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The American Way of Eating: Undercover at…

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm…

by Tracie McMillan

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What a smart, engrossing book! Answers the questions that don't get asked enough about where our food comes from and why. The personal take on the whole process is rendered beautifully. Thanks, Tracie McMillan. ( )
  JoanAxthelm | Aug 4, 2017 |
Ms. McMillan decided to explore how food works in the U.S. To do this, she took a decidedly Barbara Ehrenreich approach: she went out and worked in the field. Literally. She chose to seek work in the California central valley as a farm worker, in Michigan as a Wal-Mart supercenter grocery employee, and as a cook at Applebee’s in Brooklyn, New York. She allowed herself a small cushion of funds with each new job to help with finding a place to live in her new cities, but if she ran out, she did what people who don’t have nest eggs to pull from: she took out an advance on her credit card, or just did without.

Each section starts out with a page that lists her hourly earnings, what that would translate to weekly and annually after taxes, as well as what percentage she spent on food, broken down by eating out and cooking at home. As expected, the work she did was hard, the money she earned was ridiculous, and in many cases it was just easier to eat shitty food than to find the money or energy to cook well.

Some of the author’s observations are quite interesting and good to see; her main take-away is that healthy eating isn’t just about the availability of fresh food, as so many campaigns want us to believe (have you had that ‘food desert’ ad, featuring two kids, in an endless loop on Hulu like I have? I now loathe that ad). It’s also about having a solid education in how to cook (which so many of us don’t), a job that provides the wages AND the time and energy to do that cooking, and a supportive public system like adequate healthcare and child care to allow people to cook instead of eating out.

From my perspective, the most surprising thing was how little cooking actually happens at a restaurant like Applebee’s. I spent one summer working as a hostess and busser at a local restaurant, and other than the giant vat of butter we kept cooling in a sink from which we would scoop a dish to bring out to the fancy tables, everything appeared to be cooked and prepared in the kitchen. Not so with Applebee’s. Yikes.

This book is written pretty well. She manages to weave in statistics and other information in well, and I found her sections on Wal-Mart and the private food supply chain to be very interesting. However, and I knew this going into reading the book – why did SHE need to tell this story? A college-educated, white woman? Come on. Couldn’t she have actually interviewed people who had their own stories to tell? I mean, obviously she did do that to a degree, but this was the Tracie McMillan story, and it absolutely did not have to be. I mean, at one point she is hired on part-time at a Wal-Mart outside of Detroit, and all I could think was that she was taking a job away from someone who actually needed it. I couldn’t get over it, and I don’t necessarily think this book needed to be written in this way. I’m not recommending it, mostly because I think there are a lot of other, better ways to learn about these industries, that don’t involve taking jobs away from people who need them, or replacing the voices of poor people, many of whom are people of color, with the voice of a middle-class white woman.
( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 9, 2017 |
Really 4 1/2 stars. Along the lines of Nickeled and Dimed, but less doctrinaire. A very engaging read that will make you think about where your food comes from. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
If reading McMillan's description of the conversation between a self-described "foodie" and a working class woman talking about the care her grandmother took with food doesn't open your eyes to the class divide nothing will. While comparisons to Nickle and Dimed are impossible to ignore, McMillan manages to take the American middle and upper class obsession with food and turn it on its head. ( )
  Vantine | Mar 14, 2014 |
McMillan goes undercover to pick produce in central California, work at Walmart in Detroit and in the kitchen of a New York City Applebee's. Her goal is to find out what it takes to get the fruits and vegetables on the table of the average American, while learning how corporations get their stock, how difficult it is for their low-paid employees to get by and how a chain restaurant prepares the customer's meal.

While not scary like Fast Food Nation, but McMillan gives plenty of info the average person doesn't even consider. Like where does a garlic company get its product when the California season is over, what does Walmart do about pest-control and how can a restaurant bring you a steak dinner in 14 minutes? An interesting look at the (mostly) produce side of what we eat. ( )
  mstrust | Nov 13, 2013 |
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For those who aren't here to see this:

My mother, Charyl Kaye McMillan;
my grandmother Margaret Mary McMillan;
my grandfathers John Alan McMillan and Donald Eugene Weddle;

And for my grandmother who, thankfully, is:

Katheryn Camelia Weddle
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This is a work of journalism, and an undercover one at that.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Amercian 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.
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"What if you couldn't afford nine dollar tomatoes? That was the question award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan couldn't escape as she watched the debate about America's meals unfold, one that urges us to pay food's 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."--P. 2 of cover.… (more)

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