Monday, December 2, 2013

The American Way Of Eating

"We're facing a dire health problem related to poor diet. Is it really in America's best interest to maintain a food system where eating well requires one to either be rich or to drive a total of thirty miles? Nearly two years after leaving my job outside Detroit, I think the answer is no."

Tracie McMillan is a journalist interested in America's food system. If minimum wage is considered a living wage, you should be able to pay for basic necessities such as rent and decent food. She goes undercover as a field worker--picking food from fields in California, working at Walmart selling produce, and working in Applebees in food prep. She explores what really is happening with the food we eat, and who can afford it.

Picking Food:

McMillan worked for hours (16+/day) in the fields to earn less than minimum wage. It was appalling how in the fields the workers were taken advantage of. The workers perform hard labor and are paid less than minimum wage, and have no health benefits. She watched as pay information was changed on the books to appear as though workers were paid minimum wage, when really they were not. Workers were also exposed to chemicals in the field, which is dangerous for them. Many of the workers put up with this because they did not have proper papers, or could not get another job.

Working in Produce:

MacMillan talks about the lack of training employees received at the Walmart where she worked. Employees had little to no training in how to take care of the food they were stocking. There was no real system for storing the food, and when it should go on display. As a result food would sit rotting in bins in the back of the store, waiting for someone to do something with it.

For me, one of the most discouraging parts of this book was the amount of waste that goes on. People are going hungry, and cannot afford decent food because of high prices, while food rots because it doesn't make it to the produce area in time for someone to buy it. Since the book was published, I have heard several large companies have developed plans for reducing food waste that happens in their stores. I hope they can accomplish this goal.

There was also the issue of how fresh the food is. The produce is shipped across the country, and by the time it reaches the shelves it is at best, already wilting. People are not getting the best quality of food, as they are loosing much of the nutrients from the food when they buy it this old.

Preparing Food in a Restaurant:

Much of the food being cooked and served in the restaurant seemed to already be prepared and frozen. Frozen food isn't necessarily bad, but you have to wonder what is used to preserve the food. It seemed the meals served were a pricier version of fast food, which people have deluded themselves into thinking is good for them. The importance of training was again mentioned in this section. There is a lack of food safety training Macmillan writes, that can be detrimental to the people handling and eating the food.

It was revealing to read how she struggled with expenses while making minimum wage. Even with little splurging she struggled with basic necessities. There is a problem with our current food and wage system. People should be able to live off the money they make, and they should be able to afford real, and decent food.

I heard the author give an interview about this book on the radio, and was intrigued. I think too much of the American food system is hidden from the public. More transparency is needed in the food industry, so people can afford good food. I thought it was an important book to read, and I am glad that I found this book.

I liked how statistics about food and wages were conveyed through personal experience. This book is important to understand the current food dilema facing America, and why school lunches, farmer's markets, farm bills, minimum wage, and food stamps are issues that effect us all, and need to be addressed in a well thought out plan. If you are curious about where your food comes from I would recommend reading this book. It is an enlightening read, and will hopefully raise awareness on some of the changes that need to be made in the food industry.


  1. It's stories like this that make me want to be a journalist. From what you say, this woman dedicated everything to her project and is able to affect real change in the lives of her audience. This sounds like an inspiring and enlightening read.

    1. It was journalism in a way we don't see as much anymore. She did acknowledge that while getting the experience, it was still not the same as people living it, because she had a higher paying job with benefits if she got sick or wanted to quit waiting. I think one of my favorite lines was when she was having a difficult time, and she says she got through it because she knew it would end relatively soon. She then goes on to say how that is not true for the majority of people in these jobs.

      You should read it! I learned a lot.