Recent Reads: The American Way of Eating

Hooked on Madelines • March 29, 2013

The focus is on one woman trying to initiate a conversation about how food goes from field to grocery to (restaurant) table. She focused on big companies which have large impacts on Americans as a whole. Personally, I found it frightening to consider how food traditionally makes its way to my dinner table. People who work the fields aren’t given fair wages or medical support for the very physical work. And sometimes organic really isn’t organic? What? Well, Pesticides+wind=’contamination’ because sometimes organic fields are right next to from the traditionally grown stuff. Large grocery chains, with the example being Wal-Mart, don’t care whether or not the food is fresh just that they sell us more ‘stuff’. They just want us to have another excuse for us to be in their stores. No surprise there but the lax attitudes about food preservation definitely are. McMillan also discussed processed food companies and large chain restaurants to emphasize what has changed in the way we eat. The focus is on salt as a way to make foods taste good. Often we eat from boxes.

There are ways to over-come the issues raised in the book but they tend to require time and effort – certainly more time and energy then McMillan had or felt she had as she lived off the salary provided by the jobs allowing her to write the book. I am fortunate enough to live in a home with a garden out back. I try to grow some of my own food out there in the summer. It never seems to add up to a huge savings but its tastier and organic. Or at least as organic as you can get with compost that is not organic… I can afford to go to farmer’s markets and local shops to pick up my food. I attempt to do so sometimes but the prices at the grocery store are just so much less expensive. It doesn’t help that the farmer’s markets are just beginning to establish themselves in my area. Their food often seems oddly high priced for something I could pick up at the grocery store. When I visit my beau in the summer I always go to the farmer’s market. Maybe its because the farmer’s market there is established but the only food there is stuff you can’t find in a grocery store. The ‘real’ stuff. Things like strawberries. Seriously. The ones they offer in the grocery store are good in winter but in the summer they can’t compare with the sweet and juicy bits of heaven known as local strawberries. In the winter we usually visit the local charcuterie – they are amazingly good and we’re looking into having them cater our wedding. Who wouldn’t want to have a pig roast where they show off your meal with its head and eyes and feet and curly little tail all still attached? I don’t want to think about that part. I just want to think about the delicious bits that are a result of the process. And the fact that we are supporting a local business which raises pigs humanely with a large tract of land for them to explore as they become bacon…yeah, its great stuff. But back to the book!

It’s a solid read if you are interested in an introduction to how food is delivered to us. It often presents scary notions. No one wants to live like one of the immigrants who harvests crops. No one wants to hear about their food being rotten before they buy it. No one wants to believe that their ability to afford and enjoy an evening out at a ‘family restaurant’ would evaporate if those meals didn’t come pre-packaged. Sometimes in plastic baggies which hold microwaveable mashed potatoes that are so gluttonous that we are eating the bits of baggie that come off onto the potatoes. And people say we have too many federal agents inspecting our food to make sure its safe… I highly recommend this book if you are serious about needing a motivation to start cooking at home or if you just want a better understanding of what you are eating and where it came from. Its excellent as a book to start the conversation about how to food gets to the table. One of the books I just picked up is about American Terrior. When I finish that one I’ll let you know whether or not its worth the read. Until then, please consider learning more about what and how we eat as individuals. Its so easy to forget that our food starts out as plants, fish and animals. Understanding the food system of today makes us more capable of healthy eating tomorrow.

(Not an advertisement. I purchased the book on my own in a local book store in Burlington, VT because I needed something to throw myself into on a long train ride home.)

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