In her landmark book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America published in 2001, journalist Barbara Ehrenreich went undercover working in a series of minimum wage jobs (waitress, nursing-home aide, maid, etc.) to learn what life is like for the “working poor” in America. For most of those thrown off the welfare rolls, women in particular, these were the jobs that were available to teach the former welfare recipients the “dignity” of work. What Ehrenreich found was demanding and exhausting work paying sub-poverty wages so low that workers could scarcely afford to feed and shelter themselves, no job security, no benefits, and no future.
Eleven years later in The American Way Of Eating Tracie McMillan has traced a similar path, only this time exploring the economic and societal implications of how we grow our food, harvest it, ship it, and market it in America. Why do Americans make so many bad food choices? Why do we eat so poorly? What is a “food desert” and why do we have them? The answers reside in the ever more powerful supermarkets with their massive infrastructure and distribution systems which have displaced the local grocers, and with the cookie cutter restaurant chains where the food is not so much cooked as it is assembled from pre-packaged portions which are microwaved and served to a clientele who want a night away from their own kitchens where they, most likely, would have been emptying a salad bag into a bowl while a frozen packaged entree slowly spins in the microwave. Combine that with a populace who increasingly know less about the food they eat and seemingly spend more time watching cooking shows on TV and cooking less because they “don’t have enough time” and we have serious food issues in America.