Just a note that I will be hosting an FDL Book Salon with Tracie McMillan on Sunday, May 6, where we will be discussing her book The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
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 prio-rities 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.
Dwight Garner in the New York Times:
The book Ms. McMillan’s most resembles is Barbara Ehrenreich’s best seller “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America” (2001). Like Ms. Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan goes undercover amid this country’s working poor. She takes jobs picking grapes, peaches and garlic in California; stocking produce in a Walmart in Detroit; and working in a busy Applebee’s in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. She tries, and often fails, to live on only the money she earns.
The news Ms. McMillan brings about life on the front lines is mostly grim. In the California fields, where she is the only gringa, she makes far less than minimum wage, sometimes as little as $26 for nine hours of back-breaking work. She lives in cockroach-filled houses, all she can afford, with more than a dozen other people. She delivers a brutal takedown of corporations that, in her view, pretend on their sunny Web sites to treat workers well but in practice use labor contractors that often cheat them. She names names. Here’s looking at you, the Garlic Company in Bakersfield, Calif.
She charts the toll this work takes on people’s health. “My thighs look as though they’ve been attacked by an enraged but weaponless toddler,” she writes after a day of garlic picking. “My hands, swollen and inundated with blisters the first few days, have acclimatized, but there’s a worrisome pain shooting up my right arm.” She develops a sprain, which forces her to miss work and ultimately quit. Other workers, she notes, would not have that option.
You may also recall that Tracie was the subsequent target of Rush Limbaugh’s War On Women shortly after he self-immolated over Sandra Fluke.
So mark your calendars for Sunday May 6th, 2PM PST.