By Emily Chilton
The 3 Bite Rule • June 15, 2012
Do you need a beach book? Grab this book for a whole different side of food! I saw this book somewhere and was instantly interested. The author Tracie McMillan goes “Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table.” Check out her website for more info.
She tackles the myth of privileged classes being the only ones interested in their meals. The verdict? McMillan says it isn’t true. She explores class relations with food, and eating as a culture in the US. This is no Upton Sinclair Jungle. McMillan goes to the fields to try her hand at harvesting garlic and peaches. She lives the life of the field worker before entering the next experience of late night shifts in Walmart Produce departments. Seeing the goods in their whole forms takes a drastic turn when she works in an Applebee’s kitchen and can’t find a whole food anywhere.
I loved her stats on grocery space and fresh food access in different parts of NYC. It is true that fresh food costs more but also that it is harder to access in certain areas. McMillan lives the life and tries to afford to eat on her earnings.
The result is really captivating. Her experience trying to make cookies for a holiday swap all the time wondering what other party-goers spent on butter is really interesting. She uses a mix and winds up calculating that flour and sugar themselves would have been cheaper, but more money upfront.
I was most interested in her Applebee’s experience. She works in the kitchen and befriends the other staff. During her time there she sees how they cook and the product they use. I also thought it was endearing that she doesn’t assume the staff want to cook that way. Everything is a packet or pouch of pre-made this or packaged that. It is worth thinking about when dining out. That’s why diners impress me…most of them make everything there, on the spot.
I’m always interested in what it costs to make dinner. It is just Mr. J and me eating but I’m a penny-pincher by nature yet I really value dinner time and the meal. I grew up eating dinner as a family and it is definitely a priority for my family. That doesn’t mean that Mr. J and I don’t end up whipping up something easy now and then, but it does mean that most nights we eat together and I like to cook.
I started calculating the cost of meals I’ve made. It is really astounding. Chicken, bean & corn enchiladas for $2.12 per person, mashed potato pizza for $1.12 per person, and baked ziti for $1.68 per person are just a sampling. We don’t eat a lot of red meat, or fish at our house which tend to run a bit pricier, but still. Cooking at home is easily attainable for us.
I know we’re lucky, we have professional careers, we each work near farmer’s markets, and we have the means to buy any produce we want, whenever we want. Reading how hard she had to work and the generosity of the communities really touched me. Those around her also had nothing yet still were including her in family meals, sharing more beans than she could eat, and making sure she survived
Here is a stat I thought was most note-worthy to leave you with: the poorest Americans spend up to 35% of their income on food; the middle-to-upper class spends only 8% to eat (Bureau of Labor Statistics).