Monday, June 11, 2012

The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Wal-Mart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table by Tracie McMillan

The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan

Tracie decided to work in 3 major areas of the food industry in the US and write about them. She worked in the fields picking fruits and vegetables, in the produce section of a Wal-Mart and in an Applebees restaurant - all undercover as a reporter.

I think it would have added another interesting dimension if she had also worked in a food processing company like Kraft, and perhaps at a dairy farm or cattle ranch or meat processing plant, since those are also major parts of our food industry.

In memoir fashion, with informative footnotes, Tracie tells how she picked grapes and garlic in California, worked at Wal-Marts in Michigan and New York and worked at an Applebees in New York.

I learned more from the informative footnotes than from her memoir, but the book is well-written and interesting and entertaining. I was saddened, but not suprised to read about the children who sometimes work in the fields picking produce, the injuries caused by the repetitive motion, and the low pay and re-writing of pay records to make it look like they are paying the produce workers fairly. I was suprised and saddened to learn that for the workers, picking organic produce is just the same as any other produce. I think that we would like to think that "organic" means not only a lack of pesticide, but that the entire process would be kinder and gentler and healthier and more fair and that the workers would get higher pay since the produce itself costs more, but that is not the case.

Tracie includes facts about the grocery industry and how it grew quickly once it created it's own distribution system and how Wal-Mart's low prices can be deceiving since the low prices of the loss leaders are made up by higher prices elsewhere in their stores.

She points out that at both Wal-Mart and at Applebees, there is supposed to be training for the employees and at some point they are asked to sign papers stating that they received training that they did not actually receive. That does not suprise me at all since I work in retail and have had that happen to me in the past too. Everyone signs that because if you don't, you won't have a job.

I found it very unappetising and rather disgusting to learn that most of the foods at Applebees are pre-prepared and made from packaged mixes and later heated in a microwave in plastic baggies before being served to the customers.

Tracie includes information about CSAs and bemoans the fact that in our country we make sure that people have access to electricity, water and to some extent even health care, but we do not put any effort into making sure that fresh, healthy food is readily available to everyone everywhere, instead, we leave that to the private industries and corporations like Wal-Mart.  

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