Book Reviews: The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan

13547854When 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. (synopsis from Goodreads)

 

Rating: 5/10

One of the reasons I ended up reading this book was that there was a blurb by Rush Limbaugh on the back that says, “Every time I find evidence of a massive forthcoming event to take away…our freedom…I am going to warn you about it…And so now we have a book by…Tracie McMillan…What is it with all of these young single white women, overeducated – doesn’t mean intelligent.” How could I not read this book? Good job marketing team.

As to the book itself, it was alright. There was a lot of interesting information and research, and I did like that we got to get a more inside look into these areas of food production and distribution, however, I feel that the combination of research and personal undercover experience didn’t mesh well a lot of the time. There were many times when the personal narrative would be broken by a large chunk of facts and statistics that I feel would have been better received and impactful if they were woven into the narrative.

While I felt it was admirable that she attempted to truly live with the same restrictions of income as those she was working with, there were times when I feel that she failed to take into account her privilege. This was mostly evident when she was working (more attempting to work) as a farm hand. She was often times incredibly lucky when it came to housing since she had friends she could fall back on and a bank account that she could access when in desperate need. Therefore, there were times when she concluded that she could splurge on something since she had that back-up. This wouldn’t normally bother me, but she tried to play these sections off as if she were really living like those whose lives depend on these jobs when she really wasn’t. Don’t claim that you truly put yourself in this situation when you’re actually willing to reach outside of it when in trouble. That’s not how these people’s lives work, and if you’re going to say that you lived like the poor of this country do, then you better do it. Don’t use your sister’s annoyance with you for not being able to afford to bake cookies for a party as an excuse to dip into your actually ample savings. I believe the only real time she brought into account her privileges was when she would reflect on the fact that she could leave at anytime and be fine but those she worked with could not since they depended on this work to feed themselves and their families. Granted, there were a couple times when she actually used this privilege and just left a job (i.e. ending her stint with Walmart).

While I appreciate what McMillan was trying to do with this book, I thought that her undercover work was sub par, and she didn’t do a great job on combining the research with narrative. However, the research was really great, and I learned a lot from these sections. Maybe if she had kept to writing down the research this book would have had a higher rating. In conclusion: Informative but could have been better.

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