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The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Tableby Tracie McMillan
Synopses & Reviews
What if you cant afford nine-dollar tomatoes? That was the question award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan couldn't escape as she watched the debate about Americas meals unfold, one that urges us to pay foods true cost — which is to say, pay more. So in 2009 McMillan embarked on a groundbreaking undercover journey to see what it takes to eat well in America. For nearly a year, she worked, ate, and lived alongside the working poor to examine how Americans eat when price matters.
From the fields of California, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebees, McMillan takes us into the heart of Americas meals. With startling intimacy she portrays the lives and food of Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks, while also chronicling her own attempts to live and eat on meager wages. Along the way, she asked the questions still facing America a decade after the declaration of an obesity epidemic: Why do we eat the way we do? And how can we change it? To find out, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to examine the national priorities that put it there. With her absorbing blend of riveting narrative and formidable investigative reporting, McMillan takes us from dusty fields to clanging restaurant kitchens, linking her work to the quality of our meals — and always placing her observations in the context of Americas approach not just to farms and kitchens but to wages and work.
The surprising answers that McMillan found on her journey have profound implications for our food and agriculture, and also for how we see ourselves as a nation. Through stunning reportage, Tracie McMillan makes the simple case that — city or country, rich or poor — everyone wants good food. Fearlessly reported and beautifully written, The American Way of Eating goes beyond statistics and culture wars to deliver a book that is fiercely intelligent and compulsively readable. Talking about dinner will never be the same again.
"Hailing from a middle-class rural Michigan background in which Tuna Helper and iceberg-lettuce salads were the usual dinner fare and later schooled at NYU, journalist McMillan (City Limits magazine) resolved to learn firsthand how the food America eats (mostly packaged and processed) is grown, distributed, and bought. Why does good, fresh food have to cost more and be harder to find than fast food? Over the course of a year she went 'undercover,' posing as a kind of ambitionless 33-year-old 'white girl' in transition (she speaks Spanish), finding jobs as a fruit picker in California (grapes, peaches, garlic); a stock and produce clerk at the Wal-Mart in Kalamazoo, Mich., and another outside of Detroit; and as an expediter ('kitchen novice') at the Applebee's restaurant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. In each job she stayed about two months; found a room to rent nearby; claims to have lived off her earnings, which she documents meticulously; and was rarely above the poverty level, e.g., as a picker she made an average of a week. Personable, self-deprecating, elucidating, McMillan's account achieves an engaging balance between documentary and history, rich in the personalities of the people she works with and befriends while offering a smattering of research, such as tracing the growth of the world's first supermarket, King Kullen, and visiting Detroit's still teeming Terminal market." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"McMillan provides an eye-opening account of the route much of American food takes from the field to the restaurant table." Kirkus
"Tracie McMillan is gutsy, scrappy, and hard-working — you'd have to be to write this book. The American Way of Eating takes us local in a new way, exploring who works to get food from the field to the plates in front of us, what they are paid, and how it feels. It's sometimes grim but McMillan doesn't flinch; I especially appreciated her openness in telling us what she spent in order to get by (or not). A welcome addition to the urgent, growing body of journalism on food." Ted Conover, author of Newjack and Coyotes
"With much courage and compassion, McMillan explores the lives of those at the bottom of our food system. Here is a glimpse of the people who feed us — and the terrible price they pay. If we want to change the system, this is where we must begin." Eric Schlosser
"These tales lay bare the sinews, the minds, and the relationships that our food system exploits and discards. In a work of deep compassion and integrity, Tracie McMillan offers us an eye-opening report on the human cost of America's cheap food." Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing
"To uncover the truth behind how our modern food system works, Tracie M. McMillan took jobs in a supermarket produce section, a chain restaurant kitchen, and the fields alongside migrant laborers. If you eat, you owe it to yourself to read this masterful book." Barry Estabook, author of Tomatoland
"Three cheers for Tracie McMillan; this book is a revelation! It is the sort of engaging first person adventure story that reads like a good novel, all the while supplying the facts and figures that make the larger picture clear. I'm grateful to her in equal parts for the stamina and courage to undertake this undercover journey, the narrative skill that makes the account so digestible, and the commitment to social justice for both workers and consumers that infuses the whole project." Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All and Sweet Charity
"Tracie McMillan has written a remarkable book for right now — a book that smartly tells us what is wrong with what we eat and how we might improve it. But what is even more remarkable about the book is how deeply engaging it is. With her intimate and confident portraits of American food workers, she crafts a touching, emotional narrative that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page." James Oseland, author of Cradle of Flavor
"This is a wonderful introduction to the triumph and tragedy of the American food industry. Mixing compassionate participant observation with in depth, up-to-the-minute background research, Tracie McMillan takes us for an eye-opening, heart-rending tour of the corporate food chain. Along the way we meet unforgettable people who, at great personal cost, labor hard so that we can eat cheaply and easily. Having seen what it takes to move our meals from farm to table, the reader will emerge shaken, enlightened, and forever thankful." Warren Belasco, author of Appetite for Change and Meals to Come
"This is an amazing book. Tracie McMillan willtake any reader into new territory. The implacable fierceness of farm work, the slovenliness behind the produce section at Walmart — prepare to be submerged in harsh little worlds and shocked. But McMillan keeps her cool, always presenting the context and the content of her struggles with enough analytic detachment to rough out a complete, and convincing, vision of food as a social good. Read her book and your dinner will never look the same." William Finnegan, author of Cold New World
"The book Ms. McMillan's most resembles is Barbara Ehrenreich's best seller Nickel and Dimed. Like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan goes undercover amid this country's working poor....This is a voice the food world needs." New York Times
"The genius, genius Tracie McMillan went from growing up eating a lot of processed foods to cultivating an interest in fancier, local cuisine, to even writing for high-end culinary publications including Saveur mag. Her personal journey led her to write this must read, which investigates our food system and what's exactly keeping Americans from eating well, and what we can do to fix it. (Did I mention genius?)" Glamour.com
"Valiant...McMillan's undercover work for The American Way of Eating takes readers on an educational journey." San Francisco Chronicle
Inspired by the growing interest in food and the conversation about what we should be eating and where it should come from award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan began to wonder how America's working class could afford, let alone have time, to eat as well as they should. In 2009 McMillan decided to immerse herself in America's food system — from farm to restaurant kitchen — and work undercover alongside America's working poor in order to examine how we eat.
Moving from California to Detroit to New York, McMillan worked as a farm laborer, a Wal-Mart clerk in the grocery section, and an expediter at Applebee's. She often lived and worked and shared kitchens and food with her co-workers. She takes us into these worlds with vivid descriptions of the people she meets; the grueling work; the treatment of workers; and the food that's being grown, sold, and prepared. She lives within the means her low pay allows and demonstrates what that means in terms of the food she can afford to buy and the time she has to prepare it.
Good and healthy food should not be a luxury and in her important book Tracie McMillian explores why eating well in our country is limited to the few and what we can do about it and she establishes herself as an important young journalist writing about one of the hottest topics in America.
In the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, an ambitious and accessible work of undercover journalism that fully investigates our food system to explain what keeps Americans from eating well — and what we can do about it.
Getting Americans to eat well is one of today's hottest social issues; it's at the forefront of Michelle Obama's agenda and widely covered in the media — from childhood obesity to store brands trying to make their food healthier. Yet most Americans still eat poorly, and award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan wanted to know why. So, in 2009 McMillan went to work undercover in our nation's food system alongside America's working poor, living and eating off her wages, to examine how we eat.
McMillan worked on industrial farms in California, in a Walmart produce section outside Detroit, and at an Applebee's kitchen in New York City. Her vivid narrative brings readers along to grueling work places, introduces them to her coworkers, and takes them home to her kitchen, to see what kind of food she (and her coworkers) can afford to buy and prepare. With striking precision, McMillan also weaves in the story of how we got here, digging deep into labor, economics, politics, and social science to reveal new and surprising truths about how America's food is grown, sold, and prepared — and what it would take to change the system.
Fascinating and timely, this groundbreaking work examines why eating well in America — despite the expansion of farmer's markets and eat local movements — is limited to the privileged minority.
About the Author
Tracie McMillan has written about food, poverty, and the politics of both for the New York Times, Harper's magazine, Mother Jones, Slate, Saveur and Gastronomica, among others. She received her BA in political science from New York University in 1999 and became the managing editor of the award-winning, independent magazine City Limits, where she won numerous awards and honors for her features on poverty and food.
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