Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table takes us on a vivid and poignant tour of a place we don’t really want to go: the mostly hidden, sometimes horrible world of the workers who form the backbone of our cheap, industrialized food chain. Sound grim? It is, at times, but McMillan’s lively narrative and evident empathy for the people she encounters make her sojourn into the bowels of Big Food and Big Ag a pleasure to read.
From the fields of California’s Central Valley to the produce aisle of a Michigan Walmart, and lastly, the kitchen of a Brooklyn Applebee’s, McMillan gives a firsthand account of the long hours, lousy wages and difficult conditions that are par for the course in these places. This is tricky terrain for a white, relatively privileged, middle-class American woman, and McMillan navigates it with grace and humility, remaining acutely aware of the pitfalls inherent in such a project.
I sat down with McMillan recently to chat about her populist odyssey and found her to be just as down-to-earth and plucky as her prose. Read more
It’s been a long time since farmers congregated in downtown Manhattan–around 350 years, to be exact. The folks who populate Wall Street and rural America don’t cross paths much these days. It’s easy to forget that Wall Street used to be rural America; in 1644, the area contained so many cows that the Dutch colonists had to erect a cattle guard to keep them from straying. Livestock farmers literally established the boundaries of Wall Street.
Today, the bronze bull–that icon of the OWS movement–is the lone farm animal you’ll find in the financial district. And the barricades are back, but only to keep Zuccotti Park’s mic checkers in check. That surprisingly fertile concrete plaza has yielded a bumper crop of grassroots activists, to the discomfort of (most of) the 1 percent and the shills who bill them. But the voices of farmers–a.k.a. the 1 percent that grows the food that 100 percent of us eat–have been largely missing from this movement to reclaim our democracy, despite the fact that food has become a commodity that enriches a few at the expense of the many. Read more
If we’re such a “family values”-friendly nation, why are we so willing to let our kids be abused for the sake of making money?
According to the allegations in the Penn State scandal, a pedophile was allowed to brutally assault/molest numerous young boys because no one dared to upset the very lucrative apple cart that is college sports.
And now comes word that Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee have torpedoed the USDA’s attempts to reduce the amount of pizza, french fries, and salt that our kids consume at school. Why? Because the frozen pizza companies, the salt industry, and potato growers asked them to. Really. It’s that simple. Read more
Two miles north of Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street‘s encamped, there’s another would-be hotspot of cultural change occupying a more genteel locale: the James Beard Foundation (JBF). Seriously? This epicurean epicenter housed in an elegant West Village brownstone with eternally well-tended window boxes, wants to stir up something more culturally significant than mouth-watering meals curated by celebrity chefs?
Well, yes. And it’s a logical move, if they don’t want to see their legacy (or their democracy) go down the toilet. After all, as Mario Batali once pointed out on CBS Sunday Morning, “When you think about it, all my greatest work is poop, tomorrow.” Read more
Poor Uncle Sam’s got a lot on his plate these days: a curdled economy, an overcooked climate, a soured populace. It’s enough to give a national icon a capital case of indigestion. Anti-government sentiment is running so high that half the country seems ready to swap his stars and stripes for tar and feathers.
Sure, Uncle Sam’s always been kind of a drag, with his stern face and wagging finger. But to “nanny-state” haters, he’s a Beltway busybody in drag, democracy’s Mrs. Doubtfire, a Maryland Mary Poppins. If you believe that government is always the problem, never the solution, then you have no use for, say, more stringent food safety regulations, or Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to combat obesity.
But the new exhibit “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam? The Government’s Effect on the American Diet” at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. offers an intriguing display of documents, posters, photos and other artifacts dating from the Revolutionary War to the late 1900s which serve to remind us that our government has long played a crucial role in determining how safe, nutritious and affordable our food supply is. Read more
If there’s one thing Michelle Obama and Glenn Beck can agree on, it’s the notion that growing some of your own food is a good idea (though I suspect the Obamas get their seeds from sources other than Beck’s shifty, grifty seed bank sponsor).
You might think that level of bipartisan support would light a fire under our collective (gr)ass. But the much-ballyhooed kitchen garden revival has yet to make a dent in the bentgrass. As NASA reported in 2005, lawns now constitute “the single largest irrigated crop in America,” taking up at least three times the acreage we devote to irrigated corn. Has any nation in the history of mankind ever squandered so many resources to cultivate so much vegetation of such dubious value?
Meanwhile, we currently grow less than 2 percent of our own food.
“This,” Michele Owens declares in her just-published Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise, “is not yet enough of a revolution to satisfy me.” Read more
For a self-proclaimed minimalist with a minuscule kitchen, Mark Bittman’s had maximum impact. He’s the digital dervish of the New York Times Dining section: his recipes ricochet around the blogosphere, his cooking videos go viral, he’s constantly tweaking his How To Cook Everything app, he tweets and blogs regularly.
And, he pens op-eds exhorting us to eat less meat and embrace a plant-based diet. So, it wasn’t exactly a shock to hear that the Minimalist is moving on, departing from Dining and bringing his “lessmeatatarian,” ‘go-vegan-till-six’ advocacy to the Times op-ed page. Read more
With a click of her mouse, Kerry Trueman corners Dr. Marion Nestle, NYU professor of nutrition and author of Feed Your Pet Right, Pet Food Politics, What to Eat, Food Politics, and Safe Food
Kerry Trueman: The “agri-culture war” that’s long been simmering is coming to a boil now, as recently noted in The Washington Post, The Daily Dish, and elsewhere in the blogosphere. Read more
American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) is an odorous odyssey through our fouled-up food chain. From farm to market to plate to garbage can, journalist Jonathan Bloom exposes a culture that promotes a grotesque amount of waste. Read more
Does the term “white bread” say “all things ‘burby and bland,” to you? Don’t be fooled by this über-processed slice of whiteness. Beneath its pale golden crust, white bread whispers some dark truths about our values: we cherish convenience and shelf life above taste and texture; cheapness is next to godliness, wellness be damned; and man can always find a way to improve on nature.
Highly refined flour has only the wheat’s starchy endosperm, minus the nutritious–but more perishable–bran and germ. No nutrients? No problem! Just add a bunch of vitamins and minerals at the end of the process. Problem solved.
It’s whole grains that go against the grain in America. Too darned assertive, and so time-consuming to chew! Our allegiance to this Pillsbury-Doughboy-pokable/Play-Doh-pliable product symbolizes, above all, a culture that resists resistance, and has better things to do than chew. Read more