Publishers Weekly • Nov. 28, 2011
Hailing from a middle-class rural Michigan background in which Tuna Helper and iceberg-lettuce salads were the usual dinner fare and later schooled at NYU, journalist McMillan (City Limits magazine) resolved to learn firsthand how the food America eats (mostly packaged and processed) is grown, distributed, and bought. Why does good, fresh food have to cost more and be harder to find than fast food? Over the course of a year she went “undercover,” posing as a kind of ambitionless 33-year-old “white girl” in transition (she speaks Spanish), finding jobs as a fruit picker in California (grapes, peaches, garlic); a stock and produce clerk at the Wal-Mart in Kalamazoo, Mich., and another outside of Detroit; and as an expediter (“kitchen novice”) at the Applebee’s restaurant in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. In each job she stayed about two months; found a room to rent nearby; claims to have lived off her earnings, which she documents meticulously; and was rarely above the poverty level, e.g., as a picker she made an average of $153 a week. Personable, self-deprecating, elucidating, McMillan’s account achieves an engaging balance between documentary and history, rich in the personalities of the people she works with and befriends while offering a smattering of research, such as tracing the growth of the world’s first supermarket, King Kullen, and visiting Detroit’s still teeming Terminal market.