'The American Way of Eating': Food, our inglorious food

Tracie McMillan details, with precision and humanity, what ails our national nutritional regime
March 4, 2012 12:00 am
  • Tracie McMillan's work reveals "big villains but also plenty of small heroes."
    Tracie McMillan's work reveals "big villains but also plenty of small heroes."
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From a certain perspective, Americans have never been so obsessed with food. Turn on the TV or pick up a magazine and you can feast on recipes, restaurant reviews, profiles of the latest celebrity chef and hottest new ingredient. One could easily imagine that it's never been easier or more fun to eat well in our nation.

But what if the only large grocery store in your town offers rock-bottom prices for food that comes in a box, while produce is expensive and often of poor quality?

What if you make less than $200 a week, and you and a dozen other adults share a kitchen that has just one small refrigerator and stove?

What if you work around food all day but come home so tired that the idea of cooking seems completely beyond your reach?

In "The American Way of Eating" Tracie McMillan recounts months she spent working in the grape and garlic fields of California, the grocery and produce departments of two Michigan Walmart stores, and the kitchen of an Applebee's in New York City.

Ms. McMillan makes a convincing case that America's food system is a mess. But this is no harangue. Her book is a pleasure to read, illuminating complex arguments and statistics with vivid details and engaging stories.


"THE AMERICAN WAY OF EATING: UNDERCOVER AT WALMART, APPLEBEE'S, FARM FIELDS AND THE DINNER TABLE"
By Tracie McMillan
Scribner ($25)

As a work of experiential journalism, the book has much in common with Barbara Ehrenreich's 2001 "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America." Like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan immerses herself in her new jobs, attempting to live off her wages plus an appropriate start-up fund, and she supplements her personal experiences with interviews and detailed statistics. Also like Ms. Ehrenreich, she quickly discovers that her college education and experience as a journalist don't necessarily equip her with the skills to work these supposedly low-skilled jobs.

Each experience gave her a different perspective into the American food system and a chance to answer some of the fundamental questions about how our food gets from the field to the dinner plate.


First Published 2012-03-03 23:08:55

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