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The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket

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4.05  ·  Rating details ·  1,655 ratings  ·  295 reviews
This book is an investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store. What does it take to run the American supermarket? How do products get to shelves? Who sets the price? And who suffers the consequences of increased convenience and efficiency? In this exposé, author Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on this highly secretive industry. Combinin ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 8th 2020 by Avery Publishing Group
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Petra-X Off having adventures
Update I've just ordered Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America. I've read a few Michael Ruhlman books and like his writing. I did more want to read about the business end of supermarkets in particular and had thought this book, Secret Life of Groceries would be that book. But it wasn't what I was looking for.

In response to my initial thoughts, the author wrote a long comment about how the book wasn't at all preachy but given what he himself said, all the freebie reviews, and the pai
...more
Jenna
Nov 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, business
This is Election Day 2020 for the US and I need to write this review but it's hard to think about eating food let alone concentrating on a review for a book about where our food comes from.

So you'll have to excuse me if my thoughts are a little scattered. 

Cat Kitten GIF - Cat Kitten Kitty GIFs
(Adorable cats to help alleviate Election Day anxiety)

Ok, let's go.

The title of this book is a little misleading. The Secret Life of Groceries. I thought this was going to be a book about groceries. You know, like the secret life of Twinkies, a
...more
Julie
DNF - Not what I thought it was going to be about. The title is a little misleading. No rating.
Chad
Oct 22, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is equal parts fascinating and depressing. It delves into the supply chain of the grocery store from all angles. The book begins with the story of the founder of Trader Joe's. It's very exciting. Then the author lives with a truck driver for a while and things get very depressing. He speaks about how they are indentured servants, the trucking companies preying upon the lowest rung of American society. We also get insight on how new food products enter the market and how incredibly hard ...more
Erikka
Jun 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, 2020
Equal parts depressing and inspiring, this is a thorough and well-written journey into the world of the grocery supply chain in the spirit of Upton Sinclair and the great muckrakers of old. Along the journey, you'll meet grocery employees and managers, truckers, product creators, and the people at the bottom of the chain that keep your food at the prices you expect. I can tell you, you won't like that chapter one bit. Honestly, a good deal of this book will upset you. And it should. But it will ...more
Stephen
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is REALLY freaking good. The author spent 5 years reporting this - going to Thailand to talk to former slaves, working the seafood counter at Whole Foods, and riding in a truck with a long-haul trucker.

It's fascinating to learn about the full scope of the grocery industry, but also the book is simply a delight to read - all the idiosyncratic characters and weirdos, all the hustling entrepreneurs, all the heartbreaking stories.

Most of all, Lorr's just an incredible writer - sentence-f
...more
Richard Derus
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Many thanks to Edelweiss+ and Avery for my DRC of this book

In a five-year odyssey through the world created to feed American consumers, Author Lorr sees the behind-the-scenes costs of the cornucopia you visited weekly if not daily....and now likely use the internet to have delivered to you. The appalling conditions of Asian slave laborers, the crushing debts of US truckers, and the battle to prevent consumers from knowing the true cost of cheap food come flying at you as fast as you can turn the
...more
Martin
Dec 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Benjamin Lord presents a scathing expose on your local grocery stores. The food that is put on your shelves may not be as wholesome as you may think. At least I didn't think so.

The author first describes the cleaning out of the seafood counter. First you must remove all the fish from the counter. Once this is done, all the ice is shoveled out. The more you shovel the more smelly it becomes. Under all all the ice are dead remains of fish that has settled to the bottom of the counter over the pas
...more
Steve
Dec 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Superb reporting, superb writing, thoughtful, philosophical, well-researched, funny in spots, and a bit hallucinogenic. Not a simple survey or history of grocery stores, far deeper than that,and no attempt to be encyclopedic. You will not see a grocery store the same way again. And maybe you won’t quite see life the same way again.

This is the review that made me want to read the book: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/bo...
...more
Jeanette
Jan 18, 2021 added it
Shelves: abandoned
This is not rated because I didn't read more than 1/2.

It's more about the author's views re "product" than it is the title.

It's coastal California in great majority of determinations.

It's like looking at "history" with only the negatives numbered and less positives than you could count on one hand. Which is extremely "odd" considering the stats given in the first chapters about food costs and distribution in the USA.

And there you go too. This is more about quality and a couple of specific bus
...more
Bouke
Sep 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book dives into the craziness that goes into the background to make supermarkets 'work'. At first it's kind of weird and funny but the book gets very dark, detailing the human suffering that gets inflicted to make your shrimp slightly cheaper. ...more
Ryan Creed
Nov 13, 2020 rated it did not like it
Reading this was like standing in a checkout line behind a person who is fruitlessly searching through their coin purse for exact change.
Natali
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am one of the Whole Foods shopping, Michael Pollan-reading moms that this book is written for. The Bowery Whole Foods was my home market when I lived in Manhattan. I am the kind that will stop buying palm oil full stop if I learn that it destroys the planet but this book shows me that those things really are not any kind of fix for what ails the economy of food. I found this book really beautifully done but devastating too.

The author doesn’t give you a way to shop around your Western guilt. B
...more
Betsy
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I picked up this book somewhat begrudgingly. It was a non-fiction book on an Important Topic, and I felt I should read it given the subject matter and that I patronize grocery stores more than any other business. And wow, was I surprised! It was much more of an enjoyable read than I anticipated. Lorr’s writing is funny, personal, and informative. He weaves in the research and data into people’s personal stories, which I enjoyed. Normally, I find footnotes annoying and tedious. But even his footn ...more
Julie
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm a serious geek for all things supply chain (I have a PhD in the field and have taught it for 13+ years), so ...

I just finished this last night and it’s by far one of the best non-fiction non-textbook pieces that I’ve read on SCM decisions and the human, legal, financial, and other issues that drive them.

I’ve read Where Underpants Come from: From Checkout to Cotton Field - Travels Through the New China and The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Po
...more
Ray
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I recently finished reading *The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket* by Benjamin Lorr. I found it in a review posted by The New York Times.

The book was a rollercoaster of stress, intrigue, and sadness. It is organized in six parts with stories following specific characters in different parts of the American supermarket supply chain.

What follows are some notes and quotes organized by chapter.

## Intro

* "This book is about the grocery store. About the people who
...more
Rob
Oct 31, 2020 rated it liked it
What does it take to run a grocery store? How does our food get on the shelves? Who sets the prices? And who suffers the consequences of our increasing demands for efficiency? It’s great subject matter with infinite potential, but “The Secret Life of Groceries” is ultimately disappointing. Lorr writes to impress himself. Although he spent a considerable amount of time researching his material – and some passages on truck drivers (“sharecropping on wheels”), distribution centers, and migrant work ...more
Lauren
Sep 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was so good. And I apologize in advance if I've seen you over the past couple of days when it was all I was able to talk about.

Fascinating look into all aspects of the supermarket: the history of grocery stores, what it takes to bring a product to market, the trucking industry (crazy!), the seamy underbelly, slave fisherman, Trader Joe's story, Amazon/Whole Foods' story...

Ultimately there is a "message" but the book doesn't read like the work of an activist. Lorr is smart, incisive, gr
...more
Mal Warwick
Dec 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
If you sometimes wonder, as I do, what good civilization has done for us, consider food. For most of the 300,000 years during which homo sapiens has walked on Earth, we devoted nearly all our waking hours to finding and securing food. That began to change about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture. But as late as 1900, we Americans, living in one of the world’s most industrialized countries, still allocated forty percent of our income to pay for the stuff that sustains our lives. Now ...more
Weixiang
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business
Really good, and very progressive!
Kelly
An interesting enough look at the multiple layers of the grocery store world, from supply chain to shipping to shelving. It's fine but not riveting nor especially insightful if you have any grasp on how corrupt the food system is broadly. This is at the more micro level. ...more
Abena Anim-Somuah
Jan 09, 2021 rated it really liked it
Benjamin Lorr is an investigative wunderkind. He goes into impeccable detail highlighting the intricacies of how food starts in the ground and makes it way to our groceries. The way that food gets to us involves a series of twists and turns that Lorr opens our eyes to. Highly recommend if you care about food in the least bit
Bookworm
Oct 12, 2020 rated it liked it
The logistics of buying groceries took a very different turn for a lot of people this year. Many who probably didn't give it much thought, was so used to getting delivery windows or not having to stress about whether certain items were in stock or not found themselves having to do a whole lot more planning. Lorr's book isn't about that (and the author and publisher and marketers probably never had any idea this might frame the book differently) but rather the many parts that help get your fish o ...more
April
Oct 22, 2020 rated it liked it
DNF.
Thank you to Benjamin Lorr and Penguin Random House for a copy of The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket. I don't give away spoilers in my reviews.
I was so anxious to read this behind the scenes book about the American grocery system. I knew some of the history of Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, etc beforehand.
I was shocked at the stories and descriptions of Whole Food's Seafood counters and ever so thankful I don't eat seafood.
The story of Lynne the driver
...more
Scott
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
First you should know that food shopping is one of my all-time favorite activities. It's not as much fun as it used to be, what with Instacart and all that, but still, buying food at a good grocery store, greenmarket, butcher, or bakery, is by a million miles the most satisfying shopping experience/errand there is. So hell yeah I want to read 300 pages on the topic, especially if it's as sharply written as Benjamin Lorr's Secret Life of Groceries, and especially since the whole supply chain is a ...more
Amanda Lagerfeld
Jan 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
Don't be fooled by the banality of the title... This is a truly fascinating book.

Groceries are one of those things that the majority of people give zero thought to. You walk into the store buy what you want and leave. But how did those products get into the store? How did they get transported? Who transported them? How did the store decided that this product should be promoted? Who is growing, packaging, shelving your food? What does it take to get the organic stamp and does it mean anything? Ho
...more
Christie Maliyackel
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was really fascinating. Grocery shopping is one of my absolute favorite things, and this book has opened my eyes to so many factors that lead to what you see on the shelf. I appreciate the balanced narrative - reflecting the good and the flat out bad/disturbing parts of the industry. From the lonely, unhealthy, dangerous trucker lifestyle and the painful stories of migrant labor / slavery to the genius, humility and generosity of Joe (yes, of Trader Joe’s!) and the tireless dedication, hard ...more
Gregg
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Groceries was danger-close to five stars. This is what I look for in non-fiction—a deep dive into a relatively mundane appearing topic where you emerge with a deeper and much more nuanced appreciation for the topic. If it isn’t already, the history of grocery should be a B-school case study. Product differentiation, modernization, marketing, agriculture, aquaculture, etc. it is all there. The portion about indentured servant fishermen went on a little longer than necessary to convey the point.

Fu
...more
k reads
Feb 07, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2021
A fascinating look at how food gets into American grocery stores. The author's snarky observations weakened the early chapters but the latter half ended strong.
Worth reading.
...more
Leslie Parrish
Feb 24, 2021 rated it really liked it
Fascinating deep dive into the grocery business and all of the cottage industries that support it - from trucking to manufacturing. As race to the bottom on price continues, the brunt of that force must be born by someone. In this case, the author details the horrors of the Thai shrimping industry and the slavery required to cut labor costs and deliver low cost food to US supply chains. I will certainly never look at my groceries the same way again!
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