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When award-winning (and working-class) journalist Tracie McMillan saw foodies swooning over $9 organic tomatoes, she couldn't help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? To find out, McMillan went undercover in three jobs that feed America, living and eating off her wages in each. Reporting from C When award-winning (and working-class) journalist Tracie McMillan saw foodies swooning over $9 organic tomatoes, she couldn't help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? To find out, McMillan went undercover in three jobs that feed America, living and eating off her wages in each. Reporting from California fields, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee's, McMillan examines the reality of our country's food industry in this "clear and essential" (The Boston Globe) work of reportage. Chronicling her own experience and that of the Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks with whom she works, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to explore the national priorities that put it there. Fearlessly reported and beautifully written, The American Way of Eating goes beyond statistics and culture wars to deliver a book that is fiercely honest, strikingly intelligent, and compulsively readable. In making the simple case that - city or country, rich or poor - everyone wants good food, McMillan guarantees that talking about dinner will never be the same again.


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When award-winning (and working-class) journalist Tracie McMillan saw foodies swooning over $9 organic tomatoes, she couldn't help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? To find out, McMillan went undercover in three jobs that feed America, living and eating off her wages in each. Reporting from C When award-winning (and working-class) journalist Tracie McMillan saw foodies swooning over $9 organic tomatoes, she couldn't help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? To find out, McMillan went undercover in three jobs that feed America, living and eating off her wages in each. Reporting from California fields, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee's, McMillan examines the reality of our country's food industry in this "clear and essential" (The Boston Globe) work of reportage. Chronicling her own experience and that of the Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks with whom she works, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to explore the national priorities that put it there. Fearlessly reported and beautifully written, The American Way of Eating goes beyond statistics and culture wars to deliver a book that is fiercely honest, strikingly intelligent, and compulsively readable. In making the simple case that - city or country, rich or poor - everyone wants good food, McMillan guarantees that talking about dinner will never be the same again.

30 review for The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    The author is a journalist. Maybe her metier is short pieces, it's certainly not books. It could be that she is an interesting person, but in this book she whines, is lazy and puts her personal life above the important subject she is researching. If the book had been better written and not so much about the author, then I wouldn't have known about her lack of rigour in researching the American Way of Eating. The premise is that she will work at all jobs connected with the food industry for two m The author is a journalist. Maybe her metier is short pieces, it's certainly not books. It could be that she is an interesting person, but in this book she whines, is lazy and puts her personal life above the important subject she is researching. If the book had been better written and not so much about the author, then I wouldn't have known about her lack of rigour in researching the American Way of Eating. The premise is that she will work at all jobs connected with the food industry for two months each, and live off the wages just as if it were her only source of money. That is interesting but she's not up to it. After the author finds herself not quite capable of farm work although the Mexican women are fine with it, I think if the author she starts off by flunking out of research this early in the book, are there always going to be excuses if she doesn't want to do something? She comes across as some first world person with money in the bank who has a nice place to go to, not the poor person she is pretending to be who needs the cash as much as the Mexicans and will work as hard to get it. What I did learn that was interesting was that California (but not Texas) protects it's low paid farm workers to some extent. It is not clear if they are illegal Mexicans but I would think so as $40 for an eight hour shift is very low. The protection of these illegal aliens bespeaks a very cynical state of mind. Like, 'we need them for cheap food so we will give them some benefits and protections, but not enough that they can't be deported when we don't need them any more.' Either be honest about it, like Texas where they have no protection or give them work permits, there is no need to go the whole hog of citizenship. I had always thought that the main reason for illegal farm workers was to keep the wages bill down to enable very cheap produce, but that isn't completely right. The wages bill is so low (storage like refrigeration and transport are very high) that adding a dollar or two makes very little difference. So 1 star because it was scarcely readable and 1 star because some of the information was interesting.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Belinda

    I started reading this book after being intrigued a Salon piece written by a journalist (Tracie McMillan) who goes undercover to investigate the field-to-plate journey of food in America. I enjoyed Nickel and Dimed and I found the article well written and intriguing, so I was looking forward to this deeper picture of America’s relationship with food this book would provide. However, I wish I had not wasted my time. White female privileged smug middle-class journalist Tracie McMillan decides to go I started reading this book after being intrigued a Salon piece written by a journalist (Tracie McMillan) who goes undercover to investigate the field-to-plate journey of food in America. I enjoyed Nickel and Dimed and I found the article well written and intriguing, so I was looking forward to this deeper picture of America’s relationship with food this book would provide. However, I wish I had not wasted my time. White female privileged smug middle-class journalist Tracie McMillan decides to go investigate three aspects of the food industry – agriculture, distribution and preparation – by pretending to be a poor person and working as a labourer, at Walmart and in the kitchen at Applebees. This is similar to what Barbara Ehrenreich did in Nickel and Dimed. The difference between Ehrenreich and McMillan’s books is that Ehrenreich acknowledges her privilege and states on a number of occasions that she understands that what she is doing is at best an imitation of the life of an actual poor person. McMillan not only doesn’t seen to understand her privilege, her poverty tourism actually causes harm to the very people her book seeks to give a voice to. For example, McMillan’s first job is working in the fields in California. She concocts a not-very-believable reason for why an educated, well-spoken white woman is looking for manual labour and then proceeds to find a job, aiming to live on the money she earns from her own labour. The first problem with this is that the first two places she lives in are owned by friends or acquaintances of hers and she doesn’t have to pay rent. Her privilege, as evidenced by her strong social network, is already providing an (unacknowledged by her) benefit to her that the people whose lives she is investigating do not have. Through her neighbour, who lives with six other people in a two-bedroom trailer that she pays rent for, she finds a a job picking grapes. In this job, pickers work in groups of three and are paid on the number of boxes (cajas) of grapes the group can pick. Due to her inexperience, McMillan can only fill nine boxes, meaning her group members earned over 30% less than they normally would. Even though she did picked fewer grapes than others, the payment is divided three ways equally. She says: “There’s only one word to define what just happened: charity. And I know I am in no position to refuse it.” YES YOU ARE! You have an education and a strong social network and a well-paying job and an apartment that you live in on your own in New York City. It is reprehensible that your little games of poverty tourism literally took food out of the mouths of people who need it much, much more than you do. Tracie McMillan, you should be ashamed of yourself. It doesn’t get any better. To study the distribution of food, McMillan gets a job at Walmart. She manages to find a place to rent where the landlord provides her with food staples – more free stuff. She comes up short on her rent because she has been going out for sushi, so she puts the difference on her credit card. Heads up, Tracie, the reason you were able to go out for sushi is because you are able to do things like put the rent on your credit card and then pay your credit card using your regular job. Actual poor people don’t do things like that, because if they did they would actually get evicted and not be able to call on their extensive social network for free housing or to just, you know, return to their NY apartment. When McMillan’s sister gets cross at her when Tracie says she “can’t afford” to go to a Christmas party which involves baking two dozen cookies, I had to stop reading for a while until I calmed down in order to prevent me throwing the book at the wall. McMillan’s sisters are a lot more refrained with her than I am with mine – if either of them had pulled that crap with me I would have sat them down and had a serious conversation with them about privilege and being an obnoxious dick. After the cookie party, McMillan decides she’s had enough of playing poor and quits her job and I quit reading the book. Investigative journalists are important. They can provide a window into another way of life and expose, like Ehrenreich did, the appalling conditions some people work under and the human cost of the first-world consumer life we live. Tracie McMillan is a talented writer and the research in this book was excellent. But her particular type of privileged poverty tourism that caused harm to those she was aiming to write about is appalling. I give this book one star.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The American Way of Eating is a supremely aggravating book. Tracie McMillan goes undercover to learn more about the American food industry at various parts of the process, at a farm, grocery store and chain restaurant. This is an important topic that needs to be told, but the author is not quite up to the task. She is not hardy enough to handle farm work, so those chapters tend to be more about her physical condition than the work itself. Again at Wal-Mart, where she works as stock clerk, she The American Way of Eating is a supremely aggravating book. Tracie McMillan goes undercover to learn more about the American food industry at various parts of the process, at a farm, grocery store and chain restaurant. This is an important topic that needs to be told, but the author is not quite up to the task. She is not hardy enough to handle farm work, so those chapters tend to be more about her physical condition than the work itself. Again at Wal-Mart, where she works as stock clerk, she quits before she really has a chance to start, deciding to quit to attend her sister's cookie party. Only at Applebee's do we really learn enough about the work to make any kind of judgment about what its place in America's food culture is. It's probably not a coincidence that this is the only job that she likes. I'm not sure, however, that the book would have succeeded even if she had taken her undercover work more seriously. McMillan is just not a very good writer. It was during the section about Wal-Mart that I realized her writing resembled much of the processed food that she was discussing. The unnecessary adjectives are the equivalent of soy lecithin, the boring digressions the high fructose corn syrup of writing. After I finished the book, I felt like I had a meal at Applebee's; I was left full, but not nourished.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I always thought the food at Applebees tasted like plastic. Now I know why! I haven't eaten there in years and now I won't ever again. I already knew Wal-mart was evil and this just confirmed it. I never shop there. The Waltons are rich enough. And, the way the migrant workers are treated and paid is shameful. Ms McMillan said it would cost the average American family $16 per year to increase their wages by 40%. I think most people could handle that. But, I really do have to take issue with somethi I always thought the food at Applebees tasted like plastic. Now I know why! I haven't eaten there in years and now I won't ever again. I already knew Wal-mart was evil and this just confirmed it. I never shop there. The Waltons are rich enough. And, the way the migrant workers are treated and paid is shameful. Ms McMillan said it would cost the average American family $16 per year to increase their wages by 40%. I think most people could handle that. But, I really do have to take issue with something Ms. McMillan said near the end of this book. Page 237 "American shoppers don't eat anywhere near as many fruits and vegetables as they should. That kind of food costs more than processed foods, and preparing it is more complicated than most people feel comfortable with..." Really? A pound of apples costs more than a box of pop-tarts? I don't think so. And, what preparation is she talking about? Washing the apple or peach or plum or carrot or tomato? Most fruits and vegetables can be eaten raw with little preparation. And if you want to cook vegetables, what is so hard about steaming them for 5 minutes? No harder than "cooking" a hot dog. People make bad food choices because they want to. They LIKE sugar and fat and they don't WANT to eat vegetables. Fat people raise fat kids because if chubby little Justin or Joshua doesn't want his broccoli or carrots, mom gives him chicken fingers and koolaid or a McDonalds Happy Meal. And so the cycle begins again. Please, don't make excuses for them about vegetables and fruits being too expensive or too hard to prepare. It just isn't true.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ciara

    hmmm. one of the key rules of writing book reviews is to review the book you actually read & not the book you wish that book had been. i admit that this book was not what i expected it to be. i saw the title & read that it was an expose of the american food system. i was expecting something informational & sociological--kind of like all the books i have been reading about the baby industrial complex, but about food. instead, i got a bizarre stunt memoir by a well-educated young woman/freelance j hmmm. one of the key rules of writing book reviews is to review the book you actually read & not the book you wish that book had been. i admit that this book was not what i expected it to be. i saw the title & read that it was an expose of the american food system. i was expecting something informational & sociological--kind of like all the books i have been reading about the baby industrial complex, but about food. instead, i got a bizarre stunt memoir by a well-educated young woman/freelance journalist who decides to cop barbara ehrenreich's shtick & take a series of jobs in different spheres of the american food economy & write from the inside about what really goes on. she also plans to truly live like the people she works with by living off her wages, making the same financial sacrifices they have to make, & spending her budget accordingly, including her grocery budget. i am really burnt out on these kinds of books, where people do some dumbass thing for a year & then write about everything they learned. & i have NEVER been a fan of books where someone purports to see how "the other half lives" & to report back on it. who does she think she's reporting back to? nothing she says is going to be breaking news to farm workers, grocery employees, & food service workers. so she's basically doing this community service for other well-educated professionals. the whole thing just grosses me out. her writing style is also tough to take. it varies wildly between fairly readable sociological research & somewhat whiny personal anecdote, & it is peppered with an endless stream of annoying footnotes. put it in the text, write up an endnote, or just leave it out, but CAN IT with the footnotes, people! it's not cute. basically, she is shocked that all these jobs she takes are hard. she gets dehydrated, overheated, wounded, & tired working in the farm fields. she finds the graveyard shift at her local walmart disruptive to her social schedule & her natural rhythms for sleeping & eating. she finds restaurant work incredibly busy & overwhelming. & all along the way, she writes about her relationships with her co-workers, landlords, & neighbors in a way that just reeks of white guilt & that weird condescension that white people so often bring to their relationships with people they consider to be living a "plight," if you know what i mean. it also seems like a lot of her co-workers risk a lot to help her--courting the wrath of bosses, taking food off their own family's plates in order to feed her, thinking she's some down on her luck sad kid that needs to be taken care of. all for a stunt. some dumb journalistic stunt. it seemed like she played fast & loose with the livelihoods of a lot of people who would be hard pressed to find other employment if things didn't work out, just to preserve the "integrity" of her book project. it really bothered me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Meghan

    This book clearly stated a couple facts that I "knew" to be true but hadn't ever articulated in my own head. The most striking was a response to the argument that the French spend a greater proportion of their income on food because they just appreciate it so much more than (bovine, tasteless) mainstream Americans. McMillan addresses this squarely by explaining how French people also have to spend much less than Americans for their health care, child care, and other government benefits, and when This book clearly stated a couple facts that I "knew" to be true but hadn't ever articulated in my own head. The most striking was a response to the argument that the French spend a greater proportion of their income on food because they just appreciate it so much more than (bovine, tasteless) mainstream Americans. McMillan addresses this squarely by explaining how French people also have to spend much less than Americans for their health care, child care, and other government benefits, and when you look at the whole package, Americans cut their food budget by a percentage equal to their additional spending on health insurance and child care. Anyway, it's not really because of a lack of education or appreciation for the taste of expensive heirloom vegetables, etc., but because of the struggle to get by, the need to work long hours to keep treading water, the lack of options. This book's main argument is that class matters, and that food is a precious shared resource which in America has been left to the vagaries of capitalism, leaving gaps in distribution of fresh foods, and migrant farm workers who earn in the low five figures for a year's work of punishing physical labor. Striking thing #2: McMcillan straight up acknowledges that it takes skill to be a farmworker, to stock shelves at Wal-Mart, and to work in the kitchen at Applebee's. You have to be able to prioritize, use logic, multitask, and implement an efficient system to do a good job. In many towns and cities, the vast majority of fresh produce is bought at a Walmart, duh. And the person in charge of the fresh produce at Walmart - the produce manager - might be someone who doesn't have experience or affordable health care or much of a paycheck. This person, with little support, might be in charge of overseeing the quality of produce for an entire town, and "produce managers aren't necessarily given any better training to manage a town's fresh food supply than they are to stock sneakers." (p. 234) This is great because the author isn't just a blogger with a book deal, but rather someone who's done serious research into food justice, backed up with a ton of end notes and citations. This is great because the author keeps reminding us that class matters, in America, right now.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    McMillan is trying to do two things at once. First, she's tracking the life cycle of food in America by taking jobs on a farm, at a grocery store, and in a restaurant. Secondly, she's exploring the challenges that these workers face when they try to eat fresh, healthy food on their incomes. From her experiences, she hopes to learn more about how food gets to your table, why it costs what it does, and why so many of us seem to be living on Little Debbie and Chef Boyardee. It's good, but it doesn' McMillan is trying to do two things at once. First, she's tracking the life cycle of food in America by taking jobs on a farm, at a grocery store, and in a restaurant. Secondly, she's exploring the challenges that these workers face when they try to eat fresh, healthy food on their incomes. From her experiences, she hopes to learn more about how food gets to your table, why it costs what it does, and why so many of us seem to be living on Little Debbie and Chef Boyardee. It's good, but it doesn't come together all that well, and I struggled sometimes to remember what exactly was being investigated here. Her experiences and observations are backed up by facts-and-figures sections that were well written and clearly presented, but removed enough from the human interest of the narrative that they were a chore to read. (I felt the same about similar passages in Wisdom of the Radish.) I do wish she'd update her website with all the doucmentation she promised -- some of which, like her timecards from Applebee's shifts, might have helped emphasize the connections between her story ("Applebee's ripped me off") and the term-papery sections ("Ripping employees off is actually quite common, and such-and-such study found that x percent of restaurant workers, etc.") Re: my earlier complaint about Barbara Ehrenreich not being name-checked at all...her name shows up (along with Bill Buford's) in the acknowledgments sectino, as part of a rather long thank-you list.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    i'm stil pulling my own thoughts together on this essential and hugely enjoyabe book. It will change foodwriting if we let it. In the meantime, the review that hits a lot of the points I'd want to make has already been written by the man who spent 10 years as the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Please check this out. Before the Food Arrives on Your Plate, So Much Goes on Behind the Scenes By DWIGHT GARNER Published: February 20, 2012 One of the first things to like about Tracie McMillan, i'm stil pulling my own thoughts together on this essential and hugely enjoyabe book. It will change foodwriting if we let it. In the meantime, the review that hits a lot of the points I'd want to make has already been written by the man who spent 10 years as the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Please check this out. Before the Food Arrives on Your Plate, So Much Goes on Behind the Scenes By DWIGHT GARNER Published: February 20, 2012 One of the first things to like about Tracie McMillan, the author of "The American Way of Eating," is her forthrightness. She's a blue-collar girl who grew up eating a lot of Tuna Helper and Ortega Taco Dinners because her mother was gravely ill for a decade, and her father, who sold lawn equipment, had little time to cook. About these box meals, she says, "I liked them." Expensive food that took time to prepare "wasn't for people like us," she writes. "It was for the people my grandmother described, with equal parts envy and derision, as fancy; my father's word was snob. And I wasn't about to be like that." This is a voice the food world needs. Ms. McMillan, like a lot of us, has grown to take an interest in fresh, well-prepared food. She's written for Saveur magazine, a pretty fancy journal, and she knows her way around a kitchen. But her central concern, in her journalism and in this provocative book, is food and class. She stares at America's bounty, noting that so few seem able to share in it fully, and she asks: "What would it take for us all to eat well?" The title of Ms. McMillan's book pays fealty to Jessica Mitford's classic of English nonfiction prose, "The American Way of Death" (1963). Ms. McMillan's sentences don't have Mitford's high style -- they're a pile of leeks, not shallots -- but both books traffic in dark humor. Standing in a Walmart, where she has taken a minimum-wage job, Ms. McMillan observes that its "produce section is nothing less than an expansive life-support system." Most days, when it comes to vegetables, she's putting lipstick on corpses. The book Ms. McMillan's most resembles is Barbara Ehrenreich's best seller "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" (2001). Like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan goes undercover amid this country's working poor. She takes jobs picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California; stocking produce in a Walmart in Detroit; and working in a busy Applebee's in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. She tries, and often fails, to live on only the money she earns. The news Ms. McMillan brings about life on the front lines is mostly grim. In the California fields, where she is the only gringa, she makes far less than minimum wage, sometimes as little as $26 for nine hours of back-breaking work. She lives in cockroach-filled houses, all she can afford, with more than a dozen other people. She delivers a brutal takedown of corporations that, in her view, pretend on their sunny Web sites to treat workers well but in practice use labor contractors that often cheat them. She names names. Here's looking at you, the Garlic Company in Bakersfield, Calif. She charts the toll this work takes on people's health. "My thighs look as though they've been attacked by an enraged but weaponless toddler," she writes after a day of garlic picking. "My hands, swollen and inundated with blisters the first few days, have acclimatized, but there's a worrisome pain shooting up my right arm." She develops a sprain, which forces her to miss work and ultimately quit. Other workers, she notes, would not have that option. Among this book's central points is that food workers are, in terms of money and time, among the least able to eat well in America. Most are too exhausted to cook. "By the time I finish my stint at Applebee's," Ms. McMillan says, "I'll have learned how to spot the other members of my tribe on the subway: heavy-lidded eyes, blank stares, black pants specked with grease, hard-soled black shoes." Ms. McMillan's chapters about Walmart and Applebee's are the book's best. She is not a slash-and-burn critic of either company: both provide needed jobs and treat their employees at least moderately well. But you will steer clear of both places after reading about her travails. The produce sold at the Walmart where she works is second-rate, often slimy, mushy or merely bland. "Walmart doesn't always have the freshest stuff," one manager says to her. "That's how we keep the prices low." The produce management is so sloppy that "the newer among us are still working our way from recognition to acceptance, as if advancing through the stages of grief." Much of her time in Walmart's produce department is spent trimming rotted leaves (small bunches of lettuce have usually been trimmed many times) and "crisping," a method of rehydrating limp greens so they appear to be fresh. At Applebee's, almost no actual cooking is done: premade food in plastic baggies is heated in microwaves and dumped onto plates. Ms. McMillan deplores this practice while also finding it fascinating. "I watch an endless assembly line," she writes, "a large-scale mash-up that hits the sweet spot between McDonald's and Sandra Lee's `Semi-Homemade Cooking.' " Much of the friction in "The American Way of Eating" comes from Ms. McMillan's writing about being a woman -- and an unmarried white one, to boot -- working at the bottom rungs of the food industry. "Episodes of sexual quid pro quo and even rape are not unheard of in the fields," she writes, and she has her own scary moments. Near the end of the book she is sexually assaulted while sleeping after being drugged during a farewell party with fellow Applebee's workers. Ms. McMillan is an amiable writer, yet her book is lighted from within by anger at the poor food options many in this country face. Noting that Detroit is a city of 700,000 without a single store from a national grocery chain, she writes: "Food is one of the only base human needs where the American government lets the private market dictate its delivery to our communities." She argues for small changes, like cooking classes to demystify the kitchen and coupons for savings on fresh food, not just things like Chef Boyardee. But she's gloomily aware that far more needs to change. "So far as I can tell, changing what's on our plates simply isn't feasible without changing far more," she writes. "Wages, health care, work hours and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop." She bolsters her arguments with dense footnotes, which run at the bottom of the pages like a news crawl on CNN. By the end of "The American Way of Eating," the author ties so many strands of argument together that you'll begin to agree with one of the cooks at Applebee's, who declares about her in awe: "You see that white girl work? Damn, she can work."

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kecia

    I picked this book up only because the author was attacked by Rush Limbaugh. Just days after his infamous attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, he attacked Tracie McMillian. Her crime - being a single, white, educated female. Oh the horror!!! So for once in my life I can say thank you Rush. I really enjoyed this book. I was expecting something dry and academic but instead it is spicy read! Ms. McMillian is a journalist so her writing style is very easy and breezy. She spent a year underc I picked this book up only because the author was attacked by Rush Limbaugh. Just days after his infamous attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, he attacked Tracie McMillian. Her crime - being a single, white, educated female. Oh the horror!!! So for once in my life I can say thank you Rush. I really enjoyed this book. I was expecting something dry and academic but instead it is spicy read! Ms. McMillian is a journalist so her writing style is very easy and breezy. She spent a year undercover to investigate the American food system. She goes to California and picks crops with farm laborers, she works at Walmart selling food, and then she works at Applebees serving food. But as much as she talks about food, she also gives us an unforgetable look at the people doing these jobs and the lives they lead. I'm already looking at food in a new way even though I have little contact with the world she writes about. I feel really privileged after reading this book. I grew up cooking. This is what my family does when we get together. Some families drink, some make music, some play football - my family cooks. I can't even imagine not knowing how to cook. To me that's like saying you don't know how to eat! The two go hand in hand for me. I also gave up on Walmart 20 years ago (and my parents live in Bentonville!). In the past 20 years I've made 3 purchases at Walmart. I also don't eat at places like Applebees. I can only recall eating at an Applebees 3 times and all 3 were unremarakable. I have much better choices when eating out. Luckly I not only live in a place where I can buy all my produce from Amish and Mennonite farmers, but I can afford it too. I also buy from a few urban farms. The building I work in has a cafeteria that serves only local organic fresh food. We even have program called Fruit My Cube where every Monday a box of fresh fruit is delivered to my desk...although that fruit is probably picked by the workers depicted in this book. This book brought back memories from my younger days when I scrimped and ate some really gross stuff because it was cheap and easy. I highly recommend this book. It's interesting and eye-opening.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kathrina

    McMillan's writing is sometimes a little sludgy and redundant, but her message is strong. A century of industrial infrastructure has created the eating habits we're entrenched in today, and until fresh produce becomes accessible, affordable, and practical for all lifestyles, eating healthy will never win over affordable, convenient, and readily-available processed foods. Until now, I hadn't considered that fresh produce really is difficult to find in some urban areas, where there's one grocery s McMillan's writing is sometimes a little sludgy and redundant, but her message is strong. A century of industrial infrastructure has created the eating habits we're entrenched in today, and until fresh produce becomes accessible, affordable, and practical for all lifestyles, eating healthy will never win over affordable, convenient, and readily-available processed foods. Until now, I hadn't considered that fresh produce really is difficult to find in some urban areas, where there's one grocery store for every fifteen convenience stores. And it's not a result of low demand, necessarily, but a lack of cost-effective infrastructure in delivering the produce to those urban neighborhoods. A single decade under those conditions creates a generation of eaters who don't seek out fresh produce because they weren't raised to seek it. Now we have obese, diabetic, caffeine-addicted kids. McMillan writes her book as a series of undercover exposes in California farmwork, Midwestern Walmart produce retail, and New York Applebee's expediting. Apart from the farmwork, which really does cross a class line that sits far beyond the pale of my experience, it seems almost indulgent that the author "pretends" to need a job at Walmart or a local restaurant chain. My middle-class, work-through-school and second-job experience makes these jobs - and the people and attitudes she encounters there -- less exotic to me than she seems to find them. But she writes with utter honesty and little delusion that she is white, young, attractive, single, educated, and a little naive, and therefore gets some breaks that many others would not. Her honesty here is brave. My bias has been confirmed -- F*#ck Walmart.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Reading Nickel and Dimed my first semester of college changed the way I thought about the working poor and minimum wage labor in the US. Tracie McMillan takes a similar - and equally powerful and effective - approach in the American Way of Eating, revealing something I already felt passionately about - everyone wants good food; everyone just can't easily access it. I found the section on working at Applebee's to be the most interesting; especially her claim that people don't eat there for the fo Reading Nickel and Dimed my first semester of college changed the way I thought about the working poor and minimum wage labor in the US. Tracie McMillan takes a similar - and equally powerful and effective - approach in the American Way of Eating, revealing something I already felt passionately about - everyone wants good food; everyone just can't easily access it. I found the section on working at Applebee's to be the most interesting; especially her claim that people don't eat there for the food -- it's the event of eating out, of escaping the stress of one more "to do" that brings middle class individuals, couples, and families in for a meal that is nothing more than microwaved and plated. It's also shocking to see the numbers she presents for annual salaries for the three jobs she works (picking produce in the fields of California, working in food and produce at Walmart in Michigan and at Applebee's in New York) and how much of it is spent on food. Even more notable, how her perspective toward food and cooking change, especially as she works longer hours. It's a similar experience I had working 60 hours a week in a cubicle -- food and cooking start to become the last thing on your mind...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    In 2009, journalist Tracie McMillan decided to go undercover into the world of food... she worked as a farm worker in California...harvesting grapes, sorting peaches and cutting garlic. She spent months working in the produce section of a Detroit Walmart; and finally, she worked in the kitchen of an Applebees restaurant in New York City. Ms. McMillan chose Applebees because it is the biggest casual dining restaurant in America and it isn't synonymous with what people generally consider fast food In 2009, journalist Tracie McMillan decided to go undercover into the world of food... she worked as a farm worker in California...harvesting grapes, sorting peaches and cutting garlic. She spent months working in the produce section of a Detroit Walmart; and finally, she worked in the kitchen of an Applebees restaurant in New York City. Ms. McMillan chose Applebees because it is the biggest casual dining restaurant in America and it isn't synonymous with what people generally consider fast food. Ms. McMillan was inspired to undertake this undercover work by the ongoing debate about America's obesity problem. She set out to answer two very important questions... why do we eat the way we do? And is there any way for people to really change how they eat? Although Ms. McMillan's findings came as no great surprise to me,it was still very disheartening to read about the harsh realities faced by far too many Americans. Working as a farm worker under very harsh conditions.. extremely long days and blistering heat... Ms McMillan got an up close look at the lives of farm workers... many undocumented.. and the conditions they had to work and live under. No matter your view on undocumented workers,you cannot help but feel sympathetic toward the difficulties they are faced with.. less than ideal working and living conditions and no legal protections for when their situations are exploited. On top of that, these workers earn so little in wages that many live far below the poverty line. Ms. McMillan's work in the Walmart produce department and in the Applebees' kitchen uncovered similar problems facing the poorest Americans... lack of access to quality food and even in restaurants such as Applebees, there is an almost exclusive reliance on processed foods.It is known that people who rely on processed foods have higher rates of obesity. There is a direct correlation between high levels of obesity and income level... those at the bottom of the income scale had higher rates of obesity. The studies have also shown that if available and affordable, these low income Americans WOULD choose to purchase more fruits and vegetables which are crucial to a healthy diet and a normal body weight. Although I was not unaware of the problems faced by the poor, having access to nutritious food and I was not unaware of the link between obesity and processed foods, this book was still an enlightening one. I learned that despite the politically correct terms which are used to describe the people and their very serious problems... terms such as 'food desert' and 'food insecurity', the problem is more complex than originally thought. To me, this is more than just a political and health issue... it's also a moral and social issue. history has demonstrated that when people are hungry and food is not affordable, social unrest is a huge concern. Although Ms. McMillan ultimately did a great job of identifying the problems through her very personal experiences, she seemed to realize that the solutions are not so simple. There is no quick fix and many issues need to be addressed. I think she sums up her research perfectly..."Changing what's on our plates simply isn't feasible without changing far more. Wages, health care, work hours and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop." To me, the solution is, in the end, political, social and simple economics.. served with a helping of simple human compassion.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    This book was just so blah. I loved the articles gleaned from this book that I read on Slate or Salon and thought the whole book would be as interesting a read. Boy was I wrong. She didn't really connect me to any of the people she met other than in the most superficial way. For me, in the end what could have been a fascinating book ended up being a narrative that was so dull and largely unmoving. I think one could envision this book as two in one - one book deals with the mechanics of the mass p This book was just so blah. I loved the articles gleaned from this book that I read on Slate or Salon and thought the whole book would be as interesting a read. Boy was I wrong. She didn't really connect me to any of the people she met other than in the most superficial way. For me, in the end what could have been a fascinating book ended up being a narrative that was so dull and largely unmoving. I think one could envision this book as two in one - one book deals with the mechanics of the mass production and presentation of food in the U.S. (fascinating) and the other is a collection of anecdotes from three horrible jobs (occasionally interesting but mostly a whole lot of snark with a heaping helping of "wow it was humbling for me as a white person to not be able to perform as well as the noble savages who grow/sell/cook the food we eat so come on y'all, we need to change this!") Well, duh. But I'm not imagining the people who read this book are the kind of people who don't already see that the economic caste system we've managed to set up in this country (either by our own hands or by our continuing inaction) is a moral canker. I guess I'm just sick of books that purport to be "undercover" when really what they are selling is just a "Common People" kind of vacationing. Face it, you are slumming it - picking and choosing your temporary economic miseries all for the benefit of selectively telling the stories of the people who actually live these lives without the luxury of an emergency fund, family friends or a credit card advance. Where are the books that let these people tell their own stories about their existence without having to have their narratives washed through someone else's agenda?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn

    Similar in style to Nickle and Dimed, and once again, I struggle through another elitist scribe. I don't know why I read these! I keep hoping to find some real answers to serious concerns, but instead get rants on the evils of capitalism. I found a few things odd. When did she work at Walmart? In 1970? I worked there in the 90's and do not recall having to ticket items. Also, I had pretty good benefits. Health insurance for part time, stock options, pizza parties and really nice managers. Does Similar in style to Nickle and Dimed, and once again, I struggle through another elitist scribe. I don't know why I read these! I keep hoping to find some real answers to serious concerns, but instead get rants on the evils of capitalism. I found a few things odd. When did she work at Walmart? In 1970? I worked there in the 90's and do not recall having to ticket items. Also, I had pretty good benefits. Health insurance for part time, stock options, pizza parties and really nice managers. Does she expect to have a car to pick her up or maybe wake up calls? Apparently, she expected the employer to provide a holiday meal for her. Something better than bread and lunch meat. What? No Brie? Look, life is tough without a college degree. I know this myself, but that is why we encourage our children to try harder and do better. You don't get Cadillac benefits for stocking shelves. Unfair? Nope. Again, as in Nickle and Dimed, this author is critical of dumb, fat Midwesterners and their food choices. Describing a meal as "topped with American cheese the same color as the break room walls." That's just rude. I don't care for Shepherds Pie, but I can stomach her snobbishness even less. I have to stop putting myself through these tortures. Maybe it is time to write a book about finding joy and pleasure in life despite economic difficulty and without whining for government assistance.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jacqie

    Another "undercover" memoir, this time focused on the food industry. The author picks garlic and grapes in the fields of California, works in the produce and grocery sections at Walmart, and is an expediter at Applebee's. She comes away from her experiences with a call to action: people need to learn how to cook. It's healthier to cook and less expensive than it is to eat out. The perception that fresh food is more expensive and harder to cook than processed food is wrong. I agree with the above Another "undercover" memoir, this time focused on the food industry. The author picks garlic and grapes in the fields of California, works in the produce and grocery sections at Walmart, and is an expediter at Applebee's. She comes away from her experiences with a call to action: people need to learn how to cook. It's healthier to cook and less expensive than it is to eat out. The perception that fresh food is more expensive and harder to cook than processed food is wrong. I agree with the above concepts. However, I think that she backed away from some of the hardest questions. If you're working in the food industry, shouldn't the point of the book be about the people you worked with? Michael Pollan can tell you that fresh food is better. What about waitresses and field workers working for less than minimum wage? What about the fancy book-keeping that cheats hourly workers of their full pay? What about the fact that the health insurance you get at Walmart kind of sucks? I feel like the author could have come up with a "fresh food is better" thesis without working at any of those jobs. She missed the mark on what was important about her research, and short-changes her former co-workers, none of whom have the safety hatch that she does to get out of that world, in the process.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Moira Russell

    The money quote on all the blurbs is that this book is like Barbara Ehrenreich's classic Nickel and Dimed, but it's unfortunately much more like that worthy book's disappointing successor, Bait and Switch. It's not bad (except for the gratingly clunky prose style), but I wouldn't really recommend it. The money quote on all the blurbs is that this book is like Barbara Ehrenreich's classic Nickel and Dimed, but it's unfortunately much more like that worthy book's disappointing successor, Bait and Switch. It's not bad (except for the gratingly clunky prose style), but I wouldn't really recommend it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    EVERYONE needs to read this book. It goes from the fields, to the store, to the restaurant. Farm workers are horrendously underpaid for doing hard, manual labor. And are cheated out of their money by less than scrupulous employers. Due to lack of money ($26/day for 9 hours of work) they live in overcrowded shacks. Nothing like standing on the edge of the field while it's being crop dusted, then going right back to work! The produce on the shelves is probably not very fresh. The crap coming from EVERYONE needs to read this book. It goes from the fields, to the store, to the restaurant. Farm workers are horrendously underpaid for doing hard, manual labor. And are cheated out of their money by less than scrupulous employers. Due to lack of money ($26/day for 9 hours of work) they live in overcrowded shacks. Nothing like standing on the edge of the field while it's being crop dusted, then going right back to work! The produce on the shelves is probably not very fresh. The crap coming from most chain restaurants is pretty much frozen, precooked, just add water, crap. And may have already expired. Increasing workers pay will not increase food costs. Most food costs, it seems, comes from transportation/distribution. And why so many steps to get from the field to the produce department? Retailers are turning a 70+ % profit on the produce, which means they could cut their profit in half, raise the workers' pay, and lower produce costs, and still make OODLES of money. I can say, I'm not sure I ever want to eat again :( It is cheaper to eat at home (and better for you than a restaurant) by the time you go to to the place, wait, order, wait, eat, you could have cooked the same meal at home, done the dishes, and spent 1/3rd of the money. So the "I don't have time" excuse is hooey. We all need to learn how to cook real food, not crap out of a box, out of basic staple ingredients. And while the modern way may seem faster and better, it's crazy expensive, because we allow the retailers to mark up everything crazy and turn huge profit. It does seem we'd all be better off doing it the old fashioned way. Small, fresh grocers and butchers, and growing our own when we can. Unfortunately, the small time grocers get stomped on by the big guys. The can undersell the big guys on the produce, and it's fresher, by sourcing it locally, but them you are limited to in-season. However, they get trampled on in the boxed food department (stuff we shouldn't eat anyway) They just don't have the volume buying power of large stores. The system basically sucks, and really sucks for lower income people, those who harvest, stock, and serve our food!! The whole thing needs an overhaul, but the big corporations and the government wouldn't allow it. To the detriment of the health of all of us.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alan

    This book is in between a Michael Pollan book that looks at our food from its source to the plate and a Barbara Ehrenreich book that looks at the lives of low wage workers. In other words, I learned a lot by reading this book and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in food and food workers. The beginning of the book describes how, author Tracie McMillan, went to California to work in various places as farm worker. Her first job was picking grapes, which she found took more skill than she h This book is in between a Michael Pollan book that looks at our food from its source to the plate and a Barbara Ehrenreich book that looks at the lives of low wage workers. In other words, I learned a lot by reading this book and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in food and food workers. The beginning of the book describes how, author Tracie McMillan, went to California to work in various places as farm worker. Her first job was picking grapes, which she found took more skill than she had, then she sold cold soda to onion pickers. Next she worked in a peach grove as a sorter and found that California is a desert where temperatures exceed 100º, making farm work extremely difficult and dangerous. In Michigan she got a job stocking merchandise at Walmart, where she nearly got a repetitive motion disability using the price gun and then worked in the produce section, where she uncovered numerous shoddy practices (no surprise). Finally, she worked as an expeditor (expo), the job of putting all the sides and condiments on each plate and checking each order before the waitresses pick them up. This gives her many chances to observe how cooking at Applebee’s is actually assembling food products that were processed or cooked in other places then frozen and delivered to the freezer. McMillan speculates about why people would eat such artificial and tasteless food when they could make it themselves for 1/5 the cost and this leads to a discussion of how and when people lost the skill to cook for themselves with natural ingredients. Everywhere she worked she found low pay and lack of respect for food workers. Since so many food workers are women, Latino or black, this perspective sheds much needed light on how poverty lives on in this country.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Paul Pessolano

    “The American Way of Eating” by Tracie McMillan, published by Scribner. Category – Sociology Tracie McMillan went undercover in farm fields, Walmart, and Applebee’s in an effort to explore the lack of fresh produce in our diets and what we eat and why. The first part of the book has Tracie working as a farm hand alongside the immigrant farm workers in California. Although she does not bring any new problems in the industry, she does remind us of the plight of these workers. Her next job was at a Wal “The American Way of Eating” by Tracie McMillan, published by Scribner. Category – Sociology Tracie McMillan went undercover in farm fields, Walmart, and Applebee’s in an effort to explore the lack of fresh produce in our diets and what we eat and why. The first part of the book has Tracie working as a farm hand alongside the immigrant farm workers in California. Although she does not bring any new problems in the industry, she does remind us of the plight of these workers. Her next job was at a Walmart in Detroit. She brings out some very interesting facts about Detroit: Detroit is considered a “food desert” because no national grocery chain has a store within its city limits. Ninety-two percent of the stores that accept federal food coupons are liquor stores, gas stations, and drug stores that are “required” to carry some basic food stuffs. Her next jobs were in Walmart and Applebee’s. She learned plenty concerning the operation of these two giants of the food industry. Walmart being the largest food provider (by a lot) in the world and how they can dictate to their supplies what they (Walmart) will pay for a product. Applebee’s is the largest chain restaurant in the world and she tells of how most items are pre-cooked and fresh produce is at a minimum. A little on the scary side but very informative. Although not condemning Walmart or Applebee’s, it is an inside look at how both companies operate.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Katina

    This struck me as a well-researched book (it has footnotes and endnotes after all). It was also well-written, and for me at least, it was also a page-turner. That's a winning combination. McMillan does what I think has been missing in a lot of food-lit - in that in addition to writing about how food gets on our table, and touching on the whole foodie thing - she writes about middle America, and how middle America eats. She is a former poverty beat reporter, so that's not to say she doesn't discus This struck me as a well-researched book (it has footnotes and endnotes after all). It was also well-written, and for me at least, it was also a page-turner. That's a winning combination. McMillan does what I think has been missing in a lot of food-lit - in that in addition to writing about how food gets on our table, and touching on the whole foodie thing - she writes about middle America, and how middle America eats. She is a former poverty beat reporter, so that's not to say she doesn't discuss hunger and SNAP and WIC, but she pays attention to how average Americans cook and eat. Her investigation is simultaneously personal and chock full of facts. She does a great job of answering the question, "Why is it so difficult to eat well?" I won't provide an exhaustive list, but here are a just a couple of snippets that either piqued my interest or rang very true: Lettuce contains a milky sap that contains a hypnotic similar to opium?! "I heard people rhapsodize over spending $6 a pound on luscious farmers' market tomatoes... there seemed to be no grasp of the fact that many families struggled to afford regular tomatoes at the supermarket."

  21. 5 out of 5

    Maria Cunningham

    The American Way of Eating is a groundbreaking book that exposes why Americans eat the way they do, where we get our food, and why food is priced the way it is. Many Americans know that the processed food we eat is not good for us but we still eat it anyway. What the author, Tracie McMillan, strives to uncover is why healthy food is a luxury for the average American. McMillan went undercover working as a grape picker, peach picker, garlic cutter, Wal-Mart produce clerk and a line cook at Applebe The American Way of Eating is a groundbreaking book that exposes why Americans eat the way they do, where we get our food, and why food is priced the way it is. Many Americans know that the processed food we eat is not good for us but we still eat it anyway. What the author, Tracie McMillan, strives to uncover is why healthy food is a luxury for the average American. McMillan went undercover working as a grape picker, peach picker, garlic cutter, Wal-Mart produce clerk and a line cook at Applebee’s to find the answer to this question. From the farms of California to the food deserts in Detroit, McMillan traces where our food comes from and what it takes to get it to the American consumer. What she ultimately discovers is that healthy food became a luxury because of a myriad of factors including food transport, advances in agriculture technology, and the creation of American suburbs. Although other recent books have attempted to chronicle American food culture, McMillan is the first to follow the trail of food from its creation to its consumption. This book will be an eye-opener to anyone who wants to go behind the scenes of America’s food.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Melody

    There's a lot of information here, much of it new to me. I knew, f'rinstance, that most people in the US have abysmal diets. I wasn't clear on some of the reasons why- including the fact that lots of people just plain never learn to cook from scratch and are flummoxed by a pile of ingredients with no instructions attached. This book also reinforced my resolve to never shop in Walmart or eat in chain restaurants. I enjoyed McMillan's writing style, which was journalistic without being impersonal. There's a lot of information here, much of it new to me. I knew, f'rinstance, that most people in the US have abysmal diets. I wasn't clear on some of the reasons why- including the fact that lots of people just plain never learn to cook from scratch and are flummoxed by a pile of ingredients with no instructions attached. This book also reinforced my resolve to never shop in Walmart or eat in chain restaurants. I enjoyed McMillan's writing style, which was journalistic without being impersonal. Lots of footnotes and research to back up the personal anecdotes, too.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    I think calling this undercover journalism is a stretch--it was a diary of personal experience with some footnotes. There were some interesting anecdotes and facts, but I never really felt like the point she was trying to make came together. Yes, there are problems with how food is grown, harvested, sold, and eaten this country, but I didn't feel much more enlightened about any of those issues, other then how the author "felt" about them, at the end of this book. I think calling this undercover journalism is a stretch--it was a diary of personal experience with some footnotes. There were some interesting anecdotes and facts, but I never really felt like the point she was trying to make came together. Yes, there are problems with how food is grown, harvested, sold, and eaten this country, but I didn't feel much more enlightened about any of those issues, other then how the author "felt" about them, at the end of this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Konneker

    This was a mixed bag for me. McMillan is an excellent writer but her observations, particularly about field workers in California earlier in the book, come across as out of touch and insensitive. The author has no problem exploiting other people if it means she can write a good story, and this leads to a lot of uncomfortable descriptions of how McMillan takes advantage of the resources of those who have much less than she does. I know that this book is a little dated now, but I still expected mor This was a mixed bag for me. McMillan is an excellent writer but her observations, particularly about field workers in California earlier in the book, come across as out of touch and insensitive. The author has no problem exploiting other people if it means she can write a good story, and this leads to a lot of uncomfortable descriptions of how McMillan takes advantage of the resources of those who have much less than she does. I know that this book is a little dated now, but I still expected more self awareness from a James Beard finalist. I did learn a lot about food production distribution in America, which is where all three of my stars are coming from, but I think an even more successful book could have been written by, I don't know, being a journalist and actually asking people about how they live instead of playing a condescending game of make-believe with the people you are claiming to advocate for.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Thomson Richard

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. it's great it's great

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    Part anecdotal recount of a year spent working undercover at several stops along the U.S. food chain, part numbers-laden analysis of immigrant rights, labor politics, poverty, urban decay and growth and gentrification, and, of course, said food chain, "The American Way of Eating" took me a long time to read because it was like taking an entire class. McMillan is an accessible writer, and has good timing for switching from dry history and stats-quoting to harrowing stories of working the Valentin Part anecdotal recount of a year spent working undercover at several stops along the U.S. food chain, part numbers-laden analysis of immigrant rights, labor politics, poverty, urban decay and growth and gentrification, and, of course, said food chain, "The American Way of Eating" took me a long time to read because it was like taking an entire class. McMillan is an accessible writer, and has good timing for switching from dry history and stats-quoting to harrowing stories of working the Valentine's Day rush at the Bed-Stuy Applebee's in Creole Brooklyn. Some information that I'll keep in my back pocket, other than the broad sense I have that I am entirely right not to shop at WalMart ever, at all, working in fields is hard work and has racism and xenophobia built right on into the deal, and Applebee's has nary a fresh item between its hallowed walls: -Citizens of the US catch a lot of flak for having "no food culture," based in large part on the fact that we spend a lower percentage of our incomes on food than, say, the French. But here's the thing: we have to pay for communication, higher education, transportation, and health care with our incomes, too; THE FRENCH DO NOT. So cut us a freaking break. -WalMart is so fabulously successful mostly because they own their own distribution system, too. The money saved on contracting with, packing, shipping, and selling groceries themselves means they can ask for lower prices that then drive smaller local businesses under. -Also, WalMart throws away a billion pounds of food away a year. -Also, their food is never, ever, ever fresh. -Speaking of which, Applebees straight up LIES about when their food expires. And everything comes out of a plastic bag. The expo person is pulling flakes of melted plastic out of your vegetables until the second they are delivered to your table. -Detroit is considered such an infamous food desert in large part because most of the massive amount of food that DOES come into the city is shipped out immediately, as in, within twelve hours of arriving at the produce terminal, to the suburbs. It's TRYING not to be a food desert. The urban gardening scene is growing, in more ways than one. -Sexism: TOTALLY EXISTS IN THE FOOD SYSTEM. WHO KNEW?!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    My opinion of Tracie McMillan's book of investigative-journalism veered wildly as I read of her semi-undercover adventures on the front lines of American food: its production (she goes among the migrant workers on mega-farms in California), its distribution (she stocks produce at a WalMart outside of Detroit), and preparation (she gets a job putting the finishes on plates at a Flatbush Applebee's). What I liked was some of the big picture stuff, like the astonishing 25% market share that WalMart My opinion of Tracie McMillan's book of investigative-journalism veered wildly as I read of her semi-undercover adventures on the front lines of American food: its production (she goes among the migrant workers on mega-farms in California), its distribution (she stocks produce at a WalMart outside of Detroit), and preparation (she gets a job putting the finishes on plates at a Flatbush Applebee's). What I liked was some of the big picture stuff, like the astonishing 25% market share that WalMart has on the country's food supply--that's a quarter of all the "food" purchased in America comes from this place, most of it, of course, so processed and filled with crap; the produce department within which McMillan works is in some far corner of the store, the veggies and fruits mostly limp, slimy, or rotten--and how it got that way. Or the mechanics of agribusiness, and why these places either mechanize their production or pay extreme-poverty-level wages to workers (and then the subcontractors, who do the paperwork, for a layer of protection, lie on the checks about the hours, so it looks like minimum wage has been paid, and everyone just accepts this). Or how a high-volume/low-cost kitchen like Applebees works: basically, there's no cooking, just microwaving and assemblage. I wish she had done more about the business end of things; more of a follow the money book. What I found a lot less interesting was the personal side of her story: how she found places to live and work (luck, persistence, and craigslist, no news here); the people she met, who I could never keep track of (she has little talent for bringing someone to life in a few paragraphs); how men at every stop developed crushes on her, a seemingly odd, narcissistic detail she includes that makes more sense in the end, but not really. This stuff takes up at least half the book, probably more, and is far less compelling. In the obvious comparison, Barbra Enrich in Nickel and Dimed did a much better job on what life feels like on the poverty line, to be working your ass off doing something shitty and still be unable to afford your rent and food.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Colleen

    I thought I would enjoy this book much more than I did because the subject matter is very interesting and relevant. I read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" book a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, and unfortunately McMillan's book seemed like a poor copy of it. Although it was supposed to be about food and the issues pertaining to food consumption in America, somehow it seemed to miss the mark. Obviously, because she went undercover and worked in various sectors of the food indus I thought I would enjoy this book much more than I did because the subject matter is very interesting and relevant. I read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" book a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, and unfortunately McMillan's book seemed like a poor copy of it. Although it was supposed to be about food and the issues pertaining to food consumption in America, somehow it seemed to miss the mark. Obviously, because she went undercover and worked in various sectors of the food industry, the book was going to dwell somewhat on America's socio-economic structure and the struggles of the poor and middle-class to eat well. Yet I sometimes had the feeling she was trying to cover two different topics or, at least, wasn't covering the food issue quite as much as I thought she should. I also found her overuse of footnotes irritating. Almost every other page has a footnote plastered on the bottom... some of them worthwhile or necessary, but some of them just plain distracting. (Do I really need a footnote to tell me that the name 'lettuce' derives from the Latin lactuca?) An interesting topic, but a boring presentation.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    fairly informative book on how americans eat, explaining the infrastructure of distribution, growing, selling, munching. author illustrates (and learns a lot) by working "under cover" at walmart (twice), in the fields of california, picking grapes, sorting peaches, and harvesting/cutting garlic, and at applebees in nyc. one interesting thing, french folks spend about twice the percentage on food a year as usaers, but usaers spend about twice as much as french on healthcare, childcare, education, fairly informative book on how americans eat, explaining the infrastructure of distribution, growing, selling, munching. author illustrates (and learns a lot) by working "under cover" at walmart (twice), in the fields of california, picking grapes, sorting peaches, and harvesting/cutting garlic, and at applebees in nyc. one interesting thing, french folks spend about twice the percentage on food a year as usaers, but usaers spend about twice as much as french on healthcare, childcare, education, and transportation. or as walmart says, Save Money.Live Better! good book, lots of info and fairly entertaining stories, a Raj Patel for the middle class Stuffed And Starved: Markets, Power And The Hidden Battle For The World Food System

  30. 5 out of 5

    Handan

    Here's my thing: I just like KNOWING stuff, particularly if it is relevant (though little considered) stuff like what I'm eating/breathing/drinking or other daily tasks assumed or taken for granted. On that count, I particularly enjoyed this book. There's a nearly-balanced blend of personal experience with research (READ: loads of footnotes). It lacks the gross-out factor of other recent hits like "Fast Food Nation" because the goal here isn't shock value or surprise or disgust (at least in the Here's my thing: I just like KNOWING stuff, particularly if it is relevant (though little considered) stuff like what I'm eating/breathing/drinking or other daily tasks assumed or taken for granted. On that count, I particularly enjoyed this book. There's a nearly-balanced blend of personal experience with research (READ: loads of footnotes). It lacks the gross-out factor of other recent hits like "Fast Food Nation" because the goal here isn't shock value or surprise or disgust (at least in the gastronomic sense); the aim is to chip away at our society's VIEW of food and how we treat it in itself and in relation to the "other" in our society. It boils down to this: We all should have basic access to healthy food and McMillan's expose illustrates what happens when we don't (purely from a food point of view rather than derailing into the healthy aspect, among other secondary benefits).

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