Wednesday November 27th
The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, farm fields and the dinner table. By Tracie McMillan
The Foodosophy Group meets the last Wednesday of most months to discuss books or watch films about food-related aspects of politics, society, culture, philosophy, economics and more. Open to all – see here for more details. Write-up by Rina.
A total of 8 people attended the discussion of November’s book “The American Way Of Eating”, one of us was only able to arrive towards the end but this did not affect the discussion in any way. Thank you all for coming and for bringing such delicious savoury and sweet dishes!
We did not decide on a moderator but the session developed smoothly and well into the content of different chapters. We all shared delicious food and talked briefly about the significance of Thanks Giving and how its celebration has been scrutinised this year due to the*rush for buying* which occurs prior to this celebratory meal.
We had an opportunity to talk about:
· How the author focuses her book in her experiences working both in picking/selection of crops in different farms and her journey from there to working in the catering and retail field. Some felt that Tracie McMillan doesn’t give us enough depth as to how distribution – food from the fields to your table – actually happens.
· We examined how supermarkets bring their stores into affluent middle class towns whilst avoiding poorer suburbs. This reflects (or enforces?) the perception that cooking is a luxury, ‘a snobbish thing to do’ and leaves the problem of food desserts in different parts of the USA.
· Tracie goes on about how people will go to great lengths to find food, how in the absence of supermarkets in food desserts, people manage to find, create and share food supplies.
· We see how Tracie’s contact with the Latin Americans showed her how food was so central to their daily lives and their relationship, and how a good part of their income was spent in food and barely in other commodities such as housing or living standards. We all remember the description of the trailers fruit pickers live in, don’t we?
· We noticed that the role of unions is a bit weak in these farms; they mainly to deal with small issues such as whether people have been paid extra hours but don’t campaign for changes in the system, worker’s security etc. The author reminds us how in the 60’s the farmers placated a protest by threatening pickers with obtaining machines to do the picking and sacking them instead. The voice round quickly in the form of a warning that the same would happen to others if they organised strikes and protests!
· Machinery has been used in some crops – replacing hand labour – since year 2000, increasing productivity and landowners’s profits to much higher percentages. Julian shared a short video which shows a lettuce packing machine. We ruminated on how a combination between the use of machinery and the existing manual care in growing, harvesting and storing products could increase efficient productivity and distribution for CULTIVATE!
· Tracie concludes that *food should be cheaper*, on the basis that other efforts and expensive campaigns based on healthy choices have not succeeded in persuading people to buy fresh food and cook more. Although the author tells us that much of the profit on food goes into marketing and distribution of the food, that lowering prices would not affect the wealthy’s profits, there was not enough information in her book about the logistics of the food distribution process.
· OK, health and environmental scare theories don’t seem to be sufficient to help steer us from junk food. So here is the question we asked: How can we tie the notion of selling cheaper food whilst not exploiting growers and pickers in the land, any more than they already are?