I read The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table for my Undercover Reporting class and so, like with any class reading, I expected to do the bare minimum of actual reading. (I realize this makes me seem like a grade A slacker, but the “Do All Readings” bullet on my yearly list of goals has never gotten crossed off. It’s just the way it is.) Instead, I ended up glued to this book, which tells the story of one woman’s venture into the world of American eating.
Tracie McMillan, a food writer and journalist, went undercover to discover how food goes from the farm to the average American dinner table and along the way, uncovered another side of food: labor.
It’s not so much the health statistics, grocery store history, or income disparities that interested me in McMillan’s book, but the amazing first-hand reporting she did as a food laborer in America. Working in the farms, McMillan experienced pain, heat stroke and the inexplicable kindness of immigrant workers who need to be seen and heard but are too often ignored and taken advantage of. Working at Walmart, she discovered the hopelessness that comes from minimum wage: working night after night and barely making it. And working at Applebee’s she discovered something that I discovered that summer I spent as a hostess at Olive Garden: firstly, that your body will never forgive you for the hours on your feet, and secondly, that absolutely nothing about that “fresh” meal the restaurants advertise is actually fresh.
Of course, having worked minimum wage jobs before, I could identify with McMillan pretty well. When she came to speak in my class, I asked her who she wrote this book for, since most Americans already work at Walmart or in similar jobs, and she replied that this book was for those upper class Americans who’ve never “worked a shitty job.”
For her intended audience, McMillan’s writing is extremely successful. She explain why it’s impossible to “vote with your fork” if you only make minimum wage, getting rid of the idea that people struggling with eating healthy are just lazy. And most importantly, she stimulates compassion for the people who help America to survive, but who often deal with the worst labor conditions.