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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
ISBN: 9781439171974
List price: $13.99
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I'm in the first chapter and will update this review but want to clear up some misconceptions that the author is supporting while they're still in my mind.
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First of all, she compliments the French for their low cost healthcare and mandatory 5 weeks vacation, stating that the society pays less for healthcare. The healthcare costs however, are in much higher taxes. The costs of the mandatory work benefits are a much higher unemployment, especially for the young or people with a criminal record, who desperately need valuable job experience.
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She criticizes supermarkets for not locating in neighborhoods because they make more money in suburban neighborhoods. The reason is this: in suburban neighborhoods, prices are lower, so there is a higher turnover on the product. Why are the prices higher in bad neighborhoods? Increased costs of security and theft. Higher prices are require to offset these costs. Even with these higher costs, stores in low income urban locations still rarely make a comparable income relative to stores in safe areas which can provide fresher items at a lower price.
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Thanks for reading my review, my analysis comes from Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics", a book that the author would have benefited from reading.

more
"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.more
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.

more
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.more
Read all 9 reviews

Reviews

I'm in the first chapter and will update this review but want to clear up some misconceptions that the author is supporting while they're still in my mind.
-
First of all, she compliments the French for their low cost healthcare and mandatory 5 weeks vacation, stating that the society pays less for healthcare. The healthcare costs however, are in much higher taxes. The costs of the mandatory work benefits are a much higher unemployment, especially for the young or people with a criminal record, who desperately need valuable job experience.
-
She criticizes supermarkets for not locating in neighborhoods because they make more money in suburban neighborhoods. The reason is this: in suburban neighborhoods, prices are lower, so there is a higher turnover on the product. Why are the prices higher in bad neighborhoods? Increased costs of security and theft. Higher prices are require to offset these costs. Even with these higher costs, stores in low income urban locations still rarely make a comparable income relative to stores in safe areas which can provide fresher items at a lower price.
-
Thanks for reading my review, my analysis comes from Thomas Sowell's "Basic Economics", a book that the author would have benefited from reading.

more
"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.more
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.

more
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.more
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.more
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