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Read and Respond

Reaction papers are a common assignment in college courses.  Instructors frequently ask students to locate articles that relate to the topics in the course curriculum.  Making connections between the course content and information from outside sources increases your understanding and application of new principles.  Drawing on your own interests and knowledge, choose a feature length article (450 words) from a recent journal, magazine, or newspaper that pertains to current attitudes and trends.  Topics should relate to social, political, and economic issues raised in McMillan’s book, The American Way of Eating.

  • Summarize the content of the article. 
  • Choose one sentence or passage as a focal point and then write a personal response. 
  • Suggested length:  600 words.
  • Your article should be stapled to the reaction paper
  • Follow the MLA style for final copies.
  • Papers will be evaluated using the final criteria:
    • Ability to summarize the article
    • Ability to isolate a significant point from the article
    • Ability to link the content of the article to previous knowledge and personal experience

Throughout the book The American Way of Eating, McMillan introduces and defines terms and labels that may be unfamiliar to readers.  Note these words and phrases as you read and jot down the definitions given/your understanding of the terms.

  • fringe retailers
  • non-traditional food retailers
  • paradox of plenty
  • farm to plate
  • industrialized agriculture
  • shift work disorder
  • COOL labeling
  • crisping
  • shelf stable foods
  • bio-intensive agriculture
  • dead food
  • foodie
  • urban farming
  • community gardens
  • USDA

Answer reader response questions from each of the following sections of Tracie McMillan’s book, The American Way of Eating: Introduction, Farming, Selling and Cooking.


  • As a newcomer to NYC, Tracie and her roommate discuss the sighting of a cockroach at a supermarket.  Her roommate asks,” Maybe we can shop somewhere else?” What prevents them from finding better food sources?
  • What factors prevent many of us from eating better, healthier food? How important is time and convenience in your diet choices? Does it override taste and price?


  • Why is bottled water the norm in California, even for farm workers? What do you know about your local water source? Does it concern you?
  • At each new job, Tracie is required to learn the “tricks and techniques” of the job.  Describe a work assignment or new job that required you to acquire new skills.


  • During her stint as an hourly employee at Walmart, Tracie must learn to “budget” and live on minimum wage. Again, as in the farm fields she has some advantages over her co-workers.  What are they? Despite these advantages, she has budget dilemmas.  Which of her situations did you relate to the most?
  • While working in produce, Tracie reveals food handling practices that may surprise the reader. Crisping and other practices may have disturbed you.  Will these revelations influence your grocery store choices?


  • In 2010 Americans spent about 42% of their food budget eating out.  How often do you eat out each month? What type of restaurant do you frequent?  Do you agree that “eating out” is more than simply satisfying hunger?
  • Explain the challenges and workplace hazards that Tracie experienced as an “expo” at Applebee's.  What did she say she enjoyed most about working at Applebee’s? Can you identify what you most enjoy about your job?

Research Topic Ideas

  • Crop Science
  • Soil Science
  • Plant & Animal Nutrition
  • Food & Nutrition Science
  • Pesticides and Farming
  • Forest Ecology
  • Agricultural Markets
  • Farming as a Business
  • Retail Food Industry
  • Food Production and Public Health
  • Where Does Food Come From?
  • World Food & Hunger Issues
  • Linking Food and the Environment
  • Sustainable Agriculture
  • Politics of Food
  • Ethics of Food Production
  • Food Inspection
  • USDA (US Dept. of Agriculture)
  • Food Packaging and Distribution
  • Food Marketing
  • Food and Cultural Links
  • Fast Food Industry
  • Culinary Arts
  • Food Advertising Industry
  • Food Consumerism
  • Land Usage and Food
  • Energy Usage and Food
  • Cost of Food from Source to Consumer
  • Climate Change and Food Supply
  • Function of Water in Food Production
  • Ecological Footprint of Food Production
  • Food as Medicine
  • Population Growth and Food
  • Farming Methodology & Practices
  • Sociological Issues with Food Availability
  • Dairy Industry
  • Migrant Workers and Food Distribution
  • GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organisms)
  • Organic Food Industry
  • The Way We Eat: (Culture and Family Influences)
  • Mass Animal Production as Food: (Factory Farms)
  • Food and Disease
  • Government Policies and Food
  • Food Technology
  • Restaurant Industry
  • Food Economy
  • Geographical Influences on Food Production
  • Urban Food Lifestyles
  • Rural American Food Lifestyles
  • Ethnicity and Food (Identified Group)
  • Exploration of Food Cultures (Foreign)
  • Evolution of Food Production in USA
  • Pharmaceutical Industry and Food
  • Cultural Rise of Foodies in Media
  • Gender Associations with Food
  • National School Lunch Standards
  • Food Allergies
  • Demographics of Food (Production and Consumption)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Food Labeling
  • Regulation of Food Industry
  • Alternative Eating (Vegan, Vegetarian, etc.)
  • Weight and Obesity Related to Diet
  • Herbal Industry
  • Local Food Movement in USA
  • Dietary Supplement Industry
  • Food Pyramid (Shifting Guidelines)
  • Food and Diabetes Links
  • Role of Food in Art
  • Role of Capitalism in Food Distribution
  • Eat What You Kill Movement
  • Food Industry and Branding of Products

Book Review

Title: The American Way of Eating:  Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

Author: Tracie McMillan


  • Discuss the settings of the book. Be specific about time and place.
  • Describe the main narrator of the book.  What are your overall impressions of Tracie McMillan’s personality? Support with examples from the text.
  • Summarize the central messages conveyed in each part of the investigative report. Support with text citations.
  • What are some of the interesting insights you gained from reading this book?  What was most surprising to you?  What do you think was the overall theme or message of the book?
  • Evaluate and explain your personal reaction. Be specific about what parts affected you.  Do you think the book provided an accurate and honest account? How would you rate this book? Would you recommend it to others?


Teaching Resources for The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

  • Cynthia Kadohata introduces (audio) and shares some of the backstory for creating The Thing about Luck (must have membership to to access).
  • The Voices of Children: Re-Imagining the Internment of Japanese Americans through Poetry by Frye, Elizabeth M.; Hash, Lisa A.
    Social Studies and the Young Learner, v25 n4 p30-33 Mar-Apr 2013

Article describes one activity from an interdisciplinary social justice unit taught to two fifth-grade social studies classes with the use of Cynthia Kadohata's multicultural historical fiction novel Weedflower. Often, our younger students feel their voices are silenced...their messages are not heard. Like many of…