Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
About the Book
Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About
is a carefully researched and engaging text
that teachers will find useful in a variety of disciplines,
including English, nutrition, health, social studies,
debate, mathematics, history, and creative writing. It
encourages young readers eleven and up to look critically at
the world around them, offering much for self-motivated
students to explore on their own while giving students who
need support accessible and interesting information.
The suggestions in this teacher's guide provide starting
points from which you and your students can spin off lessons
in all sorts of interesting directions. You can build
lessons around the whole book or single chapters. After
reading Chew on This
yourself, you will probably find
potential for other cross-curricular projects across many
Do you think Hamburger Charlie had any idea how popular the
hamburger would become? After reading this chapter, why do
you think the hamburger became America's most popular
sandwich? Was it inevitable that the hamburger would become
so popular, or was its popularity the result of specific
choices that people made?
"The Youngster Business"
Representatives from Coca-Cola have said that the two main
things the company tries to convey in its advertisements are
"youth and energy." Describe some of the fast-food
advertisements you've seen. Drawing on what you've learned
from this chapter, name some of the techniques that
fast-food companies use in these advertisements to attract
children to their restaurants. Do you think these techniques
Do any of you, your siblings, or your friends have jobs in
fast-food restaurants? What do they like about their
fast-food jobs? What do they dislike? How long have they
worked in fast food, and how long do they intend to stay?
Teenage employees Pascal and Maxime collected plenty of
signatures and lots of evidence against McDonald's to
support their plan to organize a union. How was McDonald's
able to win the legal case against them? Do you think the
tactics McDonald's used were just? Do you think Pascal and
Maxime were right to want to start a union?
"The Secret of the Fries"
Were you surprised to learn what's in the red food dye that
goes into many fast-food strawberry shakes? Or to find out
what flavoring goes into the French fries? What do you think
about the fact that a lot of the flavors in your fast food
come from chemical factories along the New Jersey Turnpike?
Could our food be made in any other way?
Do you think it was appropriate for Harish Bharti to file a
lawsuit claiming that McDonald's was misleading vegetarians?
What do you think of the results of the suit?
Based on what you learned from reading this chapter, do you
think that the foods American children like the most are the
foods that children all over the world like the most? Why or
"Stop the Pop"
Does your school have soda machines? After reading this
chapter, would you be willing to stand up for the removal of
your school's soda machines, as Kristina Clark did? Why or
Does your school serve junk food or fast food in the
cafeteria or the school store? Do you buy food à la carte or
from the National School Lunch Program? Do you think that
the National School Lunch Program is still able to fulfill
its 1946 mission to "safeguard the health and well-being of
the nation's children"? Why or why not?
Drawing on what you learned from reading this chapter, can
you describe how cows, chickens, and pigs are raised for the
fast-food industry today? In what ways are they raised
differently from the way they were raised fifty years ago?
What are some of the environmental consequences of the way
we raise the animals for our food today? What do you think
of these changes? How much or little do you feel the
fast-food industry is responsible for them?
If you were in charge of one of the biggest meatpacking
companies, what would you do differently?
What are some of the effects on growing bodies of consuming
too much fast food and exercising too little?
Representatives of the fast-food industry say that the
responsibility for healthy choices lies with you. How much
do you think that lack of personal responsibility is a cause
of the current obesity crisis? How much do you think that
corporations are responsible? Why?
Eric Schlosser and Charles Wilson describe Sam Fabrikant's
struggle with weight gain and his frightening experience
with gastric bypass surgery at the age of sixteen. After
reading about Sam's experience, do you think that gastric
bypass surgery was the best option for him? What were Sam's
What alternatives to eating at the big fast-food chains do
the authors propose? What other alternatives can you think
of? Has reading Chew on This
changed your mind about
where to buy your food? Why or why not?
Geography, History, English, and Social Studies
Ask your students to research the development of fast food
in your town or area. How has your town changed since fast
food became a part of American culture? Visit your local
library and look at photographs of your town before fast
food arrived on the scene and the automobile became so
important. If you can find aerial photographs, examine the
evolving shape and street plan of your town. Where do
fast-food restaurants tend to cluster? How has your downtown
area changed since the arrival of fast-food restaurants?
Interview people who have lived in your town for many years
and seen these changes firsthand. How do they feel about the
History, English, and Social Studies
Ask your students to interview grandparents or other older
adults they know about how eating habits have changed since
they were young. What meals do they particularly remember
from their childhood? Who cooked them? What ingredients were
used? Were more foods produced and consumed locally? Have
their eating habits changed since fast food came on the
scene? Why or why not? Do they think the changes are for the
better or for the worse?
What do we know from history about the association between
food health? Explore historical problems associated with
malnutrition as well as the new health concerns about
Social Studies, English, and Business
Have the students design an advertising campaign directed at
children for a fast-food chain, drawing on techniques
described in "The Youngster Business." Assign students to
teams and have individuals within those teams serve as the
chain's marketing director, advertising writers, toy
designers, movie studio executives, farmers, and flavorists,
among other professions. Have each student describe his or
her role to the class after brainstorming and homework
sessions. At the end of the project, discuss whether the
students think the techniques they used to market and sell
their food were ethical.
Social Studies, English, and Business
Encourage students to interview siblings or friends who work
at fast-food restaurants and write an essay about their
discoveries. The students can ask: What do they like about
their jobs? What do they dislike? How long have they worked
in fast food and how long do they intend to stay? When do
they work? Are they able to balance schoolwork and their job
Mathematical problems can be drawn from every chapter. For
- Using the information in "Big," have students make scale
drawings to illustrate how portion sizes have changed over
- The average assistant fast-food manager makes $25,070 a
year. Have the students make a budget for that money,
spreading it out over 365 days, and look at how much the
manager can spend on rent, a car, and other expenses.
- Divide the number of chickens killed in the United States
every year (9 billion) by the current population of the
United States to determine how many chickens are killed for
every man, woman, and child in the country.
Science and Nutrition
Have the students read "Stop the Pop." Design an experiment
that demonstrates the effects that soda can have on teeth
and explain the scientific principles behind the changes
(how sugars can serve as fuel for bacteria).
After reading "Big," have students make an anatomical
drawing of the human body and describe how unhealthy fast
foods can affect the liver, the aorta, the heart, the spine,
and other parts of the body. (Students can draw on
information from Chew on This and other sources.)
Nutrition and Creative Writing
Have the students keep a journal of everything they eat for
one week. At the end, ask them what this journal teaches
them about their diet that they hadn't thought about before.
Will it change the way they eat? Why or why not? Compare the
students' diets to the suggestions for daily dietary intake
at mypyramid.gov. [BookBrowse note: Since this reading guide was created, the US government has moved away from the food pyramid to the food plate, which can be found at http://myplate.gov].
"Big" tells the story of Sam Fabrikant. Ask students to
write a diary for the days leading up to and following Sam's
operation, revealing how he may have been feeling.
Have students research a list of startling facts in the book
and create an illustrated booklet called "The Illustrated
Guide to All You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food."
What are the arguments for and against eating fast food? For
and against marketing to children? For and against raising
animals at factory farms? Have students take different
Has Chew on This inspired you and your students to
make some changes in the food you purchase and eat? Here are
some suggestions on where to start.
Start your own "Stop the Pop" campaign to remove soda
machines from your school.
Start a petition to give to your principal.
Want fresh vegetables in your cafeteria?
- Invite the person in charge of purchasing food for your
school to your classroom. Ask questions about what he or she
buys and why. Ask whether he has the power to buy from local
farmers and dairies. Does he have just one supplier or many?
- Take a field trip to your own school cafeteria and see how
food is made behind the scenes. Talk to the cafeteria
workers about their jobs. Do they make food from scratch, or
does much of their work involve reheating frozen foods? Do
they decide what to serve? Are they involved when the school
gives health classes?
- Grow your own! Talk to your teacher about starting a
school garden, or apply for a grant to get you started:
visit www.kidsgardening.com to find out how.
Worried you are eating too much junk food?
Take some cookbooks out of the library and whip up some
healthy meals with your parents. Find a recipe that uses a
food you've never eaten before.
Visit a farmers' market. Visit
www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/map.htm to find one in
When you go to fast-food restaurants with friends, order a
salad instead of a burger.
Drink water instead of soda at meals and after school.
- Take a healthy lunch and snacks to school instead of purchasing food in the cafeteria.
- Compete with your friends! Count the foods in your lunch that haven't been processed. Each unprocessed food gets one point.
Upset by how animals and workers are treated at
As a class assignment, write letters to your
congressperson and senator explaining what you learned from
Chew on This and why you think workers and animals
deserve better treatment. Give some suggestions about ways
to improve things. They will listen! To find your local
representatives' contact information, visit
Support your locally owned restaurants!
- Work with your teacher to invite local restaurant owners
and fast-food franchise owners to your class. Ask them where
they purchase their ingredients and ask about their employee
salaries and benefits. After they leave, discuss which
restaurants you and your classmates feel comfortable
For additional teaching ideas and the latest updates on
Chew on This, visit
chewonthisnews.com. Portions of this guide are based on
original ideas by Prue Goodwin, lecturer in literacy
education and children's books.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.