Book Review: The American Way of Eating

Most people know that I have an interest in health and food, and in addition to a good old novel or two that I am reading on my Kindle (yes, two – I still can’t quite bear to finish “There’s Something About Kevin”) I also usually have a non-fiction book on the go as well.  In the beginning of 2012 my friend Desiree posted that she was reading “The American Way of Eating” by Tracie McMillan, and the book seemed perfect for me as a bit of “non-fiction on the side”.

The author is a journalist and took a “year out” to explore the food industry in the US through working in three different but food related jobs: the farms of California as a fruit and vegetable picker; the food section of WalMart as a stockist; and at Applebee’s (a convenience restaurant) as a waitress.  She lived off the wages she earned, exploring the way that the American food system works – from farm to her own table.

The book was a very easy read.  It also was very honest. 

I enjoyed the way the author extensively researched and footnoted throughout the book.  This is not a flippant piece of work – but a very well thought out journey from farm to table – including thoughts on public policy evolution and the agricultural technology revolution. 

In some ways the book was an exploration into the industrialisation of the American food chain – and a way for the author to put across her own view, which is that government outsourcing of food policy to the private sector is and has been a completely inadequate way to manage our food system. 

McMillan ends her book with a cry to action – that the only way to get Americans to care about food is to address society’s income inequality.  She looks to Henry Ford for inspiration on this point, citing that anyone who seriously wants to change what a system needs to do so by appealling to the part of society that struggles the most.  She also draws on her own experiences of living for a year on an income of around $12,000 to support this point throughout the book. Her experiences on living and eating on a low budget are a fundamental part of the book, and are really compelling about the need to create change not only from the top down but the bottom up. 

It is this part of the book – her experiences and challenges of working and living on low wages while trying to keep to a healthy and affordable way of eating AND pay the rent – that really showed me her perspective on what industrialised agriculture has done for America. She does a persuasive job of showing how America is now in general a society which does not challenge convenience, nor one that questions the motives behind convenience nor the consequences on our health. And she shows that for the majority of Americans, especially those on low wages, that even if they challenge the status quo really making change happen just isn’t easy.

If you would like to have my copy of McMillan’s book, let me know.  It is an easy interesting read on America’s food machine, with great footnotes for further reading materials if you are interested in learning more. I am happy to pop the book into the post and send it to you. If more than one person replies that they are interested in reading the book, then at the end of this week (on 14 December) I will just draw a name at random.

Note: No one is sponsoring this giveaway, I just thought it would be nice to pass the book around, and I ask that if you are interested in having me send you the book to read that you also pass it along to another reader, to share some non-fiction love.

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