Tracie McMillan spent three years gathering evidence for her book, The American Way of Eating.
McMillan vividly described the accounts of her journey of going undercover in three separate jobs across the country to gain insight into the production and sale of food in America.
She worked as an undercover journalist on farms in California, in the grocery department of a Michigan WalMart, and in a New York Applebee’s.
McMillan spent the day on MCCC’s campus on Wednesday, April 15.
She met with students in the afternoon, and concluded her day with a presentation in the Meyer Theater.
McMillan could have taken the easy route and gone to California as a journalist and asked questions to try and get a story, but instead wanted to use her own personal experiences to help convey the message she was trying to get out.
“If I do my job well, I ask questions and then use experiences to answer them,” McMillan said.
McMillan said her two main reasons for writing her book were to have a conversation about the food process, and to get in the mind of someone trying to eat at the bottom of the food chain.
After her speech, McMillan spoke tongue-in-cheek about a potential solution to the national problem of access by the poor to quality food.
“The most brilliant thing in the world would just be if there was a national produce coupon for everybody. And that was just universal; everybody got it; it wasn’t about being poor or not and you could just use it to buy American produce,” McMillan said.
McMillan understands that changing food habits is not easy.
“Changing food habits is difficult and everyone who has ever tried to go on a diet knows this,” she said.
And even with strong will power to change our diets and make the decision to eat nutritious foods, the food industry does not make it easy to make the change.
The problem most Americans face in the grocery store is to buy the food they know is healthy, over the processed food that they already eat.
The decision is made much easier when the processed and unhealthy foods are less expensive.
“The solution is making healthy, good quality food way more affordable and accessible. The only reason crappy food is affordable and accessible is because we’ve moved mountains to make it that way,” McMillan said.
McMillan said she understands that some of the crappy food is really tasty and having it on occasion is alright.
“Doritos are awesome,” she said.
McMillan spoke about CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) programs where an investment is made to a produce farmer at the start of the growing season and in return the investor receives fresh produce for a certain period of time.
McMillan has participated in CSA’s before and does encourage them. But she also understands why people may tend to shy away from these programs.
One of her colleagues, Will Allen, who is an urban farmer from Milwaukee, has conversed with McMillan about CSA’s.
Tracie spoke about some of Allen’s thoughts on the subject.
“On what planet is it appropriate for people to pay for something they may or may not get and that is a huge ask for low income people,” McMillan said.
The process of changing how Americans eat and the way they view foods is an ongoing struggle that will take time. Many people will not understand the importance of good nutrition until it is staring them right in the face.
But McMillan’s words have been read across the nation and she hopes that the impact she has made can help start a healthy eating revolution.
“What I’m really wondering is, if it’s not about the food we eat, but the life we live,” McMillan said.
(Henna Frank also contributed to this story)