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The state of American food

From farm to table, system needs work

By Peggy Hyland

For The Free Lance–Star

IN “The American Way of Eating,” investigative reporter Tracie McMillan explores the lifestyle, history and infrastructure that drive our current food system.  She went undercover and took up the life of the people who put food on our table, living on the basic wages of a farm worker in California, a Walmart employee in Detroit and an Applebee’s employee in

New York.

McMillan is forced to confront hunger, poverty and the realization that, while buying in bulk saves money, planning ahead is a luxury often denied to our working poor.

McMillan highlights the lack of food safety training at each of her jobs.  At Applebee’s, she is instructed to change the expiration date on food to avoid throwing it out.  At Walmart, ventilation systems leak onto fresh produce, items are not stored or rotated properly and hundreds of pounds of vegetables are tossed when they get moldy.  In the fields, a complete disregard for worker safety causes dangerous shortcuts.

She sounds hopeful notes on issues like the growth of community gardens.   Fresh produce and meat are often cheaper at local stores than at Walmart, and an expanded list of fresh foods covered by food stamps has increased access to healthy foods for those who need them the most.

Her conclusion?  “Wages, health care, work hours and kitchen literacy are just as critical to changing our diets as the agriculture we practice or the places at which we shop.”

Peggy Hyland is a freelance writer  in Fredericksburg.


By Tracie McMillan

(Scribner, $25, 336 pp.)


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