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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 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.

Topics: Farming, Food History, Inequality, Social Class, Politics, Working Class, Investigative Journalism, Provocative, Informative, Poverty, Based on a True Story, Creative Nonfiction, 2000s, American Author, 21st Century, and Female Author

Published: Scribner on Feb 21, 2012
ISBN: 9781439171974
List price: $13.99
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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.

read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Investigative journalism and analysis. In the brief conclusion she discusses new business models for a new food system.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Tracie decided to work in 3 major areas of the food industry in the US and write about them. She worked in the fields picking fruits and vegetables, in the produce section of a Wal-Mart and in an Applebees restaurant - all undercover as a reporter. I think it would have added another interesting dimension if she had also worked in a food processing company like Kraft, and perhaps at a dairy farm or cattle ranch or meat processing plant, since those are also major parts of our food industry.In memoir fashion, with informative footnotes, Tracie tells how she picked grapes and garlic in California, worked at Wal-Marts in Michigan and New York and worked at an Applebees in New York. I learned more from the informative footnotes than from her memoir, but the book is well-written and interesting and entertaining. I was saddened, but not suprised to read about the children who sometimes work in the fields picking produce, the injuries caused by the repetitive motion, and the low pay and re-writing of pay records to make it look like they are paying the produce workers fairly. I was suprised and saddened to learn that for the workers, picking organic produce is just the same as any other produce. I think that we would like to think that "organic" means not only a lack of pesticide, but that the entire process would be kinder and gentler and healthier and more fair and that the workers would get higher pay since the produce itself costs more, but that is not the case. Tracie includes facts about the grocery industry and how it grew quickly once it created it's own distribution system and how Wal-Mart's low prices can be deceiving since the low prices of the loss leaders are made up by higher prices elsewhere in their stores. She points out that at both Wal-Mart and at Applebees, there is supposed to be training for the employees and at some point they are asked to sign papers stating that they received training that they did not actually receive. That does not suprise me at all since I work in retail and have had that happen to me in the past too. Everyone signs that because if you don't, you won't have a job.I found it very unappetising and rather disgusting to learn that most of the foods at Applebees are pre-prepared and made from packaged mixes and later heated in a microwave in plastic baggies before being served to the customers. Tracie includes information about CSAs and bemoans the fact that in our country we make sure that people have access to electricity, water and to some extent even health care, but we do not put any effort into making sure that fresh, healthy food is readily available to everyone everywhere, instead, we leave that to the private industries and corporations like Wal-Mart.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
"The American Way of Eating" (AWE) was a worthwhile read, despite the book's kind of goofy subtitle "Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table." It is to Tracie McMillan's credit that she carefully investigated, by means of personal albeit temporary immersion, reasons why access to good-tasting, nutritious food is so elusive to many. Her reportage on the abysmal wages and work/life conditions of farm workers who harvest crops for literally pennies on the pound was on-point and moving. One can't avoid drawing the conclusion that we "haves" cook and dine on the backs of an undervalued and anonymous underclass. Likewise, McMillan wrote convincingly about the hard lives and dicey future prospects of minimum-wage workers across (but hardly limited to) the food industry. To me, one of the most interesting parts of the book was McMillan's dissection of Detroit's wholesale distribution networks, in which massive amounts of decent food pour into the city's markets and are quickly redistributed to suburban locations. I liked McMillan's approach overall and admired the moxie with which she conducted her research (but "undercover"?...oh please).Yet the root causes which underlie Americans' poor eating habits of Americans are much broader and more complex than the ground which McMillan was able to cover. As much as anything, the problem lies with the marketeers and food scientists responsible for producing and hawking modern junk food and nutrient-challenged convenience fare. As McMillan correctly (I believe) points out, exposing adults and kids alike to good food and actively teaching and helping them to obtain better food outcomes is a critical task. Inculcating better eating habits needs to occur relentlessly and in a myriad of different forms, in the same way that anti-smoking campaigns have become a permanent fixture of modern culture.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
There is no shortage of films, TV shows or books concerning the current state of America’s food, and I eat them up. My interest in food began in 2001 when I read Fast Food Nation. That is when I realized that fast food wasn’t just bad for individual health, it has detrimental effects on agriculture, economics, pollution, ecology, animal health, even social cohesion, and I’m sure I’m missing some. The country has been going down this path of massive-scale agriculture and low-quality food production for over fifty years now, and we may have reached the tipping point.Unlike Fast Food Nation, McMillan’s American Way of Eating is more about how the food industry affects individuals. She began with the concept of food deserts, areas that have people of low incomes who also have low access to supermarkets or large grocery stores. She decided to drop her life temporarily and live in food deserts while working in three different areas of the food industry – farming, selling, and cooking. She started with a small nest egg in each instance to get started, but then lived only off the wages she earned. She kept track of how much money she made, how much she spend of food, and what percentage of her income was spent on food.Farming was spent in California’s Central and Salinas Valleys, areas known for food growing despite low water levels that require the need for heavy irrigation. She worked mostly with migrant farm workers who were generous and friendly. She picked grapes, peaches, and garlic working for various farming corporations. She, like the other workers, was grossly underpaid, not just in wage rates, but also in shady accounting. The company would divide her total earned by piece rate and divide it by hourly minimum wage so it appeared on paper that she received adequate compensation for work, but it would only list two hours of work time when she actually put in a full eight hour day. These practices are common in the farming industry, particularly when the majority of workers are migrants.To get some insight into selling food, McMillan when to the giant – Walmart. She worked in two Walmarts in Michigan; one stocking dry goods and the other stocking produce. The sheer scale in which Walmart is able to operate marks it as a game-changer in the food distribution system. Before mass supermarkets, food was grown regionally and shipped locally. With the advent of large-scale distribution, foods of all types are available in almost any location in America regardless of season. The sacrifice here is quality and surprisingly price. Although Walmart may have some of the lowest prices in town on some things, produce is not one of them. Local grocery stores are actually able to beat out Walmart produce prices and offer higher quality because they have more dexterity in food logistics.She also discusses urban agriculture, specifically in Detroit. There are two things about Detroit that make growing food in the community both appealing and viable – vacant land and lack of grocery stores. Michigan State University conducted a study in 2010 that found Detroiters could get nearly half of their nontropical fruits and three-quarters of their vegetables from urban growers, and it would require only about 12 percent of the city’s vacant land if biointensive agriculture is used, which most urban farms use already.Lastly, Macmillan works in a kitchen to get the cooking experience of the food industry. Like her experience selling food, she went to one of the big dogs to learn how to cook it – Applebee’s. Although, I’m not sure cooking would be an apt description. With almost everything, from soups and sauces to mashed potatoes and garlic, coming from pre-made bags shipped from food service vendors. On top of the fact that it was pre-made, it is mostly compiled and cooked in a microwave. They don’t really cook at Applebee’s, they assemble. Applebee’s may have servers and a bar, but there is not much difference between Applebee’s and typical fast food.When she started out, McMillan wanted to explore what life was like for individuals in the food industry as well as how the working poor ate. It could not be further from true that poor people do not care about the quality, taste, and look of their food. What they lack is time, access, and knowledge. When the food stamp program was extended to allow acceptance at farmers markets, they were used heavily. When grocery stores are available, they are patronized over corner stores. When cooking and nutrition classes are completed, people are more comfortable in the kitchen and are able to create well-balanced, wholesome meals that cost less and are healthier than following directions on a box.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very readable---full of information beyond what is in the actual story of her experiences. There are no easy answers to the problems of feeding the world but her last chapter sums up what we should be as a society of human beings. Her extra notes on the pages throughout the book were impressive and added to the accuracy of the picture she presented. The question is, how do we get there from here, as fast as possible.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An extensively researched and frequently disturbing look at the food industry in America, from the farms where it is grow to the supermarkets where it's sold to the restaurants where it's prepared and consumed. McMillan worked in all three of these areas as part of her research which make her observations all the more insightful and interesting. After reading this, I'm glad I don't eat at Applebee's or shop at Wal-Mart, and I'm grateful to be in a position to be able to have the access to and afford food that many Americans cannot.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

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.

Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Investigative journalism and analysis. In the brief conclusion she discusses new business models for a new food system.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Tracie decided to work in 3 major areas of the food industry in the US and write about them. She worked in the fields picking fruits and vegetables, in the produce section of a Wal-Mart and in an Applebees restaurant - all undercover as a reporter. I think it would have added another interesting dimension if she had also worked in a food processing company like Kraft, and perhaps at a dairy farm or cattle ranch or meat processing plant, since those are also major parts of our food industry.In memoir fashion, with informative footnotes, Tracie tells how she picked grapes and garlic in California, worked at Wal-Marts in Michigan and New York and worked at an Applebees in New York. I learned more from the informative footnotes than from her memoir, but the book is well-written and interesting and entertaining. I was saddened, but not suprised to read about the children who sometimes work in the fields picking produce, the injuries caused by the repetitive motion, and the low pay and re-writing of pay records to make it look like they are paying the produce workers fairly. I was suprised and saddened to learn that for the workers, picking organic produce is just the same as any other produce. I think that we would like to think that "organic" means not only a lack of pesticide, but that the entire process would be kinder and gentler and healthier and more fair and that the workers would get higher pay since the produce itself costs more, but that is not the case. Tracie includes facts about the grocery industry and how it grew quickly once it created it's own distribution system and how Wal-Mart's low prices can be deceiving since the low prices of the loss leaders are made up by higher prices elsewhere in their stores. She points out that at both Wal-Mart and at Applebees, there is supposed to be training for the employees and at some point they are asked to sign papers stating that they received training that they did not actually receive. That does not suprise me at all since I work in retail and have had that happen to me in the past too. Everyone signs that because if you don't, you won't have a job.I found it very unappetising and rather disgusting to learn that most of the foods at Applebees are pre-prepared and made from packaged mixes and later heated in a microwave in plastic baggies before being served to the customers. Tracie includes information about CSAs and bemoans the fact that in our country we make sure that people have access to electricity, water and to some extent even health care, but we do not put any effort into making sure that fresh, healthy food is readily available to everyone everywhere, instead, we leave that to the private industries and corporations like Wal-Mart.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
"The American Way of Eating" (AWE) was a worthwhile read, despite the book's kind of goofy subtitle "Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table." It is to Tracie McMillan's credit that she carefully investigated, by means of personal albeit temporary immersion, reasons why access to good-tasting, nutritious food is so elusive to many. Her reportage on the abysmal wages and work/life conditions of farm workers who harvest crops for literally pennies on the pound was on-point and moving. One can't avoid drawing the conclusion that we "haves" cook and dine on the backs of an undervalued and anonymous underclass. Likewise, McMillan wrote convincingly about the hard lives and dicey future prospects of minimum-wage workers across (but hardly limited to) the food industry. To me, one of the most interesting parts of the book was McMillan's dissection of Detroit's wholesale distribution networks, in which massive amounts of decent food pour into the city's markets and are quickly redistributed to suburban locations. I liked McMillan's approach overall and admired the moxie with which she conducted her research (but "undercover"?...oh please).Yet the root causes which underlie Americans' poor eating habits of Americans are much broader and more complex than the ground which McMillan was able to cover. As much as anything, the problem lies with the marketeers and food scientists responsible for producing and hawking modern junk food and nutrient-challenged convenience fare. As McMillan correctly (I believe) points out, exposing adults and kids alike to good food and actively teaching and helping them to obtain better food outcomes is a critical task. Inculcating better eating habits needs to occur relentlessly and in a myriad of different forms, in the same way that anti-smoking campaigns have become a permanent fixture of modern culture.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
There is no shortage of films, TV shows or books concerning the current state of America’s food, and I eat them up. My interest in food began in 2001 when I read Fast Food Nation. That is when I realized that fast food wasn’t just bad for individual health, it has detrimental effects on agriculture, economics, pollution, ecology, animal health, even social cohesion, and I’m sure I’m missing some. The country has been going down this path of massive-scale agriculture and low-quality food production for over fifty years now, and we may have reached the tipping point.Unlike Fast Food Nation, McMillan’s American Way of Eating is more about how the food industry affects individuals. She began with the concept of food deserts, areas that have people of low incomes who also have low access to supermarkets or large grocery stores. She decided to drop her life temporarily and live in food deserts while working in three different areas of the food industry – farming, selling, and cooking. She started with a small nest egg in each instance to get started, but then lived only off the wages she earned. She kept track of how much money she made, how much she spend of food, and what percentage of her income was spent on food.Farming was spent in California’s Central and Salinas Valleys, areas known for food growing despite low water levels that require the need for heavy irrigation. She worked mostly with migrant farm workers who were generous and friendly. She picked grapes, peaches, and garlic working for various farming corporations. She, like the other workers, was grossly underpaid, not just in wage rates, but also in shady accounting. The company would divide her total earned by piece rate and divide it by hourly minimum wage so it appeared on paper that she received adequate compensation for work, but it would only list two hours of work time when she actually put in a full eight hour day. These practices are common in the farming industry, particularly when the majority of workers are migrants.To get some insight into selling food, McMillan when to the giant – Walmart. She worked in two Walmarts in Michigan; one stocking dry goods and the other stocking produce. The sheer scale in which Walmart is able to operate marks it as a game-changer in the food distribution system. Before mass supermarkets, food was grown regionally and shipped locally. With the advent of large-scale distribution, foods of all types are available in almost any location in America regardless of season. The sacrifice here is quality and surprisingly price. Although Walmart may have some of the lowest prices in town on some things, produce is not one of them. Local grocery stores are actually able to beat out Walmart produce prices and offer higher quality because they have more dexterity in food logistics.She also discusses urban agriculture, specifically in Detroit. There are two things about Detroit that make growing food in the community both appealing and viable – vacant land and lack of grocery stores. Michigan State University conducted a study in 2010 that found Detroiters could get nearly half of their nontropical fruits and three-quarters of their vegetables from urban growers, and it would require only about 12 percent of the city’s vacant land if biointensive agriculture is used, which most urban farms use already.Lastly, Macmillan works in a kitchen to get the cooking experience of the food industry. Like her experience selling food, she went to one of the big dogs to learn how to cook it – Applebee’s. Although, I’m not sure cooking would be an apt description. With almost everything, from soups and sauces to mashed potatoes and garlic, coming from pre-made bags shipped from food service vendors. On top of the fact that it was pre-made, it is mostly compiled and cooked in a microwave. They don’t really cook at Applebee’s, they assemble. Applebee’s may have servers and a bar, but there is not much difference between Applebee’s and typical fast food.When she started out, McMillan wanted to explore what life was like for individuals in the food industry as well as how the working poor ate. It could not be further from true that poor people do not care about the quality, taste, and look of their food. What they lack is time, access, and knowledge. When the food stamp program was extended to allow acceptance at farmers markets, they were used heavily. When grocery stores are available, they are patronized over corner stores. When cooking and nutrition classes are completed, people are more comfortable in the kitchen and are able to create well-balanced, wholesome meals that cost less and are healthier than following directions on a box.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Very readable---full of information beyond what is in the actual story of her experiences. There are no easy answers to the problems of feeding the world but her last chapter sums up what we should be as a society of human beings. Her extra notes on the pages throughout the book were impressive and added to the accuracy of the picture she presented. The question is, how do we get there from here, as fast as possible.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
An extensively researched and frequently disturbing look at the food industry in America, from the farms where it is grow to the supermarkets where it's sold to the restaurants where it's prepared and consumed. McMillan worked in all three of these areas as part of her research which make her observations all the more insightful and interesting. After reading this, I'm glad I don't eat at Applebee's or shop at Wal-Mart, and I'm grateful to be in a position to be able to have the access to and afford food that many Americans cannot.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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