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

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3.54 of 5 stars 3.54  ·  rating details  ·  2,219 ratings  ·  431 reviews
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 Mich...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published February 21st 2012 by Scribner
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Kate
McMillan is trying to do two things at once. First, she's tracking the life cycle of food in America by taking jobs on a farm, at a grocery store, and in a restaurant. Secondly, she's exploring the challenges that these workers face when they try to eat fresh, healthy food on their incomes. From her experiences, she hopes to learn more about how food gets to your table, why it costs what it does, and why so many of us seem to be living on Little Debbie and Chef Boyardee.

It's good, but it doesn'...more
Jessica
i'm stil pulling my own thoughts together on this essential and hugely enjoyabe book. It will change foodwriting if we let it. In the meantime, the review that hits a lot of the points I'd want to make has already been written by the man who spent 10 years as the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Please check this out.

Before the Food Arrives on Your Plate, So Much Goes on Behind the Scenes
By DWIGHT GARNER
Published: February 20, 2012

One of the first things to like about Tracie McMillan,...more
Kathy
I always thought the food at Applebees tasted like plastic. Now I know why! I haven't eaten there in years and now I won't ever again.

I already knew Wal-mart was evil and this just confirmed it. I never shop there. The Waltons are rich enough.

And, the way the migrant workers are treated and paid is shameful. Ms McMillan said it would cost the average American family $16 per year to increase their wages by 40%. I think most people could handle that.

But, I really do have to take issue with somethi...more
Mark
The American Way of Eating is a supremely aggravating book. Tracie McMillan goes undercover to learn more about the American food industry at various parts of the process, at a farm, grocery store and chain restaurant. This is an important topic that needs to be told, but the author is not quite up to the task.

She is not hardy enough to handle farm work, so those chapters tend to be more about her physical condition than the work itself. Again at Wal-Mart, where she works as stock clerk, she...more
Kathrina
McMillan's writing is sometimes a little sludgy and redundant, but her message is strong. A century of industrial infrastructure has created the eating habits we're entrenched in today, and until fresh produce becomes accessible, affordable, and practical for all lifestyles, eating healthy will never win over affordable, convenient, and readily-available processed foods. Until now, I hadn't considered that fresh produce really is difficult to find in some urban areas, where there's one grocery s...more
Meghan
This book clearly stated a couple facts that I "knew" to be true but hadn't ever articulated in my own head. The most striking was a response to the argument that the French spend a greater proportion of their income on food because they just appreciate it so much more than (bovine, tasteless) mainstream Americans. McMillan addresses this squarely by explaining how French people also have to spend much less than Americans for their health care, child care, and other government benefits, and when...more
Kecia
I picked this book up only because the author was attacked by Rush Limbaugh. Just days after his infamous attack on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, he attacked Tracie McMillian. Her crime - being a single, white, educated female. Oh the horror!!!

So for once in my life I can say thank you Rush. I really enjoyed this book. I was expecting something dry and academic but instead it is spicy read! Ms. McMillian is a journalist so her writing style is very easy and breezy.

She spent a year underc...more
Moira Russell
The money quote on all the blurbs is that this book is like Barbara Ehrenreich's classic Nickel and Dimed, but it's unfortunately much more like that worthy book's disappointing successor, Bait and Switch. It's not bad (except for the gratingly clunky prose style), but I wouldn't really recommend it.
Emily
Reading Nickel and Dimed my first semester of college changed the way I thought about the working poor and minimum wage labor in the US. Tracie McMillan takes a similar - and equally powerful and effective - approach in the American Way of Eating, revealing something I already felt passionately about - everyone wants good food; everyone just can't easily access it.

I found the section on working at Applebee's to be the most interesting; especially her claim that people don't eat there for the fo...more
Belinda


I started reading this book after being intrigued a Salon piece written by a journalist (Tracie McMillan) who goes undercover to investigate the field-to-plate journey of food in America. I enjoyed Nickel and Dimed and I found the article well written and intriguing, so I was looking forward to this deeper picture of America’s relationship with food this book would provide.

However, I wish I had not wasted my time. White female privileged smug middle-class journalist Tracie McMillan decides to go...more
Darlene
In 2009, journalist Tracie McMillan decided to go undercover into the world of food... she worked as a farm worker in California...harvesting grapes, sorting peaches and cutting garlic. She spent months working in the produce section of a Detroit Walmart; and finally, she worked in the kitchen of an Applebees restaurant in New York City. Ms. McMillan chose Applebees because it is the biggest casual dining restaurant in America and it isn't synonymous with what people generally consider fast food...more
Paul Pessolano
“The American Way of Eating” by Tracie McMillan, published by Scribner.

Category – Sociology

Tracie McMillan went undercover in farm fields, Walmart, and Applebee’s in an effort to explore the lack of fresh produce in our diets and what we eat and why.

The first part of the book has Tracie working as a farm hand alongside the immigrant farm workers in California. Although she does not bring any new problems in the industry, she does remind us of the plight of these workers.

Her next job was at a Wal...more
Ciara
hmmm. one of the key rules of writing book reviews is to review the book you actually read & not the book you wish that book had been. i admit that this book was not what i expected it to be. i saw the title & read that it was an expose of the american food system. i was expecting something informational & sociological--kind of like all the books i have been reading about the baby industrial complex, but about food. instead, i got a bizarre stunt memoir by a well-educated young woman...more
Carolyn
Similar in style to Nickle and Dimed, and once again, I struggle through another elitist scribe. I don't know why I read these! I keep hoping to find some real answers to serious concerns, but instead get rants on the evils of capitalism.
I found a few things odd. When did she work at Walmart? In 1970? I worked there in the 90's and do not recall having to ticket items. Also, I had pretty good benefits. Health insurance for part time, stock options, pizza parties and really nice managers. Does...more
Jacqie
Another "undercover" memoir, this time focused on the food industry. The author picks garlic and grapes in the fields of California, works in the produce and grocery sections at Walmart, and is an expediter at Applebee's.

She comes away from her experiences with a call to action: people need to learn how to cook. It's healthier to cook and less expensive than it is to eat out. The perception that fresh food is more expensive and harder to cook than processed food is wrong.

I agree with the above...more
Nancy
EVERYONE needs to read this book. It goes from the fields, to the store, to the restaurant.

Farm workers are horrendously underpaid for doing hard, manual labor. And are cheated out of their money by less than scrupulous employers. Due to lack of money ($26/day for 9 hours of work) they live in overcrowded shacks. Nothing like standing on the edge of the field while it's being crop dusted, then going right back to work!

The produce on the shelves is probably not very fresh.

The crap coming from...more
Scott
My opinion of Tracie McMillan's book of investigative-journalism veered wildly as I read of her semi-undercover adventures on the front lines of American food: its production (she goes among the migrant workers on mega-farms in California), its distribution (she stocks produce at a WalMart outside of Detroit), and preparation (she gets a job putting the finishes on plates at a Flatbush Applebee's). What I liked was some of the big picture stuff, like the astonishing 25% market share that WalMart...more
Alan
This book is in between a Michael Pollan book that looks at our food from its source to the plate and a Barbara Ehrenreich book that looks at the lives of low wage workers. In other words, I learned a lot by reading this book and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in food and food workers.

The beginning of the book describes how, author Tracie McMillan, went to California to work in various places as farm worker. Her first job was picking grapes, which she found took more skill than she h...more
Jelena
I hate this book. A lot.

If I did not have to read this for a class I would have trashed it a long time ago. McMillan, decides to go "undercover" as a farm laborer, a WalMart employee, and an Applebee's expeditor.

The story itself could have been interesting if McMillan would have focused more on those she met who do this type of work every single day rather than whining about her personal struggles with it (I didn't budget this month, looks like I'll have to take out another cash advance! Boo fr...more
Colleen
I thought I would enjoy this book much more than I did because the subject matter is very interesting and relevant. I read Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed" book a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it, and unfortunately McMillan's book seemed like a poor copy of it. Although it was supposed to be about food and the issues pertaining to food consumption in America, somehow it seemed to miss the mark. Obviously, because she went undercover and worked in various sectors of the food indus...more
Katie
Part anecdotal recount of a year spent working undercover at several stops along the U.S. food chain, part numbers-laden analysis of immigrant rights, labor politics, poverty, urban decay and growth and gentrification, and, of course, said food chain, "The American Way of Eating" took me a long time to read because it was like taking an entire class. McMillan is an accessible writer, and has good timing for switching from dry history and stats-quoting to harrowing stories of working the Valentin...more
Andrew
This book was just so blah. I loved the articles gleaned from this book that I read on Slate or Salon and thought the whole book would be as interesting a read. Boy was I wrong. She didn't really connect me to any of the people she met other than in the most superficial way.

For me, in the end what could have been a fascinating book ended up being a narrative that was so dull and largely unmoving. I think one could envision this book as two in one - one book deals with the mechanics of the mass p...more
Katina
This struck me as a well-researched book(it has footnotes and endnotes). It was also well-written, and for me at least, it was also a page-turner. That's a winning combination.

McMillan does what I think has been missing in a lot of food-lit - in that in addition to writing about how food gets on our table, and touching on the whole foodie thing - she writes about middle America, and how middle America eats. She is a former poverty beat reporter, so that's not to say she doesn't discuss hunger an...more
Tuck
fairly informative book on how americans eat, explaining the infrastructure of distribution, growing, selling, munching. author illustrates (and learns a lot) by working "under cover" at walmart (twice), in the fields of california, picking grapes, sorting peaches, and harvesting/cutting garlic, and at applebees in nyc. one interesting thing, french folks spend about twice the percentage on food a year as usaers, but usaers spend about twice as much as french on healthcare, childcare, education,...more
Handan
Here's my thing: I just like KNOWING stuff, particularly if it is relevant (though little considered) stuff like what I'm eating/breathing/drinking or other daily tasks assumed or taken for granted. On that count, I particularly enjoyed this book. There's a nearly-balanced blend of personal experience with research (READ: loads of footnotes). It lacks the gross-out factor of other recent hits like "Fast Food Nation" because the goal here isn't shock value or surprise or disgust (at least in the...more
Denise
This book reminds me of Nickel and Dimed, as the author goes incognito to explore food as it travels from the farm to stores (Wal-Mart) and to restaurants (Applebee's). The lingering question asked over and over again is why there are still many places in the US where fresh food is not available or extremely limited? Or why do poor urban areas not only have less fresh food available, but it also often costs more than at stores in affluent areas. There are no easy answers, but this books provides...more
Melody
There's a lot of information here, much of it new to me. I knew, f'rinstance, that most people in the US have abysmal diets. I wasn't clear on some of the reasons why- including the fact that lots of people just plain never learn to cook from scratch and are flummoxed by a pile of ingredients with no instructions attached. This book also reinforced my resolve to never shop in Walmart or eat in chain restaurants.

I enjoyed McMillan's writing style, which was journalistic without being impersonal....more
Alison
I think calling this undercover journalism is a stretch--it was a diary of personal experience with some footnotes. There were some interesting anecdotes and facts, but I never really felt like the point she was trying to make came together. Yes, there are problems with how food is grown, harvested, sold, and eaten this country, but I didn't feel much more enlightened about any of those issues, other then how the author "felt" about them, at the end of this book.
Jane
I was really interested in the subject of this book, but I really wish Barbara Ehrenreich had covered it instead. This is way too dense. Nearly every page has a lengthy footnote or two, and I am not talking about fun, Terry Pratchett-ish footnotes.

The writing is also oddly confusing. I had to read several sentences over again because I couldn't figure out what the author was trying to say.

The best parts of the book are when the author describes the people. I wish she had narrowed her focus more...more
Lara
3.5, really.

McMillan tries to do a lot here, and mostly succeeds. True, the "white, college-educated female going undercover as poor and unskilled" schtick is a bit tired, but I found it very interesting to read about the author's time in the fields, at WalMart, and at Applebee's.

What did I get from this book? First, I never want to eat at Applebee's. Ever. Second, and this is something that is repeated so often that I worry that people have begun to tune it out, we as a nation need to do more t...more
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A working-class transplant from rural Michigan, Brooklyn-based writer Tracie McMillan is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. Mixing immersive reporting, undercover investigative techniques and “moving first-person narrative” (Wall Street Journal), McMillan’s book argues for thinking of fresh,...more
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“Today, if you pay a[n US] dollar for a pound of apples in the supermarketm only about six cents covers the farmwork used to get it there; (...)” 1 likes
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