Subtitle: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
Author: Tracie McMillan
Publisher: Scribner 2012
It’s that time of year when we think a lot about special food. Most of us will eat well at our holiday dinners. Unfortunately, there are many more in our country who struggle to eat healthy on limited wages. Tracie McMillan, an award-winning journalist, knows this intellectually as well as personally. She set about to see the business of food from where it is grown to where it is sold and served.
Tracie used her journalistic skills to go undercover as a farm worker, a clerk in the produce department at WalMart and as an expeditor for an Applebee’s restaurant. She didn’t tell any of the people she met who she was or what she was doing. She also attempted to live on the wages she earned while working those jobs.
None of the three jobs Tracie worked was an easy one, but the one that seemed most difficult was as a farm laborer in the fields of central California. She worked long hours in the hot sun for very low wages. Most of the workers are paid piece-work, although Tracie, primarily because she was white/legal, often was paid minimum wage. To accomplish this, the hours on her paycheck showed that she worked a lot less hours than she did just so it would equal the piece-rate amount.
The worst part of Tracie’s job at WalMart was learning about how poorly the produce was stored and handled. Much of it sat in storage long past the time when it was at it’s peak. After seeing how the food was handled in the fields, it was hard for her to see it treated in such an indifferent manner. She was also concerned that the managers, and the workers as a whole, knew very little about produce.
At Applebee’s, Tracie was responsible for getting the orders out smoothly and quickly from the kitchen and on to the servers. This job gave her the perfect look at how increasing numbers of people eat many of their meals. Since my husband and I eat at Applebee’s a couple times a month I was also interested in learning more. I was disappointed to learn that most of the food is prepared elsewhere, frozen and then delivered to the restaurant.
What I liked best about The American Way of Eating was Tracie’s experience at each job, particularly the stories of her fellow employees. What disappointed me was that Tracie didn’t offer suggestions toward improving the cost of healthy food for working class people. It’s not that I expected one person to come up with a solution. It’s something many of us need to work on. I was hoping for a look at possible solutions.
Overall, I’m glad Tracie McMillan brought my attention to this problem. I recommend you take a look at the problem as well.