Author Tracie McMillan to discuss food justice at Penn Bookstore

The American Way of Eating

As the movement to embrace fresh, local food grows—championed by companies such as Whole Foods and writers like Michael Pollan—a segment of the population is frequently left behind: members of low-income households who can’t afford to buy organic berries and don’t have the leisure time to raise tomatoes in their backyard gardens.

On Wednesday, March 28, author Tracie McMillan will discuss this inequality from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Penn Bookstore. McMillan, who has written about food and class for a variety of publications, is the author of “The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table.”

The book chronicles a year she spent holding various low-status jobs in the food industry, from picking peaches and garlic alongside migrant workers in California, to working as an expediter in an Applebee’s kitchen in New York. In an attempt to trace the path of the nation’s food system from farm to table, McMillan found herself poor, exhausted and, ironically, sometimes hungry.

The Penn Bookstore is coordinating McMillan’s visit in cooperation with Bon Appétit Management Company, the University’s dining services provider known for its sustainable and socially responsible practices.

Tracie McMillan

Author Tracie McMillan

Her talk falls during National Farmworker Awareness Week, March 25-31, which is intended to highlight the important role of farmworkers in feeding the nation, and underscore the dangers, injustices, and poor conditions that farmworkers can sometimes endure.

McMillian saw these difficult circumstances firsthand, working long hours for little pay and even suffering heat stroke during a peach-sorting shift on a particularly sizzling summer day.

Food justice is of great interest to Mary Summers, a lecturer in Penn’s Political Science Department whose courses focus on the politics of food. She says McMillan can give the inside story on the inner workings of major food conglomerates.

“I think it’s really important for people… to hear what she has to say, and to think about how we can improve the lives of both the consumers and the producers of food in this country,” Summers says.

For more information, visit the Penn Bookstore website.

Originally published on March 22, 2012