I am a big fan of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed.” And I loved “Food, Inc.” (Well, as much as you can love a movie that makes you want to barf when you realize just how much crap you’ve injested since the day you were born.) So McMillan’s undercover expose on the food industry seemed to be a literary match made in heaven.
I can’t quite put my finger on what I feel is missing from this book—it’s well-written in a mostly-story telling format. Readers are invited to become as close to the real-life characters as McMillan was during the time she spent with them, and her admiration for most of them and the work they each do is clear. And the story itself is compelling. I have a much, much stronger appreciation for where my food comes from and how hard it is (or, easy, as these mass distribution systems have made it) for my food to get from farm to the table. I also learned I’ll never look at an Applebee’s menu—or, as probably is the case, Chili’s, Houlihan’s, Champps and a dozen others—the same way ever again. I will now respect those establishments for what they do—meal assembly, not cooking.
I think what I was morbidly hoping for was a little bit more of the down and dirty—the Anthony Bourdain stories of exactly how nasty some of the food industry is. And maybe that’s not such a good thing. I do like to eat, and don’t want the epxerience of, well, food, lost on me.
But from a purely social sciences kind of view, the book itself is a wonderful history of how our food system developed into what we have today, which is fairly pathetic, and steps that some are taking to reverse trends and take us back to better, fresher days. If you enjoy the occasional piece of non-fiction and like to learn something new when you read, you’ll enjoy this.
The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table