resoundingjoy's review against another edition

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4.0

Books about food and food culture in America seem to be a dime a dozen these days. And any book in which the author works undercover is bound to have comparisons drawn to Elhenrich's now classic "Nickled and Dimed." All that said, McMillan's book is a unique investigation into three different sections of the food industry -- growing, selling, and serving. In her introduction, the author, a Midwesterner relocated to New York City, describes her attitude towards food when she first moved to the city (shopping at a roach infested supermarket because it was convenient and most similar to the stores she was accustomed to); and how it changed over the years as she spent time around affluent families and tried her hand at preparing "fancy foods." But because of her childhood, where the standard meals came out of a box and were accompanied by "salads of chopped iceberg lettuce tossed with diced carrots, celery, wedges of tomato, and some Wish-Bone Ranch dressing" (2), she still had the underlying assumption that "fancy food was for the rich, box meals were for the rest of us, and there was no point in making a fuss about it" (3).

McMillian works in three different sections of the food industry, starting with fieldwork in California, picking peaches and grapes, uprooting and trimming onions and garlic; during this last one, she seriously injures herself and has to go to a clinic, where they advise her, "no repetitive movement," to which her response is "But my job is to cut garlic. All I do is grasp. I'm just a farmworker. All I do is cut garlic" (91). Working amid immigrants, she stands out simply by being a white female, and at different jobs, many of the workers ask her to help them with their English. She also knows enough about wage law to realize that the farmworkers are being paid by the piece, not by the hour -- their paychecks are adjusted such that the total amount for their piecework is doled out according to hourly wages -- an eight hour shift where she only picked $19.20 worth of garlic is listed as two hours work. McMillan also works in the produce department at Walmart, where she learns the secrets of "crisping" produce to make it appear fresh and salable for longer, and in the kitchen at Applebee's, which she turns out to genuinely enjoy.

I found this book to be an interesting look at the food industry from multiple vantage points. As someone who can presently afford what McMillan calls "fancy foods," but who also grew up close to immigrant grandparents and family members who cherish traditional cooking, some of the author's observations about American habits baffle me. Having been ingrained with good shopping and food preparation habits, I can see from peers and those around me how different upbringings and values can affect their perspective and attitude towards food. This is a worthwhile read, and will hopefully provoke you to think about your own food habits and attitudes.

sighb0rg's review against another edition

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3.0

"The American Way of Eating," was a welcome change from the myriad of other books and films currently out regarding the state of our food in the US. At times humorous and light-hearted, McMillan provides readers with what I am coming to understand may be a rare glimpse into the work behind how we all get our food in this country. Maybe because I have worked in the restaurant industry all my life, grown and picked my own food, and worked at food banks and farmer's markets, my views are slightly skewed in this area. Regardless, I enjoyed reading about the movements and changes happening in Detroit, learning how garlic is harvested, and seeing how so many people also are struggling to put healthy food on their table and in their mouths. While McMillan offers no concrete strategies of her own based on her experiences, there are glimmers of hope in the determination of the people she works alongside and those she meets on her journey.

mhall's review against another edition

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4.0

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 you look at the whole package, Americans cut their food budget by a percentage equal to their additional spending on health insurance and child care. Anyway, it's not really because of a lack of education or appreciation for the taste of expensive heirloom
vegetables, etc., but because of the struggle to get by, the need to work long hours to keep treading water, the lack of options. This book's main argument is that class matters, and that food is a precious shared resource which in America has been left to the vagaries of capitalism, leaving gaps in distribution of fresh foods,
and migrant farm workers who earn in the low five figures for a year's work of punishing physical labor.

Striking thing #2: McMcillan straight up acknowledges that it takes skill to be a farmworker, to stock shelves at Wal-Mart, and to work in the kitchen at Applebee's. You have to be able to prioritize, use logic, multitask, and implement an efficient system to do a good job. In many towns and cities, the vast majority of fresh produce is bought at a Walmart, duh. And the person in charge of the fresh produce at Walmart - the produce manager - might be someone who doesn't have experience or affordable health care or much of a paycheck. This person, with little support, might be in charge of overseeing the quality of produce for an entire town, and "produce managers aren't necessarily given any better training to manage a town's fresh food supply than they are to stock sneakers." (p. 234)

This is great because the author isn't just a blogger with a book deal, but rather someone who's done serious research into food justice, backed up with a ton of end notes and citations. This is great because the author keeps reminding us that class matters, in America, right now.

lizlogan's review against another edition

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4.0

Fascinating. I enjoyed her research and the personal touch that her experience gave the work, but at times it ran long on her experience and short on information. Her assault while unfortunate had no place in the book and merely seemed like a tactic to shame her attacker - which he deserved, but not in a book about American food habits.

deejsylvis's review against another edition

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2.0

The stories of her actual experiences are interesting, as are some of her conclusions about them. But in the end it's still a person who is white telling us how non-white people feel, a fairly well-off person (comparatively) telling us how poor people feel, after barely dipping her toes into the world they live in. It's a type of journalism that is unsatisfying.

ndavis8880's review against another edition

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4.0

Good Food Shouldn’t be a Privilege

It never occurred to me that being within walking distance to a grocery store that sells fresh produce, and within driving distance to countless others, was a privilege, but now I can clearly see that it is. I’m going to be a lot more mindful of all the work that went into getting that produce close to me, especially the farm workers at the beginning of the process. It’s disgusting that a system exists to pay working people so little for work that I’m not sure “skilled” workers could do.
This book reenforces my belief that the poor are often the most generous. And the fact that a person can work and still be poor and unable to meet all their basic needs is something every US citizen should be ashamed of. There’s got to be a better was to make society more equitable.

thisislizwa's review against another edition

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4.0

I read a lot about food politics and yet this book still has a fresh take on the American food system. The section on farm work was particularly enlightening.

spauffwrites's review against another edition

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3.0

An illuminating picture of the food system in America, sort of along the same lines as Fast Food Nation, etc. Pretty interesting if you've never read anything like that before. The chapters on her work in Wal-Mart were particularly interesting and will make you think twice before shopping there.

smithakp's review against another edition

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4.0

I absolutely applaud Tracie for immersing herself into these industries as she did, understanding the lives of the people involved so closely with them, and utilizing her proximity to delve into the ecosystem and detailed processes of each step along the way. (And my heart goes out to her for some of the traumatic experiences she went through...)

My only complaint is that I wonder if Applebees and Walmart were the ideal locations to examine. Her experience would have been very different--and, I daresay, no less valid--if she'd examined other stores and restaurants. Granted, she wasn't trying to presume that what she saw is The Way Things Are For Everybody. But I am curious as to what her takeaways would have been if she'd immersed herself in other companies instead.

lindzee's review against another edition

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3.0

Three novela-length books would have worked better. By the time I got to the end, I just wanted to know what she learned and she never got there.