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Powell's Q&A

Eric Schlosser

Describe your latest project.
Chew on This is a book about fast food for young readers. It doesn't aim to convert them into vegetarians or anti-globalization activists. It aims to open their eyes about the food they eat, where it comes from, how it's made, how it's marketed to them — and how it affects their lives. The idea for the book came from Charles Wilson, who worked as my fact-checker on Fast Food Nation and Reefer Madness. Chuck argued that the fast food chains were spending billions of dollars a year targeting children — and that those kids deserved to hear a different point of view. So I asked him to help me with Chew on This, and we tried to write a book that would provide kids with some important information without preaching or scolding. The fast food, junk food, and soda companies aren't going to like this book. We hope that curious young people do.

Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good place to start.
John McPhee is one of my favorite writers — a true master of "the literature of fact." He's written twenty-nine books, and every one of them is worth reading. The Curve of Binding Energy is a good place to start. It could hardly be more relevant. It simply and elegantly explains nuclear physics and describes the ease with which you can build a small atomic bomb.

Writers are better liars than other people: true or false? Why or why not?
I think writers are terrible liars. They're dumb enough to commit their lies to print. Good liars are much more discreet.

What is your favorite literary first line?
"Call me Ishmael."

Share an interesting experience you've had with one of your readers.
During my first reading at Powell's, amid a heated discussion about plans to open a new McDonald's in Portland, a lovely young woman raised her hand. She seemed shy, and I encouraged her to speak up and share her views with everyone. She said she was a vegan — looked me right in the eye — and launched into an angry attack on me and Fast Food Nation. I was a total hypocrite, she said, for knowing what I know about the meatpacking industry and still continuing to eat meat. It wasn't a question of whether a new McDonald's should be allowed to open, she argued: the real question was when we would find the nerve to start bombing and destroying the ones that already exist. I was caught totally off-guard. And as I stood there, slightly stunned, she continued with her fiery rant. When she was finally done, I responded, arguing that destroying these places was wrong, that bombed-out restaurants would quickly be rebuilt, and that even threatening to do something like that was a violation of the Patriot Act. I told her that I wanted to see people make different choices — not to make choices for them. Setting off bombs isn't my form of persuasion; that's why I'm a writer. After calling me a liberal, bourgeois sell-out, she sat down. I'm used to being attacked and insulted by industry groups. That was the first time I got well and truly flamed by someone on the other side. And she looked like such a nice person.

What do you dislike most?
Cheap cynicism and self-absorption.

Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
I always listen to music while I write. So let me take this opportunity to thank Deep Dish, the Nortec Collective, Basement Jaxx, Cold Cut, LCD Soundsystem, Keren Ann, Mazzy Starr, Bikini Kill, the Stooges, and Radiohead, among others, for the subconscious influence they've recently had on my work — and for keeping me awake at my desk.

In the For-All-Eternity category, what will be your final thought?
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