Tracie McMillan wanted to find out what happens to food before it reaches the table and how income and lifestyle impact what we eat.
McMillan's book The American Way of Eating is one of this year's selections for the Kalamazoo Public Library's Reading Together Program. McMillan will speak at the Kalamazoo Central High School Wednesday night at 7:00.
McMillan told WMUK correspondent Brian Petersen that she felt that too much of the discussion around food has been about people with extra time and money. McMillan decided to go undercover working three different jobs in the food industry and write about her experience. That took from the farm fields of California to a Walmart in the Kalamazoo area to an Applebee's Restaurant in New York.
Petersen, who is also a professor of Environmental Studies at Western Michigan University, asked McMillan in light of the title of her book what is the "American Way of Eating?" McMillan says it's largely based on convenience and being able to prepare and eat quickly.
McMillan found farm work to be very skilled and physically demanding. The heat and hard work made McMillan sick. She also developed tendonitis in her arm picking garlic. McMillan and the other workers didn't make much money. She says since most of the workers are undocumented, they aren't likely to complain about being paid at a rate below minimum wage.
At a Walmart in the Kalamazoo area, McMillan says she worked the nightshift on the baking aisle. She discovered how much work goes into putting food out for customers. McMillan says her time in the produce department was very enlightening. She says the produce manager was a 20 year old who had previously been managing electronics. McMillan says produce did not get the attention that fresh fruits and vegetables should.
A New York city Applebee's was McMillan's stop to work in a restaurant. She says the cooks at Applebee's know that they really aren't cooking, but for the most part just reheating prepared food. McMillan says there is little fresh produce used.
McMillan says it's easier to eat a "crappy" diet in the United States right now than to eat a healthy one. She says it's possible to eat healthy, but easier and cheaper to eat a diet that's not good for you.