living conditions of the immigrant workers in California's
bountiful fields, he said, "No god that men have ever worshipped
is more ruthless than the free market. It always seeks a work force
that is hungry, desperate and cheap."
He said the
rhetoric of the free market is being used by corporations to avoid
government regulation in regard to worker safety, minimum wage and
other issues. "What we're moving toward," he said, "is
an economy much like the former Soviet Union, with a few companies
having complete power over the market, the workers and the consumers."
A student asked
Schlosser what he thinks should be done about the wave of illegal
immigrants coming into the United States. "You could build
a 200-foot wall along the border and send helicopters chasing these
people through the desert and still not solve the problem,"
he said, waving his hand through the air for emphasis. "But
send the executives of the companies that hire illegal immigrants
to jail for their crimes, and that will solve the problem of illegal
the audience of students and other members of the Elon community
to adopt a different set of moral values and a different religion,
one that gives justice to the weak - as outlined in every religious
text revered by those who practice any of the world's religions.
He quoted a line from a follower of engaged Buddhism: "Once
there is seeing, there must be acting; otherwise, what is the point
book "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal"
spent nearly two years on the New York Times best-sellers list.
The book takes an inside look at the fast-food industry, from the
appalling conditions in the nation's meat-packing plants to the
flavor factories along the New Jersey Turnpike that give fast-food
its taste. Schlosser's reporting analyzes the influence of fast
food on our economy, workforce, diet and popular culture.
is now working on his third book. He says it will answer the question,
"How does the land of the free come to have the largest prison
population in the history of the world?"
author graduated from Princeton with a degree in American history
and tried several other aspects of the writing profession, working
as a playwright, novelist and scriptwriter, before settling on long-form
non-fiction. He found his writing niche after he pitched an idea
for an article on homosexuals in the military to an editor at the
Atlantic Monthly. Instead, he was assigned to write about the New
York City Bomb Squad after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
That was followed with other successful assignments, including an
article about the fast-food industry that he later expanded into
his first book.
book was inspired by Atlantic articles on marijuana laws in America
and illegal immigration in California. His two-part series, "Reefer
Madness" and "Marijuana and the Law" (Atlantic Monthly,
August and September, 1994), won a National Magazine Award for reporting,
and his article, "In the Strawberry Fields" (Atlantic
Monthly, November 1995), received a Sidney Hillman Foundation award.