One word for author Tracie McMillan is “gutsy.” She wanted to uncover truths about how our modern food system works, and what did she do? For about a year she became a food system undercover agent, and looked for answers on-the-ground.
McMillan left her regular life and worked as a field worker, then in a supermarket and then a restaurant. She lived and ate off the wages she earned, paid rent and bought groceries as if it were her own life. She worked, ate and lived alongside the working poor to see the real deal when it comes to how “Americans eat when price matters.”
She searched for the answers to—Why is it so difficult for all of us to be able to afford to eat well? And what would it take for all of us to eat well?
She not only writes of what she learns on her undercover journey, but we get heartfelt stories that take us into the lives of who she befriends and encounters along the way.
We get some history to how the system got to where it is today–“we prized agricultural bounty; we valorized mass marketing; we made transportation and distribution into a science. We’ve built a massive infrastructure capable of taking whatever we grow and delivering it wherever we choose, on a scale heretofore unseen” yet, “we’ve done little to ensure that fresh and healthy food is available to everyone.”
A big part of the answers she finds has to do with fresh food–fresh fruits and vegetables. We learn why produce can be so expensive, and why big names in the supermarket business don’t have any reason to keep prices low.
We also learn the ways in which fresh food prices could be low for more to afford, such as urban farming and biointensive agriculture strategies, and the forces that make it challenging to implement.
Beyond the food itself, McMillan takes us through why our cooking literacy-or illiteracy is also part of the problem. Getting healthy food to the dinner table for all is not just about the food, but having the kitchen skills to prepare that fresh, not cheap, packaged food.
She makes the case for why everyone should be making choices “from an equal footing—choices based on easy access to fresh ingredients, and a solid ability to cook.”
The American Way of Eating might just change perspective about food—from seeing it as a consumer good to a larger social good and human right. I know it did mine.
This is a great nonfiction book, and a must read for how we need to “Live True” when it comes to our food.