If Barbara Ehrenreich’s NICKEL AND DIMED got married to Eric Schlosser’s FAST FOOD NATION and had a baby, their child would be Tracie McMillan’s THE AMERICAN WAY OF EATING. In 2001, Ehrenreich told the story of how she went undercover to join the millions of Americans who work full-time for minimum wage in order to shed light on how the working poor live. In 2002, Schlosser explained how we have become, essentially, the title of his book.
McMillan follows closely on Schlosser’s heels by asking, “What would it take for us all to eat well?” and she pursues this question by working undercover at Walmart, at Applebee’s, and on several California farm fields. Her case studies are compelling and her background research is exhaustive. She makes a strong argument that food is “not a luxury lifestyle product. It is a social good.” My only quibble is that as someone who agrees with her in principle, I’m not sure what I can do in practice. Towards the end of the book, she makes a few modest suggestions about how we might tackle the problems that are causing so many Americans to eat so poorly. But I am left feeling as though someone needs to write more about the SOLUTIONS.
In the meantime, it is intriguing to contemplate the premise that, for example, Cleveland residents “could meet all their produce needs by cultivating vacant land and industrial rooftops,” and Detroit residents could make a large dent.
And now, when I walk around places where I work, like Newark, Trenton, and Jersey City, I see the empty lots a little differently.