The American Way of Eating--Everyone Wants to Eat Well

Produce at Farmer's Market photo, Charles Amundson,

Produce at Farmer's Market photo, Charles Amundson,

I love great food. Last night, I made fresh linguini with organic whole wheat flour and local, free-range eggs, and topped them with from-scratch meatballs made with organic beef, fresh parsley from my garden, fresh Parmesan--you get the idea. And in a few days, I’ll be celebrating a special occasion at one of the finest restaurants in the Northeast, where the produce is local and seasonal and sustainable and where the experience of eating is a little like visiting a museum of fine arts where you get to taste all the masterpieces. And yesterday, I planted the first spring vegetables in my garden. I’m a member of Slow Food USA, for cryin’ out loud.

I’m just waiting for the James Beard foundation to give me a badge for being such a morally superior eater.

Except I’m not. Because while the way I eat is motivated by certain ethical considerations (including but not limited to concern for the health of the environment and that of animals), I’m aware that my way of eating is an almost miraculous privilege. I can eat this way because I happen to live in a place where I can buy eggs from a neighbor and grow vegetables in my backyard. I don’t have much money, but I have the luxury of time to grow my own vegetables, to cook from scratch, and enough wiggle room in the budget to buy 25 pounds of organic flour in bulk (which makes it cheaper) without running out of money before the end of the month.

In a stunning new book, The American Way of Eating,Tracie McMillan goes undercover in farm fields, in the Wal-Mart produce department, and at Applebee’s to explore common assumptions that food-movement types make about the way many Americans eat: that many of us are overweight and unhealthy because we just don’t “care” enough about the quality of our food--with people who are poor “caring” the least. Throughout the book, which chronicles her numerous conversations with low-wage co-workers, McMillan fiercely defends her conviction that everyone--everyone--wants to eat well.