Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Writing and Writers: Tracie McMillan

Writer’s Block airs every Tuesday, at 9 a.m. MST on KFUN/KLVF, streaming live at

The American Way of Eating: A Writer Becomes An Insider

From Tracie's Website
Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating, is an investigative reporter. That comes across loud and clear in her well-documented tale of the journey food takes from the field to your table. She is a talented writer who makes her experiences come to life with engaging detail mixed in with cold hard facts.

Kirkus Review wrote, (The American Way of Eating is) Full of personal stories of the daily struggle to put food of any kind on the table in todays economy, McMillans book will force readers to question their own methods of purchasing and preparing food. Attentive foodies may already know much of the information, but on the whole, McMillan provides an eye-opening account of the route much of American food takes from the field to the table.

I was by turns disturbed by conditions and incidents described in the book, learned from the data cited, and entertained by Tracie’s writing style. Her dedication to living within the means of whatever job she was in, a facet of her prep work for writing that was part of her research, says a lot about her dedication to getting the story. Tracie is a hard worker, everyone who worked with her over the course of her undercover investigation said so, and nothing informs understanding like living on the limited means of a farm worker, a Wal Mart employee or a kitchen worker at a restaurant. None of these are high paying jobs and managing a budget with limited resources was as much a part of the story Tracie followed in The American Way of Eating as the day-to-day challenges.

She lived for two months at each location, working with people, sharing their meals, learning about their lives and gaining an understanding of what it means to be part of the sometimes flawed machine that delivers food to supermarkets and restaurants and ultimately to our tables.

She dealt with on-the-job injuries, worked with incompetent managers, and learned that in most "super stores" food is treated with the same marketing mentality as toy trucks and batteries. She wrote about the food deserts that exist in large cities, which results in the inner city poor ending up eating whatever can be found in convenience stores (largely high in fat, sugar and salt, and low on nutrition). She became intimately acquainted with the reality of budgeting close to the bone. Through it all she recorded incidents that made dry facts wrenchingly real.

But there is the human side, revealed in the people who made her feel accepted despite being “the only white girl” in fields being harvested by immigrants and undocumented workers; landlords who extended hospitality when the budget was tight and the food pantry was light; co-workers who showed her the ropes and got her out of binds when she stubbornly insisted on powering through.

The American Way of Eating is less about food and more about life and the way most people live it. It is a wake-up call to those of us who assume all is well, when in truth many live in poverty, many work at menial and meaningless jobs and many rely on the generosity of others – inside and outside the system – to survive. The tenacity and empathy of many people Tracie encountered is a touching testament to the human spirit.

I enjoyed the interview with Tracie immensely. She is articulate, engaging and well-informed. Her award-winning articles about food, welfare and poverty have been widely published. For more information about Tracie and to read some of her work, go to

As a writer, I recommend reading this book. It’s good instruction for anyone who wants to learn what it takes to be an investigative journalist. Aside from that, it’s a darned good read. If you want to skip over the footnotes, the reading will go faster, but you will miss a lot of information that expands understanding about the subject matter and its human toll.

Excerpt from Tracie’s website: My name is Tracie McMillan. I live in Brooklyn, but I'm proud to say that I grew up in Michigan, about an hour from one of my favorite cities—Detroit. My dad was a lawnmower salesman and my mom had an English degree, and they moved us to Holly, a rural town outside of Flint, for good schools and open space. I was the oldest of three girls, and helped out at home when my mom fell ill around the time I was 7. The insurance company didn't want to pay for her care, so when she got too ill to live at home, she bounced between institutions that would hold off on charging us until the insurance company settled. She left our home when I was 12; we lost the case with the health insurance company when I was 14; and she died when I was 16.

Take time to read Tracie's bio. It helps to understand the road she has taken in life and the reason she is so good at what she does.

The American Way of Eating is available at Tome on the Range in Las Vegas, NM, in bookstores across the country and at online retailers. 

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