Introduction to The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (2012)
”…the healthiest route through the American foodscape is a steep and arduous path most easily ascended by joining its top income bracket. So far as I can tell, changing what’s on our plates simply isn’t feasible without changing far more. Wages, health care, work hours, and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop.” (p. 231)
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 prepare - 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.
PROFESSIONAL AWARDS & RECOGNITIONS FOR THE AMERICAN WAY OF EATING
New York Times Bestseller Winner, Sidney Hillman Prize for Book Journalism Award (2013) Winner, Books for a Better Life Award (2013) Finalist, James Beard Journalism Award (2013 Finalist, Investigative Reporters and Editors Award Finalist, International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Matters Award (2013) Finalist, Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award (2013)
PRESS COVERAGE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY OF EATING
“The American Way of Eating': America's dysfunctional food system,” Alan Moores, March 25, 2012
The Seattle Times
“'The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table' by Tracie McMillan,” Jane Black, March 16, 2012 The Washington Post Read the review
"Deceptive Weather a Gamble on Growing Organic Food," Jim Ewing, March 8, 2012 ClarionLedger.com
"'The American Way of Eating': The book foodies - and Rush Limbaugh - are fretting about,”Josh Ozersky, March 7, 2012 Time Ideas
"'The American Way of Eating': Food, our inglorious food," China Millman, March 4, 2012 Pittsburgh-PostGazette
“Would You Like Sugar and Fat With That?” Jane Black, March 22, 2012 Turthdig.com
"'The American Way of Eating' review: Food detective's take on eating well leaves readers famished for a solution," Hannah Wallace, March 3, 2012 OregonLive.com Read the review
“A Food-Chain Reaction,” Aram Bakshian Jr., February 28, 2012 The Wall Street Journal Read the review
"NonFiction: 'The American Way of Eating' by Tracie McMillan," Susan Agur, February 24, 2012 Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Dispatch From The Field: Joe says, ‘Ultimately, I found this book to be something of a call to arms’," February 23, 2012 Tattered Cover Book Blog
"‘The American Way of Eating’ by Tracie McMillan," Katie Bacon, February 22, 2012 The Boston Globe
"Tracie McMillan's 'The American Way of Eating' is an Undercover Mission on Eating," James Sweeney, February 21, 2012 Cleveland Plain Dealer Read the review
"Before the Food Arrives on Your Plate, So Much Goes on Behind the Scenes," Dwight Garner, February 20, 2012 The New York Times Read the review
"A witness to where food gets its start" by Tracie McMillan," Carolyn Kellogg, February 19, 2012 Los Angeles Times Read the review
"'The American Way of Eating,' by Tracie McMillan," Michael Stern, February 19, 2012 San Francisco Chronicle Read the review
"'The Mindful Carnivore' and ‘The American Way of Eating’: Reviews," Christine Sismondo, February 18, 2012 The Toronto Star
TELEVISION & VIDEO
“War on women?,” Jansing and Co, March 8, 2012, MSNBC.com Watch the interview* (starts at 02.30)
Rachel Maddow interview with Tracie McMillan, The Rachel Maddow Show, March 7, 2012, MSNBC.com
Al Sharpton interview with Tracie McMillan and others, PoliticsNation, March 9, 2012, MSNBC.com
The American Way of Eating, panel discussion, C-SPAN2 Book TV, February 21, 2012, booktv.org Watch the discussion
The American Way of Eating, discussion at Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, C-SPAN2 Book TV, April 21, 2012, booktv.org Watch the discussion
The American Way of Eating, discussion at Boston University Metropolitan College, Boston University, published on April 6, 2012, youtube.com Watch the discussion
“Contrivances of the Left's Attack on Liberty: The ‘War on Women’ and ‘Food Justice',"Rush Limbaugh Show, March 6, 2012, rushlimbaugh.com Read the transcript
“How Alinskyites Create a Crisis,” Rush Limbaugh Show, March 6, 2012, rushlimbaugh.com Read the transcript
"The American Way of Eating," The Leonard Lopate Show, February 27, 2012, WNYC.org Listen to discussion
"The Journey From Farm to the Dinner Table," Marketplace, February 21, 2012, American Public Media Read the transcript
"The American Way of Eating," Let’s Eat In, February 20, 2012, Heritage Radio Network Listen here
“How Americans Eat with Tracie McMillan,” Talk of Iowa, October 15, 2013, Iowa Public Radio Listen here
“One Reporter’s Lesson From Working at Walmart: Love your produce manager,” The Splendid Table, August 18, 2013, American Public Media Listen here
“The American Way of Eating - Who eats at Applebee’s - and why?” Tracie McMillan, February 16, 2012, Slate.com
"Anthony Bourdain and Top Chef Have It Wrong: the Boys’ Club Is No Fun," Tracie McMillan, March 2, 2012, The Daily Beast
"Food and Our Priorities: A Talk with Tracie McMillan," Jaime Lutz, April 10, 2012, Public Radio Kitchen, WBUR
“Under the Table: After spending more than two years investigating America's food system, Tracie McMillan talks policy, class and 'foodie elitism',” Michael Jackman, March 28, 2012, Detroit Metro Times
“Rush Limbaugh Wrongly Attacks Tracie McMillan as ‘Over-Educated’ ‘Authorette’,” Clarissa León, March 15, 2012, The Daily Beast
“Rush to misjudgment,” Curt Guyette, March 13, 2012, Detroit Metro Times
"Rush Limbaugh attacks MetroTimes fellow Tracie McMillan," Michael Jackman, March 8, 2012, Detroit MetroTimes
"Limbaugh: Liberals Want To Control Your Food," Kristin Wartman, March 8, 2012, Huffington Post
"Sexist Bullying: What's Behind the 'War on Women?’,” Dominique Browing, March 8, 2012, Time.com
"Rush Limbaugh Calls Food Justice Part of 'the War on Freedom’," Jessica Chou, March 7, 2012, The Daily Meal
"Holly native Tracie McMillan calls Rush Limbaugh comments 'unconscionable and sexist'," Roberto Acosta, March 7, 2012, Flint Journal
"New comments by Rush Limbaugh target Holly native," Chris Lane, March 7, 2012, The News-Herald
“Female Journalist Attacked By Limbaugh Yesterday Responds: He ‘Just Doesn’t Think Women Count’,” Annie-Rose Strasser, March 7 2012, Think Progress
“Rush Limbaugh wants to eat more crow: Bashes 'authorette' for... writing a book,” Alexander Nazaryan, March 7, 2012, NY Daily News
“Michigan native perplexed by Rush Limbaugh's jabs at book,” Kathleen Gray, March 7, 2012, Detroit Free Press
“Here's the Woman Rush Limbaugh Is Attacking Today; 'Totally Bizarre,' She Says,” Jeff Bercovici, March 06, 2012, Forbes.com
"Limbaugh Takes On Tracie McMillan, Author of 'The American Way of Eating'," Lindsay Beyerstein, March 6, 2012, InTheseTimes.com
"Undercover Reporter Recounts Horrific Sexual Assault by Applebee’s Co-Worker," Doug Barry, March 2, 2012, Jezebel.com
"Tracie McMillan Talks About Why More Americans Can’t Access Healthy Food," Julianne Hing, March 2, 2012, Colorlines
"An American Way Of Eating?" Carey Polis, March 2, 2012, Huffington Post
"Is there something wrong with the way we eat?" Vince Manapat, February 27, 2012, Metro.us
"Mark Bittman: Your Midweek News Links," Mark Bittman, February 22, 2012, The Opinion Pages, The New York Times
"Get Walmart Out of Your Kitchen: A Reason To Learn To Cook," Justin Cascio, February 22, 2012, The Good Men Project
"Has Food Worship Jumped The Shark? Anti-foodies discuss the future of food," Eleanor West, February 22, 2012, Food Republic
FROM THE BACK COVER
Before the Food Arrives on Your Plate, So Much Goes on Behind the Scenes
By DWIGHT GARNER --- The New York Times
Published: February 20, 2012
“One of the first things to like about Tracie McMillan, the author of The American Way of Eating, is her forthrightness. She's a blue-collar girl who grew up eating a lot of Tuna Helper and Ortega Taco Dinners because her mother was gravely ill for a decade, and her father, who sold lawn equipment, had little time to cook. About these box meals, she says, "I liked them."
Expensive food that took time to prepare "wasn't for people like us," she writes. "It was for the people my grandmother described, with equal parts envy and derision, as fancy; my father's word was snob. And I wasn't about to be like that." This is a voice the food world needs.
Ms. McMillan, like a lot of us, has grown to take an interest in fresh, well-prepared food. She's written for Saveur magazine, a pretty fancy journal, and she knows her way around a kitchen. But her central concern, in her journalism and in this provocative book, is food and class. She stares at America's bounty, noting that so few seem able to share in it fully, and she asks: "What would it take for us all to eat well?"
The title of Ms. McMillan's book pays fealty to Jessica Mitford's classic of English nonfiction prose, The American Way of Death (1963). Ms. McMillan's sentences don't have Mitford's high style -- they're a pile of leeks, not shallots -- but both books traffic in dark humor. Standing in a Walmart, where she has taken a minimum-wage job, Ms. McMillan observes that its "produce section is nothing less than an expansive life-support system." Most days, when it comes to vegetables, she's putting lipstick on corpses.
The book Ms. McMillan's most resembles is Barbara Ehrenreich's best seller Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001). Like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan goes undercover amid this country's working poor. She takes jobs picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California; stocking produce in a Walmart in Detroit; and working in a busy Applebee's in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. She tries, and often fails, to live on only the money she earns.
The news Ms. McMillan brings about life on the front lines is mostly grim. In the California fields, where she is the only gringa, she makes far less than minimum wage, sometimes as little as $26 for nine hours of back-breaking work. She lives in cockroach-filled houses, all she can afford, with more than a dozen other people. She delivers a brutal takedown of corporations that, in her view, pretend on their sunny Web sites to treat workers well but in practice use labor contractors that often cheat them. She names names. Here's looking at you, the Garlic Company in Bakersfield, Calif.
She charts the toll this work takes on people's health. "My thighs look as though they've been attacked by an enraged but weaponless toddler," she writes after a day of garlic picking. "My hands, swollen and inundated with blisters the first few days, have acclimatized, but there's a worrisome pain shooting up my right arm." She develops a sprain, which forces her to miss work and ultimately quit. Other workers, she notes, would not have that option.
Among this book's central points is that food workers are, in terms of money and time, among the least able to eat well in America. Most are too exhausted to cook. "By the time I finish my stint at Applebee's," Ms. McMillan says, "I'll have learned how to spot the other members of my tribe on the subway: heavy-lidded eyes, blank stares, black pants specked with grease, hard-soled black shoes."
Ms. McMillan's chapters about Walmart and Applebee's are the book's best. She is not a slash-and-burn critic of either company: both provide needed jobs and treat their employees at least moderately well. But you will steer clear of both places after reading about her travails.
The produce sold at the Walmart where she works is second-rate, often slimy, mushy or merely bland. "Walmart doesn't always have the freshest stuff," one manager says to her….”
--This text refers to the hardcover edition of The American Way of Eating.