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Is there something wrong with the way we eat?

By Vince Manapat


Metro • Feb. 27, 2012

According to the panel of experts at Housing Work’s “The Anti-Food Foodies,” a discussion organized to celebrate the publication of Tracie McMillan’s “The American Way of Eating,” that answer is yes.

“The American Way of Eating” is a first person account of how food is grown, picked, and processed, and consumed in this country. McMillan starts at the farm level, picking a sorting various crops from grapes to garlic before moving on to jobs at Walmart and then finally an Applebees in New York City. McMillan weaves first person accounts of her experiences into historical background and present day studies of the subject.

Along the way McMillan confronts some of the paradoxes of food in the United States where food is abundant but healthy eating habits are not, and where cooking shows proliferate even while home prepared meals have become scarce. Each stage of the journey reveals some striking facts. For instance, McMillan is paid $54.40 for 24 hours worth of work while picking garlic; and the Walmart she worked in disposed of vast amounts of rotten produce, sometimes out of pure inefficiency.

The panel reiterated some of McMillan’s findings before C-SPAN cameras and a large crowd, most of whom were standing anywhere they could. Every member of the panel was adamant that it does not in fact take more time and money to prepare meals from scratch at home and that we have been “brainwashed” to think otherwise. “People have lost the ability to cook and the ability to trust their instincts and their senses” said Erica Wides, host of “Let’s Get Real,” a radio talk show devoted to food.

“The American Way of Eating” is an ambitious book that attempts to cover not only McMillan’s own experiences but the history and state of food production in the United States. McMillan does an admirable job of presenting all of this information in the space of the book, but what is gained in such a comprehensive approach is sometimes lost in the details, and I found myself often wanting more information on the lives of the people around her. Nevertheless, the book succeeds at giving us an undercover snapshot of food consumption and production in the United States.

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