The first Brooklyn supermarket I ever walked into had a cockroach in the deli. Not one of those stealthy critters stealing along the crevices in the floor, or hanging out backstage in dry storage. No, this was a proud-to-be-here New York City roach, crawling openly up the wall’s white tile before dropping, unceremoniously, onto the meat slicer below. I decided to skip the lunchmeat and headed for the produce aisle.
I sought out hard, pink tomatoes and pale spheres of iceberg lettuce, bags of Red Delicious apples and dusty sacks of potatoes. The contents of my grocery basket telegraphed my Midwestern upbringing. I’d been so busy putting myself through college by running errands for a fashion designer, tutoring rich kids, tutoring public high school kids, waiting tables at a barbecue joint, and a slew of other odd jobs that I hadn’t yet made the city my home. I paid for the food and, to save $1.50 on bus fare, walked ten blocks, about half a mile, home. As I piled the groceries on the counter, I told my roommate about the roach.
That’s pretty gross, he said. Maybe we can shop somewhere else?
But we never did. We were students, keeping rent low by living an hour from campus in a neighborhood thick with families headed by dishwashers and seamstresses, housekeepers and day laborers. Neighborhood signs were dotted with script in Polish, Chinese, and Spanish. If there were good ethnic shops I was too blind to see them; raised in rural Michigan, the only food stores I knew to look for were supermarkets. And the roach-in-the-deli was the only one we could walk to. We didn’t cook much, anyway. We were too busy.
All of this—the chore of finding food, the lack of time to do anything with it when we did, the indifference to our meals—was familiar. I grew up in a small town outside Flint. My dad sold lawn equipment for a living. My mom was gravely ill for nearly a decade. Most of my family’s time and money went to medical bills, and I grew up eating the kind of meals you’d expect from an effectively single working dad. Sometimes I helped make them, especially if it meant we’d end up with my favorites, like Tuna Helper, on the table. On nights when I couldn’t sleep, I’d page through my mom’s Good Housekeeping cookbook and bake cakes and breads to entertain myself while, ostensibly, helping out around the house.
We ate a lot of Helper meals and Ortega Taco Dinners when I was growing up, and I liked them. We had salads of chopped iceberg lettuce tossed with diced carrots, celery, wedges of tomato, and some Wish-Bone Ranch dressing. On weeknights, mashed potatoes came from a box, toast was brushed with melted Country Crock and sprinkled with garlic salt, and Miracle Whip held together the pasta salad. Sure, home-cooked and farm-fresh stuff was great. And sometimes we did eat like that. In the summers, my dad’s garden, a grove of vegetable plants spiking up through black plastic sheeting and an inch of weed killer, would let us feast on tomatoes and peppers cheaply. And most Sundays, when my dad had relaxed from his week, he’d throw a roast in the oven, boil some potatoes, and steam some vegetables. But regularly eating food that took that much time or money—or, most outrageously of all, both—wasn’t for people like us. It was for the people my grandmother described, with equal parts envy and derision, as fancy; my father’s word was snob. And I wasn’t about to be like that.
No, here in Brooklyn I’d do the same thing my family had done in Michigan. I’d make do with my culinary lot in life. If I didn’t have extra money to buy healthy food, or the time to prepare it, that meant the cheap and the processed. For a very long time, I couldn’t see it any other way.
Like all myths, the idea that only the affluent and educated care about their meals has spread not because it is true, but because parts of it are. Healthier food is more expensive; that much is true. So is the fact that it can be hard to find in poor neighborhoods. And yet it requires an impossible leap of logic to conclude from these facts that only the rich care about their meals. “Food culture in the United States has long been cast as the property of a privileged class. It is nothing of the kind,” wrote Barbara Kingsolver in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. She may be right, but for most people—myself included—seeing good food as a luxury lifestyle product has been so deeply embedded in our thinking about our meals that we barely notice it. I didn’t until I met Vanessa.
I had been living in New York for nearly a decade, and was covering the poverty beat for a small magazine. I met people in welfare offices, child care centers, housing project courtyards, and after-school programs, and wrote stories about them; in doing so, I often ended up in their homes. I ate Jimmy Dean hamburgers in the kitchen of a fortysomething lady gang leader. I watched a Dominican home health aide run her four kids through math homework while spiraling the peel off an orange with a paring knife. I shared crackers and spreadable cheese during snack time at a child care center in a brownstone apartment. But I was there to write about welfare rules and crappy jobs, not food, so I hardly noticed it. What did food have to do with my work, anyway? The people I was writing about weren’t fancy. Neither was I.
For years, I insisted food wasn’t important to me. And yet, I had always made birthday cakes from scratch for my friends. In college, I shoplifted spices from an A&P to experiment with Indian curries. And while I kept my own grocery budget modest, my college years saw me working for an affluent family and occasionally cooking their dinner—leading me to stumble through a world of cookbooks and ingredients beyond Betty Crocker. In spite of myself, I started cooking fancy food: Moroccan stews, chicken breast and portobello mushrooms with balsamic vinegar, lentils green and red and yellow.
An internal debate began:
That’s fancy food, for fancy people. Just who do you think you are? said my Midwestern upbringing.
But did you taste that tomato, that cheese, those spices? replied the burgeoning New Yorker. It’s so worth it.
The Midwesterner always won, though, throwing down this gauntlet: Even if it’s worth it, I can’t afford to eat like that. I’d grown resigned to this annoyingly intractable debate over my meals. 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. This idea was so ingrained in me that I never even bothered to see how much it would cost to cook better meals from scratch.
Vanessa was pure New York. She was short, still sporting a trace of baby fat, her tawny curls pulled into the same slicked-back ponytail as so many of the other girls filtering through the city’s high schools. Mouthy and freckled. Brown eyes glinting with mischief. Vanessa was also ambitious enough that she’d gotten into a paid after-school internship program in Manhattan. The only requirement to get the stipend was that she attend one of several classes offered by a youth services agency. She had chosen a cooking class built around themes of health and environmentally friendly farming, and that’s where I met her.
I didn’t want to write about the class. I wanted to be writing about important things like the city’s plan to close down child care centers. Or domestic violence programs that weren’t getting enough funding. I didn’t see the point in following a cooking class, much less one run by a young man who kept going on about yoga and greens and who—save for the fact that he was black—struck me as a well-intentioned hippie. I sat in the class, took notes, and paid extra attention whenever a kid declared a love of junk food or scowled at the mention of a vegetable.
Vanessa laughed in the first class, her brows raised matter-of-factly under a pink headband. “I love Popeye’s. I love McDonald’s,” she said, naming two spots near her home in Brooklyn. “I think Manhattan’s the best place for healthy food, but it’s expensive.”
Ronny, a rangy fourteen-year-old from Washington Heights, proclaimed his loyalty to McDonald’s, too. “I’m not going to change the way I eat. I’ve got to live my life,” he said, adding that he went there almost every day.
Good luck, hippie.1
I observed the class off and on for six months, and toward the end of it Vanessa agreed to let me come over to her house. She lived with her grandparents in a rickety two-family next to a vacant lot. Vanessa’s grandmother cooked for a nearby Head Start program, and at home she refused to cave in to her granddaughter’s taste for junk food. Instead, she fed Vanessa traditional Latin-Caribbean fare: pots of rice and beans, platters of plátanos, sticky and sweet.
“It’s kind of hard to eat healthy around here,” said Vanessa, and we went for a walk to Burger King, where she got a Whopper and washed it down with seven half-and-half creamers, grabbed for free out of the bin and squirted, one by one, directly into her mouth. This was not promising insofar as health went. But the more we talked, the clearer it became that Vanessa understood quite well that she should e...
--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition
Revue de presse
“The book Ms. McMillan’s mostresembles is Barbara Ehrenreich’s best seller Nickel and Dimed. Like Ms.Ehrenreich, Ms. McMillan goes undercover amid this country’s working poor….This is a voice the food world needs.” —New York Times
"With much courage and compassion, McMillan explores the lives of those at the bottom of our food system. Here is a glimpse of the people who feed us—and the terrible price they pay. If we want to change the system, this is where we must begin." —Eric Schlosser
“Tracie McMillan is gutsy, scrappy, and hard-working—you'd have to be to write this book. The American Way of Eating takes us local in a new way, exploring who works to get food from the field to the plates in front of us, what they are paid, and how it feels. It's sometimes grim but McMillan doesn't flinch; I especially appreciated her openness in telling us what she spent in order to get by (or not). A welcome addition to the urgent, growing body of journalism on food.” —Ted Conover, author of Newjack and Coyotes
“These tales lay bare the sinews, the minds, and the relationships that our food system exploits and discards. In a work of deep compassion and integrity, Tracie McMillan offers us an eye-opening report on the human cost of America’s cheap food.” —Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing
“To uncover the truth behind how our modern food system works, Tracie M. McMillan took jobs in a supermarket produce section, a chain restaurant kitchen, and the fields alongside migrant laborers. If you eat, you owe it to yourself to read this masterful book.” —Barry Estabook, author of Tomatoland
"McMillan provides an eye-opening account of the route much of American food takes from the field to the restaurant table." --Kirkus
“Three cheers for Tracie McMillan; this book is a revelation! It is the sort of engaging first person adventure story that reads like a good novel, all the while supplying the facts and figures that make the larger picture clear. I'm grateful to her in equal parts for the stamina and courage to undertake this undercover journey, the narrative skill that makes the account so digestible, and the commitment to social justice for both workers and consumers that infuses the whole project.” —Janet Poppendieck, author of Free for All and Sweet Charity
"This is an amazing book. Tracie McMillan willtake any reader into new territory. The implacable fierceness offarmwork, the slovenliness behind the produce section at Walmart—prepare to besubmerged in harsh little worlds and shocked. But McMillan keeps hercool, always presenting the context and the content of her struggles withenough analytic detachment to rough out a complete, and convincing, vision offood as a social good. Read her book and your dinner will never look thesame."
--William Finnegan, author of Cold New World
“Tracie McMillan has written a remarkable book for right now—a book that smartly tells us what is wrong with what we eat and how we might improve it. But what is even more remarkable about the book is how deeply engaging it is. With her intimate and confident portraits of American food workers, she crafts a touching, emotional narrative that will stay with you long after you have finished the last page.” —James Oseland, author of Cradle of Flavor
“This is a wonderful introduction to the triumph and tragedy of the American food industry. Mixing compassionate participant observation with in depth, up-to-the-minute background research, Tracie McMillan takes us for an eye-opening, heart-rending tour of the corporate food chain. Along the way we meet unforgettable people who, at great personal cost, labor hard so that we can eat cheaply and easily. Having seen what it takes to move our meals from farm to table, the reader will emerge shaken, enlightened, and forever thankful.” — Warren Belasco, author of Appetite for Change and Meals to Come
“This book is vital. [McMillan] has the writing skills to bear witness, the research background to provide context, and the courage to take on the challenging task.” —Los Angeles Times
“A compelling and cogent argument that eating healthily ought to be easier.” —Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Clear and essential.” —The Boston Globe--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition
Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)
106 internautes sur 112 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Fascinating Adventure--A Woman's Journey Into What & Who Is Behind Our Food, How This Affects Us, Why We Should Care28 février 2012
- Publié sur Amazon.com
***** The book reads like a novel, this first person account of the author's undercover journey into the world of the working poor in the food industry. The author is a remarkable storyteller, recounting all aspects of her adventure in a way that makes you feel like you are entering into her world and joining her and the other workers at each place she is employed. She covers what it felt like, how it was to live and work under harsh conditions, where she lived, the friends she made, the choices she was faced with by living on such a small amount of money. It is fascinating to be able to feel immersed in a world that perhaps few of us would voluntarily enter into, but that many of us find ourselves.
The author spends time harvesting grapes with Hispanic farm workers, harvesting peaches, cutting and gleaning garlic, working at Walmart (including in the produce department), and working at Applebee's. During this time the work is grueling--she gets injured and suffers heatstroke, experiences identity theft, and even is sexually assaulted. She is also taken advantage of repeatedly by her employers in so many creative ways that it's mind-boggling. The reader comes to understand and empathize with workers trapped in low-level jobs and see how hard it becomes to fight back and/or to move beyond a daily existence.
But this is not really just a memoir of an undercover adventure. It is another book as well, an important social commentary. It is not just about one woman's journey, but it is about our food supply. How it works, what drives it. How, "It is far easier to eat well in American than in most of the world but we've done little to ensure that fresh and healthy food is available to everyone." (pg 153) This book explores answers to the questions: "What would it take for us all to eat well?" and "What are the realities of food and eating in America, especially for the working poor?" It answers these important questions literally BY telling the author's story, and helps the reader to see why we all need to care about access to fresh and healthy food--to work for equality in so many areas besides food as well. It shows the reader how many of these social issues are inexorably linked.
For those who enjoy details (as I do) the book is painstakingly footnoted--the notes take up almost 40 pages of very small print. This was a good way to organize the book, as those who are interested can read every footnote of supporting information (as I did), whereas those who just want a good story can easily avoid all of the detailed information.
If you are interested in this topic at all, you will not regret reading this book. To find out more before buying, you can google the book's title and find the author's book web site; the book also has a Facebook page that you can find by searching for the title on Facebook.
Highly recommended. *****
88 internautes sur 98 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
This is the food book everyone should be reading23 février 2012
- Publié sur Amazon.com
This book is so much better than I could have even hoped for. Sure, it has a fascinating and entertaining story about a journalist embedded in farm fields, produce sections, and restaurant kitchens. This is the stuff that probably brings you to the book. It has a great balance of humor, nuance, and heartbreaking stories of the work behind the food we take for granted.
So just for that, you won't be disappointed. But there is a whole unexpected side to this book that will rock your world. Tracie McMillan brings some really thought provoking analysis to add context to what she goes through while in the ranks of the nations food workers. Some of the stats she uncovers will make your jaw drop. Other times she digs up some history, like the development of supermarkets or the impact of the national highway system on how we get our food, and you will be left with a deep new understanding of things you probably never thought about before. Trust me, there are some mind blowing revelations in store for you.
I found that this book really made me think, and changed my understanding of the issue of food - not just what food we eat, but what the production of that food means for people working all along the chain. The approach to talking about poverty and economics made these issues accessible and easy to relate to. I didn't feel talked down to, and I didn't feel lectured at. Reading this book is like talking to someone who respects you enough to level with you and give you the real deal. This is the food book you need to read.
58 internautes sur 68 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Hungry for a great book?23 février 2012
- Publié sur Amazon.com
A deeply personal story of one woman's quest to understand "how America came to eat this way, why we keep doing it, and what it would take to change it." This was an incredibly engrossing read - smart, well-researched, funny, and gritty while at the same time hopeful. McMillan takes us inside some of the worst parts of America's food industry and working conditions, sharing rich stories of the people who help out on her unusual journey. She also challenges us to think about what would happen if access to fresh and healthy food were just as high a social priority as water and electricity. Like The Omnivore's Dilemma, this book is a delight to read and a much-needed contribution to our national understanding of food.
24 internautes sur 27 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
Forthright food journalism, "cockroach in the deli" and all...12 mars 2012
- Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Format Kindle
I first read about journalist Tracie McMillan's debut book The American Way of Eating in a New York Times review by literary critic and author Dwight Garner on February 20th, 2012. He had opened his review with this: "One of the first things to like about Tracie McMillan, the author of 'The American Way of Eating,' is her forthrightness. She's a blue-collar girl who grew up eating a lot of Tuna Helper and Ortega Taco Dinners because her mother was gravely ill for a decade, and her father, who sold lawn equipment, had little time to cook. About these box meals, she says, 'I liked them.'"
This interested me, as I've been following articles about food and its sources for some time, so it was worth a closer look. I had read and enjoyed Garner's witty and informative 2009 book Read Me, so when he closed his review with this comment, I was further intrigued: "By the end of `The American Way of Eating,' the author ties so many strands of argument together that you'll begin to agree with one of the cooks at Applebee's, who declares about her in awe: 'You see that white girl work? Damn, she can work.'"
Author McMillan's book begins with a few paragraphs explaining that her book is "a work of journalism," and that she had gone undercover to write it, choosing to work side by side with the people involved in various aspects of what we look at as the food industry in America today. Her introduction begins with this somewhat jolting statement, and it's one that made this reader sit up and take notice, wondering if her book was going to be some vegan manifesto against anything that had to do with meat: "The first Brooklyn supermarket I ever walked into had a cockroach in the deli. Not one of those stealthy critters stealing along the crevices in the floor, or hanging out backstage in dry storage. No, this was a proud-to-be-here New York City roach, crawling openly up the wall's white tile before dropping, unceremoniously, onto the meat slicer below. I decided to skip the lunchmeat and headed for the produce aisle."
My initial suspicions were quickly alleviated, as this book is an actual first-hand exploration, one that took the author to jobs such as picking grapes and peaches in the California fields, then moving on to cutting and gleaning garlic, working right beside the other farmworkers, most of whom she converses with in Spanish, the only gringa, and one making well under minimum wage. This is for nine hours of grueling and physically exhausting work. And in all of this, she's working with the people that she encounters, not standing aside with public relations people and repeating the media hype that is seen in advertisements. She lives with these people, discussing their kids, doctor visits, food... in short all of the things that regular people discuss with their coworkers in almost any field of work in America.
From those California fields, author McMillan moves on in Part II to Michigan for a stint working at Wal-Mart, which it turns out, has become the "largest grocer in both the U.S. and the world." Her in-depth observations are both fascinating and revealing, especially since Wal-Mart, founded in 1962, didn't really get into food until the 1980s. While she's describing her experiences working side by side with other employees there, she interleaves the paragraphs with hard facts about how large Wal-Mart is in our American food chain, and she backs it up with extensive footnotes.
Part III takes us to the cooking of food, and here she starts as a kitchen novice at Applebee's in Brooklyn, NY. There are over twenty Applebee's restaurants in New York City, and McMillan was trying to get a kitchen job in food preparation with the chain. This was one of the more fascinating sections of the book, though there's an unsettling part, which results in the author being assaulted (and not by a work colleague) after the get-together following her last night at Applebee's, a place that she had openly enjoyed the work.
Each of the book sections starts by listing how much she earned picking, producing or handling food and how much was spent on what she ate, both percentagewise and in terms of annualized salary. Some of these numbers can be quite sobering in terms of comparative living in this country today, and wondering where we may be headed.
It's all too easy to compare this book with cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich's bestselling Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, and in that comparison, both Ehrenreich and McMillan have gone undercover among the working people of America. Having read both, this reader found more depth in Ms. McMillan offering, but perhaps that's due to the difference in the fact that self-proclaimed "myth buster" Ehrenreich seems to dwell on class struggles. McMillan's working family background offers a more three-dimensional feel to the people and the situations that she encountered.
But there were times that she seemed to be reluctant to get too close or reveal what she was feeling about those with whom she was involved during her work. That may be a subjective observation on this reader's point, but there were times that I found myself waiting for the author to indeed open up with the emotions that she was surely feeling just below the surface, yet so often it went 80% there... and stopped.
It should be noted that Ms. McMillan's extensive footnotes sprinkled throughout this book are surprising in both their depth and their accuracy. This reader spent quite a few hours bouncing between the Kindle and the computer looking at some of the sources that she had listed, and it became clear that she had really done her homework. Her appendix entitled "Cheap Food?" is intriguing, and worth the time to read, and her wide-ranging bibliography could make food reading into quite a project for those so interested. This reader has already bookmarked a number of her sources for more in-depth reading.
There are some holes here and there in this book, but without making excuses on behalf of the author, that's to be expected in any journalistic work such as this. All questions and answers cannot possibly be put into a book such as this without either making it completely boring or dull, and in this author McMillan has succeeded quite well. What stands out is that this is a good read, and often moving on much like a novel, with dialogue that makes one wonder what's coming next.
As a debut offering, this reader is impressed with the depth that Tracie McMillan has gone into with this book. If you're at all interested in food, where it comes from and how it's handled, this book is a solidly recommended 4-star read, and a worthwhile look at the actual politics involved in food policy in America today. I'll be looking forward to what she comes up with next.
43 internautes sur 51 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile
A New Perspective: Michael Pollan, meet Barbara Ehrenreich23 février 2012
- Publié sur Amazon.com
An informative, provocative, and important exploration of the food industry ranging from the fields of poorly regulated farms in California to the aisles of Walmart to the Applebee's in my own backyard here in Bklyn, NY. And even better, it's a well written and highly engaging read. I strongly recommend this book.
I am passing this recommendation on to the folks I know who are interested in food or the economics of massive industries in our country -- that's going to be everyone I know.