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Eric Schlosser

Long Live the Gadfly!

The Gadfly, as described by Plato in reference to Socrates ’critical stance toward the Athenian political scene, represents, perhaps, the earliest articulated example of a Muckraker. Though the term "muckraker" didn’t come into the language until American writer Upton Sinclair burst on the scene with his industry-busting The Jungle in 1906, a long tradition of Gadflies -- both before and after Sinclair -- have combined the illuminating light of the whistleblower with the prose of good letters.

Ralph Nader, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Barbara Ehrenreich, the entire published work of Mother Jones magazine -- these fearless forces of writing have hammered out pages exemplifying what writers should always, at one level or another, be doing: speaking honestly about difficult topics.

Enter Eric Schlosser, gadfly-extraordinaire. Son of former NBC president and Wall Street lawyer Herbert Schlosser, the younger Schlosser’s career has been propelled by an unstoppable drive to expose. His early journalism with The Atlantic Monthly, for instance, garnered the National Magazine Award for his investigative reports on marijuana and, in his view, the utter failure of the War on Drugs. But it’s his first full-length book, Fast Food Nation, that elevated his gadflyness to a national stage.

Declaring that “ever since the administration of President Richard Nixon, the fast food industry has worked closely with its allies in Congress and the White House to oppose new worker safety, food safety, and minimum wage law,” Schlosser lays out an obsessively researched case -- that fast food is rife with a much darker side. Muckraking away, he offers a sometimes disgusting -- feces mixed in with burger meat for instance – fly-on-the-wall view of an industry that spends billions to fatten Americans with cheap, mouthwatering crap.

His goal, like Sinclair and others of that ilk, is more than exposure: he aspires to assist in the process of making fast food obsolete. “Future historians, I hope, will consider the American fast food industry a relic of the twentieth century -- a set of attitudes, systems, and beliefs that emerged from postwar southern California…that quickly spread across the globe, flourished briefly, and then receded.”

The journalist’s investigative path blazed onward as he expanded his exploration of the War on Drugs as it pertains to marijuana. The result was his damning and alarming 2003 exposé, Reefer Madness. Schlosser is now grinding away on a book set to blow apart the rehabilitative myth known as the American prison system.

In conversation with former PBS correspondent Orville Schell, Schlosser speaks at the 27th Annual 826 Valencia College Scholarship Program held at Herbst Theater (826 Valencia, founded by author Dave Eggers, remains one of San Francisco’s finest writing tutoring centers for youth). The event promises, of course, to be a muckraking good time.

Eric Schlosser in conversation with Orville Schell
At Herbst Theater, Thurs Nov 29th, 8pm
Sponsored by City Arts & Lectures
Tickets: $19