Kirkus • Nov. 15, 2011
During the course of a year, former City Limits managing editor McMillan examined the process by which food goes from the field to the table.Whether picking bunches of table grapes, sorting peaches or cutting garlic, the author discovered firsthand the rigors of farm labor working alongside Mexicans and other migrant workers struggling to survive on paltry wages. From the fields, she moved to the produce department of a Walmart, “the largest grocer in both the U.S. and the world.” McMillan exposes some of the megastore’s behind-the-scenes practices, which allow the company to offer significantly discount prices. One such practice is “crisping,” a method of rehydrating wilted greens so they appear fresh and can be returned to the floor. While working in the prep area, McMillan reflects on “doing returns”: “a perpetually growing stack of crates next to the food prep area crammed with rotting lettuce, moldy berries, slimy greens, expired bags of salad, and wrinkled mushrooms” all waiting to be tabulated as returns before going into a compost bin. McMillan also examines an Applebee’s restaurant, demonstrating how food is cooked and served in one of the nation’s largest restaurant chains. She discovers that much of the food comes prepackaged, frozen or dehydrated (no real surprise to anyone who has eaten at Applebee’s) with the only real cooking being a few seconds in the microwave, where bits of plastic stick to the food and need to be wiped off before serving. Full of personal stories of the daily struggle to put food of any kind on the table in today’s economy, McMillan’s book will force readers to question their own methods of purchasing and preparing food.
Attentive foodies may already know much of the information, but on the whole, McMillan provides an eye-opening account of the route much of American food takes from the field to the restaurant table.