An American Way of Eating

As Americans’ awareness and affinity for healthier food options has grown in the past decade (call it the Michael Pollan effect) author Tracie McMillan began to wonder how, exactly, a low-income family could afford to take part in food revolution if it meant paying $9 for bunch of tomatoes. She asked herself: “What would it take for us all to eat well?” And in her new book, The American Way of Eating, McMillan went undercover, working as a produce stocker at a Detroit Wal-Mart, a kitchen employee at a New York City Applebees, and a farmworker in California, to better understand food policy from the perspective of those who have fewer choices and less access to healthy food.

“The food discussion has mostly been framed by upper middle class folks,” she says. “A lot of the stuff you see come out of the locavore movment is trying to shift culture by making a case for changing it,” essentially telling people that paying more for good food is worth the financial sacrifice. But with low income families making up the fastest growing segment of the population, she argues that we have to find new ways to get people to eat well. Her book, which looks at urban gardening programs in places like Detroit, explores ways that we can incorporate healthy food options for everyone — regardless of economic status.

Shortly after the book came out, McMillan got a gift in form of a 40 minute rant by Rush Limbaugh, who not only read the full New York Times review of the book over the airwaves, but then went on to disassemble her argument that by leaving food distribution to the private market, we’ve allowed neighborhoods to grow without providing enough food options for the people who live there (Limbaugh argued that she was attacking private enterprise). Limbaugh, who was already in the hot seat for his comments about Sandra Fluke, then went on to call her an “authorette” and “overeducated” (she has a Bachelor’s degree from NYU). “Since when is a woman going to college considered overeducated?” McMillan asks.

Lucky for McMillan, Limbaugh’s rant helped push her book out into the spotlight, and it quickly landed on the New York Times best seller list. (Take that.) To hear more about her time picking produce and the ways Americans can better feed our working class, check out her lecture tonight at Boston University at 6 p.m.