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The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Tableby Tracie McMillan
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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.
"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
"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
"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
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.
About the Author
A working-class transplant from rural Michigan, Brooklyn-based writer Tracie McMillan has written about food and class for a variety of publications including, The New York Times; O, The Oprah Magazine; Harper’s Magazine; Saveur; and Slate. After putting herself through New York University, she began reporting and from 2001 to 2005 she was the managing editor of the award-winning magazine City Limits. There, she won recognition from organizations ranging from the James Beard Foundation to World Hunger Year. Follow her at TracieMcMillan.com or @TMMcMillan.
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