Schlosser was born in Manhattan, New York; he spent his childhood there and in Los Angeles, California. His father, Herbert Schlosser, a former Wall Street lawyer who turned to broadcasting later in his career, eventually became the President of NBC in 1974. Schlosser studied American History at Princeton University and earned a graduate degree in British Imperial History from Oxford.
Schlosser lives in California with his wife Shauna Redford, daughter of Robert Redford, and has two children.
As an aspiring playwright, Schlosser wrote the play Americans in 1985. It deals with the theme of American imperialism at the beginning of the 20th century, and features Leon Czolgosz, William McKinley's assassin, who shoots the President in anger over U.S. occupation of the Philippines. Americans was produced in 2003, but is not available in the United States. We the People, another play drawing on American history...in this case, the events surrounding the writing of the United States Constitution...followed in 2007.
Schlosser started his career as a journalist with The Atlantic Monthly in Boston, Massachusetts. He quickly gained recognition for his investigative pieces, earning two awards within two years of joining the staff; he won the National Magazine Award for reporting for his two-part series “Reefer Madness” and “Marijuana and the Law” (Atlantic Monthly, August and September, 1994), and he won the Sidney Hillman Foundation award for his article, “In the Strawberry Fields” (Atlantic Monthly, November 19, 1995). In addition to the Atlantic Monthly, Schlosser's work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and The Nation.
Schlosser is known for his bestselling book, Fast Food Nation, an exposé on the unsanitary and discriminatory practices of the fast food industry. Fast Food Nation evolved from a two-part article in Rolling Stone. Schlosser helped adapt his book into a 2006 film directed by Richard Linklater. The film opened November 19, 2006. Schlosser is credited as co-screenwriter and executive producer. He has written Chew On This (2006, with Charles Wilson).
He has also written the 2003 book Reefer Madness, a three part book that discusses the history and current trade of marijuana, the use of migrant workers in California strawberry fields, and the American pornography industry and its history.
He is currently at work on a book on nuclear weapons and another book on America's prison system which has been nearly 10 years in the making.
Schlosser's work has received positive reviews from across the political spectrum. William F. Buckley gave Reefer Madness a positive review, as did Business Week and the Financial Times. Fortune called Fast Food Nation the "Best Business Book of the Year" in 2001. Schlosser's work has been required reading for the entire incoming freshman class at Louisiana State University and Holy Cross.
Schlosser appeared in an interview for the DVD of Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, having a one-on-one discussion with the filmmaker about the fast-food industry. He declined to appear in the film itself. He made a public appearance along with Robert Kenner, Alice Waters, Gary Hirshberg, and Marcel Van Ooyen on June 5, 2009 at the Times Center in NYC following the screening of his new film Food, Inc. presented by the Museum of the Moving Image. Food Inc. explores the way the American food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. Owen Gleiberman, film critic for Entertainment Weekly, wrote "I'm not generally in the habit of praising documentaries for being good for you, but Food, Inc. is more than a terrific movie...it's an important movie, one that nourishes your knowledge of how the world works (or, in this case, has started not to work)."
He was interviewed by Franny Armstrong in 2005 and is a feature interviewee in her film McLibel.
Schlosser also served as an executive producer on the 2007 film There Will Be Blood.
In May 2006, Schlosser and his co-author Charles Wilson released a children's book entitled Chew On This. The book, along with increasing publicity for the Hollywood movie based on Fast Food Nation, resulted in 18 food industry associations launching the www.bestfoodnation.com website as part of a major public relations campaign. The site presents statements about health and labor practices in the American beef, pork, dairy, potato and other industries. However, this website is no longer in operation.
As a result of Schlosser's criticisms of the food industry, he has been the victim of verbal attacks at book signings and public speaking events which he believes to be the work of citizens employed by large food corporations. He has openly challenged many of the food corporations he feels responsible of tainting America's food system to public debates regarding their policies and regulations. All such invitations have been declined with the exception of 1 British McDonald's executive.