Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Book Review that Could Have Been... ("The American Way of Eating")

Tracie McMillan's recent book, The American Way of Eating, Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table really piqued my interest.  A number of our friends are of the Vegan persuasion, and I was hoping this book might enlighten me on issues along those lines.  Unfortunately, I found myself unable to advance very far before the author's integrity came into question.  Since her book rests so much on this particular trait, it distracted from her message to the point that I had to put the book down unfinished.  

It's a small passage that raised the red flags for me.  It's found on the third page of the Kindle version.  She writes that "in college, I shoplifted spices from an A&P to experiment with Indian curries."  It's mentioned so lightly and casually that the reader takes away the impression that the author does not believe this represents a character flaw at all.  While we may only be talking a misdemeanor here, the author's integrity must be above reproach for the kind of work she's undertaking.  She is trying to persuade by her own account, but how much credence should we give her account if she's an admitted shoplifter?  

Some will say I'm taking this way too seriously, and perhaps they're right.  Before finally settling on my current government career combined with my writing on the side (sometimes I would reverse the order of that little description), I spent years out of college working in security and loss prevention.  One of my last "gigs" was arresting shoplifters at a Nordstrom store located in the Pacific Northwest.  I have to be honest...I don't have any great respect for shoplifters. That's why the author's subsequent arguments were lost on me.  

Admittedly, then, I did not come anywhere close to finishing this book.  Perhaps she addressed it later?  I don't know.  I do know in the limited reading that I did of her book, I was frequently skeptical of a number of her broad assertions as well as the politicization of the highlighted issues.  Why, for example, should food distribution be the responsibility of the government, as she suggests?

All in all, what little I read of the book left me unconvinced and unchanged in my opinions.  It seems that she has taken her tiny bit of direct experience relating to the food industry and made sweeping assertions.  It also appears that she's failed to take into account even regional idiosyncrasies with regards to the food industry.  By her own words, she was not the best at avoiding "preferential treatment," and her admission of shoplifting further tarnishes her honesty and objectivity--in my mind, at least.

This book could have been a lot better at keeping me as a reader, if there had been a bit more objectivity and third party analysis--or some application of science.  It all seems very subjective, and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this is an author with an agenda to push.  The biggest challenge for me, though, remains the shoplifting admission.  Anyone who would so casually mention theft...well, it suggests that it was perhaps not an isolated incident, further impugning her credibility.

As an aside, readers might find the recent news concerning this author and Rush Limbaugh of interest.  It seems that Rush has stepped in it...again.


Applebees sent me the response below concerning Tracie McMillan's account.  

Thank you for contacting us.  In response to the article in question we would like to say that our meals are not pre-made; they are made to order by the kitchen staff at each Applebee's location.  Our vegetables are fresh, our steaks, burgers, and other meats are fresh and cooked to order, and our mashed pico de gallo is made daily, just to give a few examples of the many fresh dishes available at Applebee's...


  1. Don't worry, the entire book is like this. Starting with "my family was blue-collar. Fancy things like preparing our own meals was out of our reach." Spoken like a woman who never noticed that making your own meals is CHEAPER than buying pre-packaged garbage.

    And if that's the basis of her experience, her expertise, and her point of view, you kinda know where she's going from there. Downwards

  2. Thanks... Glad to know I didn't miss much!