The American Way of Eating

The American Way of Eating

Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

Book - 2012
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In the tradition of Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, an ambitious and accessible work of undercover journalism that fully investigates our food system to explain what keeps Americans from eating well--and what we can do about it.

Getting Americans to eat well is one of today's hottest social issues; it's at the forefront of Michelle Obama's agenda and widely covered in the media--from childhood obesity to store brands trying to make their food healthier. Yet most Americans still eat poorly, and award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan wanted to know why. So, in 2009 McMillan went to work undercover in our nation's food system alongside America's working poor, living and eating off her wages, to examine how we eat.

McMillan worked on industrial farms in California, in a Walmart produce section outside Detroit, and at an Applebee's kitchen in New York City. Her vivid narrative brings readers along to grueling work places, introduces them to her coworkers, and takes them home to her kitchen, to see what kind of food she (and her coworkers) can afford to buy and prepare. With striking precision, McMillan also weaves in the story of how we got here, digging deep into labor, economics, politics, and social science to reveal new and surprising truths about how America's food is grown, sold, and prepared--and what it would take to change the system.

Fascinating and timely, this groundbreaking work examines why eating well in America--despite the expansion of farmer's markets and eat local movements--is limited to the privileged minority.
Publisher: New York : Scribner, 2012.
Edition: 1st Scribner hardcover ed.
ISBN: 9781439171950
Characteristics: x, 319 p. ;,24 cm.


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May 01, 2020

A strong (and brave) piece of undercover journalism: picking crops with migrant workers in California, working the produce section at a Detroit WalMart (largest grocer in America, and in the world!), and preparing food (or assembling it) at a Brooklyn Applebee's. MacMillan wants to experience life for months at a time trying to make ends meet - and to eat as well as possible - in the low-wages corners of the American food ecosystem. Throughout, the question lingers - why is it that Americans of all income brackets enjoy the best fresh food, and desire it, but find it more difficult to eat the best?

Apr 25, 2014

I found the chapters on farm workers fascinating, despite being repetitive. I occasionally wondered if I was accidentally listening to a CD twice. The chapters on Walmart left me bewildered as to the point and abandoned the book altogether. I would have enjoyed this book much more had it been divided into three articles.

Apr 23, 2014

A compelling narrative on how the working class feed America. Tracie McMillan's blend of research and personal experience make it a fun read while feeling educational. The conclusion felt slapped together, but the journey to it is worth the read.

Sep 26, 2012

This is an excellent book! In a sea of books telling us that we have to eat better, eat organic, and buy local, it's refreshing to read a book that explores the lives of people who don't have that luxury.

Despite having read a lot of food writing in my lifetime exploring these issues, a lot of what was explored in this book was new to me. A very enlightening read.

ksoles Sep 08, 2012

This first person account of an undercover journey into the food industry reads like a novel. Through remarkable storytelling, Tracie McMillan shows the reader portraits of the working poor: those who harvest grapes, work at Walmart and serve at Applebee's. She endures gruelling work, suffers heat stroke, experiences identity theft and is even sexually assaulted. Ultimately, the reader truly empathizes with those trapped in low-paying jobs and understands how hard it can become to escape such jobs.

But "The American Way of Eating" also reads like a social commentary. It asks the profound questions: "What would it take for us all to eat well?" "What are the realities of food and eating in America, especially for the working poor?" "Why should we care about immigrant workers? Definitely food for thought.

Aug 25, 2012

This book is clearly thoroughly researched and investigated but also very accessibl. I walked away learning so much about the food industry but also relevant economic theory and a clearer understanding of the politics in play. This book also goes a long way towards exposing readers the day to day challenges, strategies, and triumphs of low income immigrant and citizen families. It also helped me to understand the social perceptions and forces at work maintaining the status quo of income inequality.

Maja_0001 Aug 07, 2012

Investigative reporting at it's best.
It's amazing to discover how most of us get a ride for free on other peoples backs. It is also amazing to see how food industry is exploiting people who work in the farming sector, etc. -actually it's quite disgusting how people are treated.

hcallahan Jul 12, 2012

I actually disagree with those who compare this to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed. Nor is it similar to George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London. Yes, there is some commonality in the focus on how poor people work and live, and on the business of feeding a nation. What's unexpected and impressive is that MacMillan really did quite a bit of research and investigative reporting. The book is enriched by having so much economic and sociological information mixed in with her personal observations. This is a boon, because her account of her personal experiences are much less stylish than in the works mentioned above. Nonetheless, MacMillan's book is a compelling read because she blends ethnography with investigative reporting rather well. I agree that it's not that conclusive, and essentially a series of magazine articles rather than a unified work. But is it reasonable to expect so much from a book on such a complex topic?

Mar 26, 2012

This book recounts the author's experience working on farms in California, working various jobs including produce at Walmart, and working in the kitchen at Applebees. Throughout the text, a greater examination of the constructs of the food industry and systems help us understand some of the larger issues at play politically, economically, and socially. There are so many wonderful footnotes documenting many of the assertions made, and picking from a few of those created another reading list of interest.

I enjoy these non-fiction books. I did not find the "arc" very compelling, but I enjoyed reading the book page by page, cover to cover.

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