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There’s No Place Like the Neighborhood: Tracie McMillan on Applebee’s and the American Dream

They Say, I Blog  • March 1, 2012

The slogan of Applebee’s, a restaurant chain with several thousand locations internationally, states, “There’s no place like the neighborhood.” But which neighborhood? Whose neighborhood? Where? Freelance journalist Tracie McMillan worked in the kitchen of an Applebee’s and wrote about her experiences in this neighborhood chain. This excerpt from her book, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table, was published in Slate in February 2012.

McMillan, “The American Way of Eating”

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  1. When you plan on eating in a restaurant for a special occasion, what do you look for? How do you choose (or negotiate) where to go? What are your criteria? Finally, how are those criteria different from the ones you might use if you are planning, as McMillan states it, “a night off from the daily grind”?
  2. McMillan’s tone in describing the meals that Applebee’s serves—steak quesadilla towers and chicken fried chicken, for example—might give the impression that she is critical toward the food and its eaters. Is she, in fact, critical of them? What is her rhetorical purpose in the detailed descriptions of the dinners? Give examples from the article to support your conclusions.
  3. Were you aware of the extent to which your restaurant options are planned and executed as large-scale industrial processes? How do you respond to the fact that something as intimate as your food is mass-produced in giant factory kitchens? Is this important? Why or why not?
  4. McMillan argues that a family sit-down dinner at a restaurant is an important component of the American Dream. Do you agree? Why or why not?
  5. What is your experience of family dinners in a restaurant? How does McMillan’s description resonate with your own family history? What did (or do) restaurant dinners mean for your family as a whole? For you personally? What do they mean to the survival—or end—of the American Dream? As McMillan notes, some families have sit-down restaurant dinners frequently; others go only for special occasions. Write an essay in which you describe your experience with restaurant dinners and place that experience in the historical context that McMillan discusses.

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