Award-winning journalist Tracie McMillan paid a visit to campus last month to speak about her New York Times best-selling book, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (AWE), which documents her undercover investigation of the flaws of the American food industry.
The text was provided to incoming freshmen as part of the College of Liberal Arts’ Common Ground Reading Initiative, a freshman-year reading program designed to create a community based on a shared reading experience.
McMillan grew up in rural Michigan and graduated magna cum laude from New York University in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. Today she is a Brooklyn-based writer who is passionate about American inequality and food.
“One of the themes that really drives my work is that I want there to be an appreciation and an understanding of what life is like for working-class and lower-income communities,” she said. “A bunch of arguments emerged in relatively mainstream publications during the mid-2000s about how we should just pay for the true cost of food, which is really easy to do if you’re a tenured journalism professor at Berkley or the head of a prestigious restaurant. It is not easy to do if you are a home health aide with two kids.”
McMillan confronts these arguments in her book by questioning our ways of thinking about food—the ways it is made, who gets to eat it, and why.
“Healthy food is necessary for you to have a healthy life, so we need to be thinking about it in those terms, whereas I think the default right now is to think that healthy food is a luxury and it’s something that you can choose if you want and there is no reason to expect that it should be provided. I think that’s a really big problem,” she said. “We have made it cheaper and easier to eat crap than to do anything else. Until we make it cheap and easy to eat healthy food, I don’t think that we can say that it’s a fair choice.”
AWE has been honored with a Sidney Hillman Prize for Book Journalism and a Books for a Better Life Award. The book was a finalist for various honors including the International Association of Culinary Professionals Food Matters award, an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award and a James Beard Journalism Award. The text was also used by Congressional Quarterly to frame that influential publication’s discussion of the 2012 Farm Bill.
To find out more about AWE, visit traciemcmillan.com.