Cover image for Fast food, fast track : immigrants, big business, and the American dream
Fast food, fast track : immigrants, big business, and the American dream
Talwar, Jennifer Parker.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boulder, Colo. : Westview Press, [2002]

Physical Description:
viii, 230 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1300 Lexile.
Format :


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Item Holds
HD8039.H82 U7 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Hailing from China, the Caribbean, Latin America, and India, a colorful sea of faces has taken its place behind one of the most ubiquitous American business institutions - the fast-food counter. They have become a vital link between the growing service sector in our cities' ethnic enclaves and the multi-billion dollar global fast-food industry.For four years, sociologist Jennifer Parker Talwar went behind the counter herself and listened to immigrant fast-food workers in New York City's ethnic communities. They talked about balancing their low-paying jobs and monotonous daily reality with keeping the faith that these very jobs could be the first step on the path to the American Dream. In this original and compelling work of ethnography, Talwar shows that contrary to those arguing that the fast-food industry only represents an increasing homogenization of the American workforce, fast-food chains in immigrant communities must and do adapt to their surroundings. Rather than focusing on how ethnic communities become relatively sealed off from the larger economy, Talwar explores the interplay between globalizing mainstream forces like fast-food chains and the immigrant communities of our largest and most diverse cities.

Author Notes

Jennifer Parker Talwar is an assistant professor of sociology at Penn State-Berks Lehigh Valley. She lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Talwar, a sociology professor at Penn State-Berks Lehigh Valley, took a job in a Brooklyn, N.Y., Burger King to study the recent flood of immigrant employees in fast food restaurants. She also interviewed more than 100 employees (mostly Asian and Latino migrs) of New York-area McDonald's and Burger King franchises in ethnic neighborhoods. Here, she compares these fairly new sources of employment with the more traditional unskilled jobs in immigrant-run groceries, restaurants and other mom-and-pop enterprises, exploring why immigrants increasingly turn to fast food jobs and whether these jobs lead to English fluency and useful mainstream skills or are a dead end. Much of the text is Talwar's description of fast food life and her interpretations of the employees' survey responses and behavior. Missing are the first-person stories and real conversations that usually enliven the participant/observer genre even the extended survey answers seldom go more than one paragraph, and Talwar seems loath to let the workers speak for themselves without adding her own analysis. While she provides an unusual inside look at the pan-ethnic environment, hierarchies and racial conflicts of immigrant neighborhood fast food chains, her approach, as well as her sometimes facile observations ("It is interesting that [recent Chinese immigrants] Paul and Tina view McDonald's as foreign when the general public has long viewed Chinatown as foreign") deaden what might have been an engrossing and original study. (Mar.) Forecast: Readers of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation (2001) will reach for this, undoubtedly hoping for more social analysis. Once word gets out that it doesn't measure up, though, sales will fall flat. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

With the publication in 1993 of sociologist George Ritzer's The McDonaldization of Society, the word "McDonaldization" became part of our vocabulary, usually used to describe prolific spread and mind-numbing sameness. Ritzer's ideas were further promulgated by subsequent titles such as McDonalidization Revisited by Mark Alfino, et al.; Barry Smart's Resisting McDonaldization; and, most trenchantly perhaps, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal. Talwar (sociology, Penn State, Berks Lehigh Valley) offers us a less bleak perspective on fast food restaurants by examining the employment opportunities they represent for newly arrived immigrants in this country. The homogeneity decried in these other volumes here gives way to ethnic complexity, as restaurants (and their corporate owners) respond to local demographics. What appear to be dead-end jobs to those born in the United States are, in fact, just a rung in the ladder of upward mobility for ambitious new Americans. Intriguing and well researched, Talwar's argument is recommended for all libraries. Ellen D. Gilbert, Princeton, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Talwar (Pennsylvania State Univ.--Berks Lehigh Valley) argues that we need to reevaluate our vision of the fast food industry as a rigidly standardized institution and better understand how immigrant workers fit into it. Her work is based on four years of participant observation and interviews focusing on seven restaurants in three ethnic neighborhoods (Chinatown and Little Dominican Republic in Manhattan and an African-American and West Indian community in Brooklyn). Fast food franchises in ethnic neighborhoods are contrasted with ethnic enterprises. In the former, ethnicity has become a commodity to be bought and sold in the corporate quest for new markets. With few exceptions, ethnicity has thereby been severed from an authentic community and reengineered to fit the market logic of big business. Thus, the fast food restaurant does not promote cultural maintenance as described in classical studies of the ethnic economy. Other topics include the effects of automation in the workplace; comparative distinctions of ethnicity, class, and gender; and interactions among fast food employees, particularly those constructed around racial and ethnic divisions and conflicts. This makes for interesting reading, enlivened by many direct quotations from the author's respondents. It is fine ethnography with both theoretical and advocative significance, representing the best of qualitative sociology. All levels and collections. W. G. Lockwood University of Michigan

Table of Contents

1 Searching for the American Dreamp. 1
2 It's in the Neighborhood: Race, Place, and the Importance of Culturep. 17
3 Word of Mouth and Getting Your Foot in the Door: Qualifications, Recruitment, and the Path to a Fast Food Jobp. 53
4 Day Off, Nothing! the Work's Got to Be Done: Flexibility and Work Timep. 69
5 Pop-O-Matic Grills and Redefining Skill: Technologies and Divisions of Laborp. 81
6 It's Hard to Get These Kids to Smile: Managing the Fast Food Personalityp. 97
7 Problems on the United Nations Team: Ethnic Conflicts and Interactionsp. 119
8 Up the Lad Dor or Down: a Question of Mobilityp. 147
9 Flipping Burgers in a Melting Pot? Looking Ahead to a More Multicultural Societyp. 183
Notesp. 195
Appendix A The Respondentsp. 215
Indexp. 219