Food  
comments_image Comments

What Are We Really Eating? Reporter Goes Undercover to Reveal the Real Story of Our Broken Food System

Tracie McMillan talks about her new book and how she went undercover as a farmhand and worker at Walmart and Applebee's.

Continued from previous page

 
 
Share
 
 
 

There's something really sobering when what you're aspiring to is that if you stick it out at $10, $11, $12 an hour you're going to get a lifetime 10-percent discount card.

KT: Walmart keeps touting its commitment to fresh healthy produce, but in your experience, they treated fresh fruits and vegetables just like any other non-perishable consumer good. Their blasé attitude toward the fresh produce engendered so much waste! How do you square that with their famous obsession for maximizing profit?

TM: I was really shocked to be working at Walmart and to see how inefficient the place I was working was. I have no idea if that department was just an anomaly, or if that's a broader problem.

Randy, the manager, was incredibly young, didn't really know what he was doing, and didn't particularly care. For that, I would fault the store management. It's one thing to be really bad at your job, but why did somebody give you that job?

What was really upsetting to me was that one of my colleagues, I think I call him Sam in the book, who's a black man, he had come to Walmart after the grocery store he worked at closed down. He had been working in produce for five years and knew a lot, so I could ask him anything, like "How do I tell if this is ripe?" Sam had applied for that job and they had given it to Randy instead. I have no idea who on the planet would have picked Randy over Sam, because Sam knew produce, whereas Randy had a background in electronics.

KT: You write, "When cooking instruction is paired with basic nutrition education, Americans cook more and eat more healthfully--even when money is tight." What's your prescription for battling kitchen illiteracy?

TM: Almost everything people are eating at home involves some degree of convenience foods. That kind of thing usually tends to have a lot of salt and preservatives in it. But it's actually no more time-intensive to do a Hamburger Helper kind of thing from scratch, and it's actually cheaper.

The thing that sucks about a box isn't that it's quick--it's that if you don't already know how to cook, you think you can't make a cake without a box. We need to start thinking about cooking as a basic life skill, not something that's optional. Incorporating that into public education to me seems like a smart idea. It can be a really great way to teach people other stuff. It's great for math, right? And for reading comprehension. Or learning to write recipes. It's an important survival skill.

I think one of the things you can support, no matter what your politics are, is that our schools should be teaching our kids how to be self-sufficient, how to take care of themselves and not to have to depend on large institutions. I would include in that not just government but also corporations.

We don't want to be raising kids who depend on corporations to tell them what to eat and how to eat. That's a really important part of American culture. People talk all the time about a nanny state, but there's the corporate nanny, too. And I don't like that either! If we want people to be self-sufficient, cooking and eating is a part of that. So, we need to include cooking as part of public school education. I also understand fully the difficulty of educational reform, but I think it's an important point to start discussing.

Buy a copy of Tracie McMillan's book through our partnership with Powell's Books.

 
See more stories tagged with: