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Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America
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Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,139 ratings  ·  337 reviews
Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen's and Fazio's, and his memories of his father's love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative. While he notes that many other writers have co ...more
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published May 16th 2017 by Harry N. Abrams
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Stacie Our book club just read this book, and as the person who recommended we read it I am trying to come up with some questions of my one for the discussio…moreOur book club just read this book, and as the person who recommended we read it I am trying to come up with some questions of my one for the discussion, so I am not sure they are the best, but I will share them nonetheless. (1) Do you agree with the premise of the book: we humans have a complicated relationship with food, but our relationship with where we get our food is overlooked? (2) was Ruhlman's focus on Heinen's too narrow- should he have chosen a larger national chain? (3) what is better the small corner stores with only local products in the old days or today's modern chains where you can get almost anything at anytime of year? (4) has/how has this book made you rethink how you grocery shop? (5) what is your favorite grocery store and why?(less)

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Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
A book that should've gotten five stars. I *love* grocery stores. I hoped that this book would give me all the inside scoop, like an expanded New Yorker article.

Most of the book, however, is Ruhlman talking about the kinds of food we should be eating. He's a good writer, and his advice is pretty solid, but the grocery store is less of a focus of the book than a vehicle for Ruhlman to tackle his pet food issues.

There is very little here, for example, on logistics. Nothing about employee schedulin
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
It's interesting and I'm glad I read it. But the title is not accurate, IMHO. He uses his own favorite grocery store and the small chain it represents as the pivot of good example. It's also a nice to read tribute to his father who loved to shop there. And why.

But this particular woman who is writing this review started out her life living behind a Mom & Pop grocery, fruit, necessity vital neighborhood store in Chicago. It was on Wentworth Ave in the 50's South. It's still there but not a store-
Oct 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Too much time is spent discussing nutrition, and I'm not convinced Ruhlman is objective about what he thinks is best practice. And the focus is on Heinen's to the extent that I almost want to move to Cleveland so I can shop there.

I wanted more about what the subtitle promises. Yes, he points out that some ppl buy food at club stores, department stories, drug stores, and gas stations, but doesn't expand. He doesn't realize how fast online grocery buying is growing, doesn't anticipate order online
Lindsay Nixon
Oct 17, 2017 rated it it was ok
The title is grossly inaccurate. This book is mostly the author petaling or defending his food choices. Most of which have zero scientific backing... and the comments on vegans are embarrassing (for him). After spewing about how most Americans eat processed food devoid of nutrients he says vegans need be careful to get their nutrients 🙄 BYE FELICIA

The whole book shows how much of a wannabe Pollan or Nestle he is, and their books are a better read.

That aside, there's little talk about buying or
Karen R
May 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Michael Ruhlman has written numerous cookbooks in conjunction with chefs and other non-fiction books related to cooking. Here, he gets into the nitty gritty of the grocery business. Who would have thought this topic could be so fascinating. It was! And eye-opening as well.

Ruhlman has done exhaustive research on this transforming industry. He gathers info from many sources; by observing practices, interviewing a wide scope of people - visionaries, owners, buyers, vendors, farmers, nutritionists,
Apr 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Quite enjoyable, interesting, with a balanced tone but a tendency toward repetition and confused structure. |

It's not easy to write with a conversational feel in a factual book with source citations, but this manages it. I have at times in the past been harsh in my reviews of Ruhlman's books, because he can't seem to keep himself off the page in places he doesn't need to be. Here, finally, he's found a theme and style where his presence in the narrative makes sense and isn't a distraction.

I di
Let's go shopping! There's a few errands to take care of first -- an homage to dad, a quick review of the history of grocery stores -- but then, straight to business. Aisle by aisle, from dried pasta to fresh fish, the way Americans approach food is changing, and Michael Ruhlman's Grocery shows us how, using -- literally -- the neighborhood grocery store, the one just down the block from his childhood home. Ruhlman has a particular passion for food, one inherited from his father -- a man who gen ...more
Tom Franklin
Jan 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ruhlman's Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America is part love poem to the Cleveland area-based Heinen's grocery store chain and part memorial to his recently deceased father. Set amongst the characters of the Heinen's chain, Ruhlman's father's death, his own imminent divorce, his love for food, and his fascination with a grocery store chain that does things the way he would do them, his book weaves in and out of the Heinen's aisles and people who provide the produce and meats that en ...more
Nov 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
I completely loved this book. The clincher for me? FOOTNOTES!!!! Also all of the information of food in America, where it comes from, how it's made and how it's sold. As well as how the Standard American Diet truly is SAD and killing us.

I love how he got interested in grocery stores through his father and how he honored him in the writing of this book, though the ending made me TEAR UP like nobody's business. That aside, this was an awesome book and I highly recommend it to just about anyone wh
Rachel Blakeman
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is really a 2.5 star review. Some chapters were OK but this was largely a self-serving book. The more accurate title would have been "Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food at Heinen's." I grew up on the west side of the Cleveland media market so I remember Heinen's ads as a child but since we didn't live in a fancy part of the Cleveland suburbs, there was no Heinen's, which makes the point that this store serves a very upscale clientele. As a result the book feels very incomplete in telli ...more
Oct 03, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This started out strong and had chapters that were really interesting, but it seemed like the author lost steam about halfway through. Then, it became less of what made grocery into what it is and more of an advertisement for Heinen's and a eulogy for his father. The over the top physical descriptions of women and the instance of overt anti-Native American racism were super, super distracting, too.
Feb 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: real-world, food
I saw the author promoting his book on one of the morning news shows and was energized by his passion for food and grocery stores. It turns out this passion was nurtured by his dad who died in 2008 or so. So it’s a labor of love and another son reaching out to his father.

Ruhlman is a Cleveland native and we learn all about grocery stores in the context of Cleveland’s local grocer- Heinen’s. These mid size grocers are the ones who drive innovation and change. Big chains like Kroger respond more s
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
4 stars based on 3 stars for chapters that I skimmed and 5 for the ones that totally caught my interest.

There were two elements that made me anxious to read this book: one was that I'm a huge fan of Ruhlman's food journalism (SOUL OF A CHEF is at the top of my favorite food/restaurant/chef books), and the other is I love delving into the inner workings of industries, businesses, restaurants, retails stores--heck, I'd even read a book about auto dealerships or realtors if they outlined how everyt
Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)
ARC copy from ALA Midwinter--excellent microhistory.
May 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is much more than a history of the grocery store; it is also a behind-the-scenes look at how a modern grocery store is operated and managed, and the industry’s continuous evolution.

Through interviews with the owners of Heinens, a Midwestern grocery chain, we learn about the workings of different departments and even learn the real reason why the dairy and freezer cases are at the rear of the store. (I always thought it was to make me walk past the snack aisle!) There is an entire section on
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, food
This book was a love song by Ruhlman to his father, and that purpose, woven through this book, was touching and authentic. Ruhlman contrasts eating and shopping habits during his childhood and patterns now, from the perspective of the accomplished chef he has become. There was much interesting info in the book, but I felt a loss of focus in the last half, with many pages devoted to redevelopment of a historical building in Cleveland, a shopping trip with a fish monger, a wine and cheese car
This is exactly the kind of book I want to read. I love food; I love reading about food. This book made such a pedestrian thing as a grocery store so fascinating and intricate. This book includes a history of the grocery store in America, but it's really about the business of running a grocery store today, how food is sourced, stored, marketed, displayed, sold & eaten. This was really an ode to the grocery store, a celebration of what it does and can provide, and it gave me all sorts of informat ...more
I love food. I love grocery stores. I love food shopping, preparing, and cooking. And I love this book that is about all of these things.
Tara L. Campbell
Feb 21, 2020 rated it liked it
I used Ruhlman's baking guide book Ratio to get past the hurdle of recipes and move on to a more experimental place based on science and formulas. I adore that book. This book, however, I wanted to chuck against a wall 40% of the time and call the author a pompous, self-important ass. But then I got sucked into the inner workings of supermarkets and how our industrial food system keeps the average person utterly dependent and clueless about where the food comes from. We're essentially hapless id ...more
Trudy Preston
Sep 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
I gave this terrific book 4 stars only because occasionally the author's writing is opaque and his sentence structure is sometimes convoluted as hell. But he's an excellent researcher and he provides exhaustive information on the evolution of America's eating habits. I didn't read this book because I'm fascinated by grocery stores but rather because I read multiple reviews extolling its virtues and I was definitely rewarded. Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating?
One of the points he m
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
First I start with the question - do you enjoy nonfiction? If so then keep going. This is definitely a nonfiction book weaved with personal narrative and hands on research/exploring by the author. I really enjoyed his approach and the breadth of information he covered, yet sticking on point. I learned really interesting things about the history & trends within grocery stores, vendors/suppliers, etc. I feel motivated to support stores that are more compatible to my consumer preferences, especiall ...more
3.5 stars

An interesting, well-written, frequently very personal history of the grocery store in the US.

Ruhlman is a Mid-westerner by birth and he focuses on grocery stores in that area (Heinen's, especially), but I think his general experience applies across the all the states and, as a Californian of roughly the same age, I can vouch for the changes he's experienced as a grocery shopper in his lifetime applying to me as well. From TV dinners and Tater-Tots to tofu and turmeric drinks, the aver
Jun 29, 2017 rated it liked it
Grocery does a fair job of describing the ins and outs of the grocery business in the US, at least from the perspective of the small, regional supermarket chain. It provides limited insight into the corner store, except as a historical notion, or into the operation of the national chains, which largely loom as soulless money machines that the plucky regionals stand in counterpoint against.

A significant part of the book is preaching on American eating habits, but covers little new ground, repeat
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, food
This is the first book I've read by Michael Ruhlman, and it won't be my last. The book is ostensibly about the grocery business but there is so much more to it that contributes to an engrossing enjoyable read. I'll admit to being a small-time foodie; we cook most of our meals at home (even before Covid-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders) and love to experiment with Thai, Indian and Chinese flavors and techniques.

Ruhlman focuses on Heinen's grocery stores, a chain of 22 stores in Ohio, but
Becca Smith
Sep 22, 2019 rated it liked it
This book could have been easily given four stars with better editing. The main focus was not always about grocery stores, but whatever the author felt like ranting about or his food and ingredient biases. I felt a bit mislead with the title of the book being “Grocery” since that wasn’t always the focus.

He also relied on too many other sources instead of his own research, which was limited to just one specific grocery chain in Ohio, and didn’t compare this store’s practices to others, so we are
Nick Spacek
Oct 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
an excellent view of the history of the grocery industry, as well as a touching personal memoir of ruhlman's father and their relationship with food. the author ties in elements of conservation, organic farming, and the nature of food to neighborhoods to create a book which is both fascinating and entertaining, but also ably demonstrative of the western world's emotional involvement with food.

the grocery industry as a whole is also explored, although very specifically tied to one particular chai
Maddie Stein
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Gaahh such mixed feeling about this book. I applaud Ruhlman's ability to apply brilliant storytelling to nonfiction writing (and a topic that could be dry to some). His passion for this topic shines through and makes it easy to plow through the first half of the book. I enjoyed hearing about his childhood and how it shaped his fascination with grocery stores. That said, however, I did not walk away from this book having learned much. Ruhlman seemed to want to cover nearly every food system topic ...more
Jun 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent commentary about how grocery stores are run today, along with the history of the American supermarket. Ruhlman focuses on his hometown store Heinen's in Cleveland (my hometown store) and talks to many different people throughout the industry how the buying and selling of food has changed. He also discusses what innovations and societal factors have influenced how we eat and what we eat. This trickles down to the grocery store and how they adapt to their customers.

A fascinating look
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
The book started out very informative, but at some point Ruhlman derailed from this thesis. He went into a long winded rant about how we need to eat more whole foods versus processed foods, and he didn’t talk about grocery stores outside of his one favorite in his hometown, Heineman‘s. I was hoping for something more relatable something more about grocery stores in general. I’m not sure how anything he discussed really translates nationwide specially to grocery stores on the West Coast since he ...more
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Michael Ruhlman (born 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American writer. He is the author of 11 books, and is best known for his work about and in collaboration with American chefs, as well as other works of non-fiction.

Ruhlman grew up in Cleveland and was educated at University School (a private boys' day school in Cleveland) and at Duke University, graduating from the latter in 1985. He worked a se

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“He carried the deep, intuitive understanding of the power of food to connect people, knew that food was not simply a device for entertaining or filling our bodies and pleasing our senses but rather that it served as a direct channel to the greater pleasures of being alive, and that it could be so only when that food was shared with friends and lovers and family.” 2 likes
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