Have you ever discovered a great book when you weren’t looking? I have my mom to thank for this review—if she hadn’t picked it up from the library, it would’ve taken me much longer to find Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating.
Tell-all books about food fascinate me—I read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation in 10th grade and immediately stopped eating anything that warranted the question, “would you like fries with that?”—so after thumbing through McMillan’s book, I knew I’d read it.
“What if you can’t afford nine-dollar tomatoes? That was the question award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan couldn’t escape as she watched the debate about America’s meals unfold, one that urges us to pay food’s true cost—which is to say, pay more. So in 2009 McMillan embarked on a groundbreaking undercover journey to see what it takes to eat well in America. For nearly a year, she worked, ate, and lived alongside the working poor to examine how Americans eat when price matters.
“From the fields of California, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee’s, McMillan takes us into the heart of America’s meals. With startling intimacy she portrays the lives and food of Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks, while also chronicling her own attempts to live and eat on meager wages. Along the way, she asked the questions still facing America a decade after the declaration of an obesity epidemic: Why do we eat the way we do? And how can we change it? To find out, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to examine the national priorities that put it there. With her absorbing blend of riveting narrative and formidable investigative reporting, McMillan takes us from dusty fields to clanging restaurant kitchens, linking her work to the quality of our meals—and always placing her observations in the context of America’s approach not just to farms and kitchens but to wages and work.
“The surprising answers that McMillan found on her journey have profound implications for our food and agriculture, and also for how we see ourselves as a nation. Through stunning reportage, Tracie McMillan makes the simple case that—city or country, rich or poor—everyone wants good food. Fearlessly reported and beautifully written, The American Way of Eating goes beyond statistics and culture wars to deliver a book that is fiercely intelligent and compulsively readable. Talking about dinner will never be the same again.”
Publication date: 2/21/2012
Overall, The American Way of Eating struck a perfect balance of investigative reporting and historical information. While giving the reader insight into the individuals she met, McMillan relays background statistics to set the stage—did you know hydrogenated fats were invented in France?
The book’s organization works to its advantage. McMillan didn’t complete her legwork in the published progression, but presenting her findings in this manner—field to store to plate—moves the narrative along in an appropriate manner. Again, in each section, she provides both narrative and facts; for me, there were several points that started to drag due to an information overload, but it seemed like McMillan knew my attention was wavering because she soon transitioned back to narrative. Hands down, it was McMillan’s interactions with people in the fields, stores, and restaurant that kept me reading. Her coworkers came to life, which kept me engaged and interested in a way that the historical information didn’t. That’s not to say it wasn’t relevant, but I’m definitely out of “college reading mode,” and all the data and statistics shocked my system. If you’re interested in healthy living, cooking, eating, and investigative reporting, you’ll love this book.
Have you read The American Way of Eating? What did you think? Have you read similar types of books?