Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating.

Tracie McMillan is the uncommon person who combines long-term, in-depth reporting, elegant writing, and compelling story in The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. (See this superb NYTimes review.) At my request, Tracie wrote this guest post. She has explored our food system from the bottom rungs, as a worker from California to Michigan to New York, so I asked her what’s the most important thing she’s taken away from her reporting and writing this book.  —M.R.

 

By Tracie McMillan

One of the curious things about doing a semi-ridiculous reporting project—say, leaving behind your life to go work undercover as a farm worker, Walmart produce clerk, and Applebee’s kitchen wretch—is that near-strangers confront you with grand, existential queries. Like: What’s the most important thing you learned?

Over three years of research? Well, OK. Here’s the most important, surprising thing I’ve learned reporting, writing, and then selling The American Way of Eating:

Everybody wants good food.

I’ve always suspected that broke people care about food and health just about as much as everyone else. (Mostly, if I’m being honest, that’s because I’m a working-class Flint transplant to New York, well-accustomed to having people sneer at the meals I grew up eating.) Part of the reason I wrote The American Way of Eating, in fact, was to test whether it was true or not—sort of a semi-deranged but good-hearted social science experiment.

The American Way of Eating

Curiously enough, most of the people I met were thinking about their meals as best they could. I lunched alongside farmworkers picking garlic in California fields, single moms stocking produce at Walmart outside of Detroit, and Dominican cooks readying themselves to work the line at an Applebee’s in New York City. I met a Kmart cashier so desperate to afford produce that she drove 25 miles round trip just to get a $20 coupon for farmers’ market produce, and a brownstone pastor who plowed under his Brooklyn back yard to grow vegetables for his food pantry. Most of the time, if people didn’t manage to eat well it was a mix of time, knowledge, price and convenience—as much as physical access to grocery stores—that did them in. I’m not saying access doesn’t matter, just that it’s not a complete and total explanation for poor diet.

But here’s the quiet corollary:

If you want Americans to eat well, just make it easy—as easy as drinking clean water.

We don’t like to admit this, as Americans, but we’re often a lazy bunch. ESPECIALLY when it comes to our meals. For as long as I’ve been alive, anyone trying to change the way we eat has told us to just make it harder: We tell people to pay more money (for quality; for farmers’ sake), to spend more time (drive farther to a different store, spend more time there)—and ignore the landscape that gave rise to their current habits.

But what if we accepted our fate, as “lazy” Americans, and treated healthy, fresh food as if it were necessary for life? What if we treated it like fresh, potable water, and simply made sure that it was affordable and accessible to everyone?

We have not, as a society, built a water system designed to deliver only clean water to the rich but dirty water to the poor. We have not typically told the poor that if they truly cared about the quality of their water, they should obviously drive farther and pay more money for it. And yet, that’s what we say about healthy food.

And, after reporting The American Way of Eating, there’s just the one question I can’t seem to escape: Why?

Other links you may like:

© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.

 

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38 Wonderful responses to “The American Way of Eating”

  • Debbie

    Wonderful post. I am going to immediate get Tracie’s book and read it. Thanks. What to do beyond that to make good food happen for all people? Hopefully, the book will help me figure that out.

  • Tony P

    Here’s something to consider. The price per pound for fresh fruit and vegetables is often LESS than that for proteins like beef, pork, chicken, etc.

    And I don’t buy meat in a grocery store any longer. I patronize the local meat market. It’s always nice to get your steaks cut the way you like, not pre-packed, thin abominations.

    Most of what I get at the grocery store is produce.

  • Andrew

    I wish it were as simple as that. Saying “just make it easy” and actually making it easy are completely different. If you put a farmers market in the parking lot of an urban McDonalds, and sold locally raised ground beef from pastured cows, with local, organic tomatoes, lettuce, and potatoes. and some freshly baked whole grain buns from an artisanal bakery, and made the whole affair government subsidized so that anyone could buy all of the above for the same price as a Big Mac, large fries, and a Coke, how many people would stop to pick up that food and take it home to cook it for themselves? I think most of the people who were willing to step into McDonalds in the first place would still opt for the fast food, price and availability being equal. Even if you cooked it for them on the spot, many would choose the McDonalds because it’s more familiar, more standardized, and because marketing and advertising can be lethally effective. You can improve affordability and accessibility, but you still need to change the mindset of hundreds of millions of people.

    My daughter attends public school in a predominantly affluent suburb, where most families can readily afford to purchase healthy, locally grown food that is in great abundance in this region. Yet almost every child in her class is eating Uncrustables and Doritos or some similarly processed junk for lunch. These are intelligent, well-to-do families that have the means but lack the will to make healthy choices. There are certainly many who would eat better if only it were more accessible and affordable. I feel badly for them. But I am equally, if not more disturbed by those who have the knowledge and the means to make better choices, but lack the will. And as a nation, we collectively suffer the consequences as we become an obese and unhealthy populace that has gone broke trying to use the health care system to manage the effects of those choices.

    That’s one of the reasons I support websites like this one. Anyone encouraging people to cook for themselves is in some way improving the health of our country. When you buy your own ingredients and make your own food, you’re more likely to think about what you’re putting into your body. And when you do that, whether consciously or not, you tend to make healthier choices.

    • Tracie McMillan

      Great points, Andrew. There is absolutely a lot that needs to be done in terms of cultural shifts and education — and, in particularl, n making the point that cooking is an integral part of self-sufficiency. I find it really strange that I hear so many people decry a government-nanny state — and yet are completely comfortable with a corporate-nanny being in charge of most of the food that’s made available to us.

      But a lot of this is about shifting the discussion — and we’ve tended to focus only on how/why people should change their behavior. And they should, but people understandably shut down when someone lectures at them to “just” make a change. It is not easy right now for folks, especially working-class, working-poor and straight-up poor, folks to eat healthfully. So if we want to see Americans eating better (and, in turn, demanding better-quality food, because they come to appreciate it), what’s the most direct route there? We’ve been lecturing at people to eat their veggies the entire time I’ve been alive, and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere.

      I’m really interested in research on behavioral economics indicating that the most effective policies are those that make the best behavior the easiest choice. (That’s the embedded link above.)

      • Irene

        Tracie McMillan
        I find it really strange that I hear so many people decry a government-nanny state — and yet are completely comfortable with a corporate-nanny being in charge of most of the food that’s made available to us.

        Nonsense. Only the government can be a “nanny” in the sense that is commonly talked about as only the government has the means to coerce you to behave in a particular way (do this or you’ll go to jail). McDonalds can’t force you to buy a Big Mac.

        Tracie McMillan
        But a lot of this is about shifting the discussion — and we’ve tended to focus only on how/why people should change their behavior. And they should, but people understandably shut down when someone lectures at them to “just” make a change. It is not easy right now for folks, especially working-class, working-poor and straight-up poor, folks to eat healthfully. So if we want to see Americans eating better (and, in turn, demanding better-quality food, because they come to appreciate it), what’s the most direct route there? We’ve been lecturing at people to eat their veggies the entire time I’ve been alive, and it hasn’t gotten us anywhere.

        Absolutely true. The problem is not education, everyone knows what they *should* be doing.

        If you want to look at a behavioral study directly relevant to food choices made by individuals, take a look at the marshmallow experiments conducted in Stanford.

        Deferred gratification behaviors (the willingness to wait for a reward) in children are a great predictor of future success. The cook versus fast food choice is a perfect example of the delayed vs. instant gratification choice. Those who tend to succeed (the rich, the upper middle class, etc.) are great at practicing delayed gratification in exchange for a benefit (cooking is healthier/ cheaper /tastier), while those who do not succeed are more likely to seek out instant gratification (fast food).

        I don’t know how you address something that seems to be an innate behavior with policy. Policy that exists today seems to only enable this behavior by easing the consequences of engaging in it. We subsidize cheap fast food through farm subsidies, we subsidize instant gratification behaviors through welfare programs, and then we subsidize the cost of the consequences through free healthcare. No I’m not saying the solution is to completely eliminate the aforementioned, but perhaps it is time we start to think about addressing the failures of policy, not with more policy, but with less.

    • DiggingDogFarm

      I totally agree!!!

      It’s been my experience that many folks will refuse free organic food because it requires effort to prepare or isn’t something they prefer!!

      Laziness is the biggest part of the problem!!

      ~Martin

  • bob del Grosso

    I agree Tracie!
    If tomorrow all of the processed convenience foods disappeared and all of the restaurants closed, by Friday evening bookstores will have run out of cook books and from coast to coast the air would be perfumed with the aroma of ‘home-cooked” food. Hunger has a way of motivating even the laziest people to do some crazy things.
    BTW. Your book cover is pretty cool!

    • Andrew

      That may be true, Bob, but the only way either of those things would happen would be via a government-imposed shut down. And while I agree with Tracie that a corporate nanny state is not preferable to a government nanny state (and as anyone who’s ever hired a nanny can tell you, there are good ones and bad ones!), if you leave it all to the government to decide what’s best for us, you get a California-wide foie gras ban and an idiotic Farm Bill. If government should serve to protect us from ourselves, why are they banning foie gras and not McDonalds?

  • Kasha the FarmGirl

    I need this book. Thank you for posting today!

    As a vegetable farmer in NY, I can say that in my 20 years of selling at farmers markets I have seen a steep decline in sales based on 3 things. Every town wants a farmers market (dilutes the customer base). The economy (does that really need explanation?). And the big one? As noted above, Americans are a lazy bunch. More and more farmers markets are boasting large amounts of prepared goods. Why? Because that’s what the consumer wants.

    It’s sad to say that despite education to the contrary, many of us will continue to eat more and more already-prepared and/or processed foods.

    I can’t wait to read this book. Thank yoiu, Tracie.

  • Hugh Anderson

    The question that I always return to during these discussions is: What is healthy? “People should eat healthier.” Okay, but the jury is still out on what exactly constitutes healthy food. A recent meta analysis for example revealed that eating full fat dairy is not associated with obesity or metabolic disease, yet the government has been harping on eating low fat dairy for 30 years now. Other meta analyses cast significant doubt on the so-called common knowledge that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are harmful. Yet low fat dairy, anti-cholesterol, and anti-saturated fat messages are a form of state religion so deeply entrenched that the only solution I can see is to have the government stop telling people what is and is not healthy, period. Science evolves, government bureaucracy is static. So institutionalizing what constitutes healthy is dangerous, more so when the government hands out grants for scientific research and ignores any proposals that question the official party line.

    On the other side of the fence, it is clear that corporate profit-seeking behavior poisons our food supply. They have such an iron grip that they can replace expensive high-quality ingredients with cheap ingredients, all the while infiltrating media and scientific institutions to give the impression that the change is actually healthy. “Eat more soy and soybean oil, it’s good for ya!” Yeah, okay. That’s what Hershey’s said when they went to replace a percentage of cocoa butter in their chocolate with cheaper fats. “It’s healthier and our customers prefer the taste.” And “journalists” dutifully report this as fact – Hershey’s after all can be a significant source of ad revenue.

    Wish I had some answers. My only conclusion is to not trust anyone, especially government, media, food processors, or those with an ideological agenda (vegans especially). They don’t have my best interests at heart and never will.

    • epic

      healthy is easy for the most, plants are healthy in large quantities.. Fish and nuts in smaller quantities…Local sustainable, well raised Cows, Lamb, Chicken and Pigs in limited quantities(less then 5%) and finally refined heavily grains/commodity crops such as Wheat, Corn, Soy and their byproducts should be consumed very rarely if at all…i wish it were more complex, but it is really not…a wide variety of sustainably grown produce is the key to health and staving off a large portion of chronic disease and minimal impact on the environment to boot

  • Dave

    Great post and it looks like you’ve got a must-read book there.

    The only thing I see that will clean up the American diet is to ban stuff in food that isn’t really food but is just in there to make bad food look look better or last longer. If you get rid of all the chemical props that make fast food cheap, there won’t be nearly as much fast food and what’s left will be fresher and better and make it more on par with buying real food.

  • karen downie makley

    I am so interested to read McMillan’s book, especially the part about her stint at Applebee’s. One of my former employers was another big, publicly traded chain restaurant. ZERO snob appeal to work there if you were a foodie or a cook. But I have to say, that kitchen did so many things RIGHT: most of our production was from scratch, and the frequently-visiting big-wigs were a reminder to the staff to maintain the highest standards (else you’d lose your job). Glad to know McMillan also saw some positive things/signs of aspiring to good food quality out there in mainstream USA.

  • mantonat

    There’s no single answer. There are too many variables that have led to the current food system. First, eliminate subsidies to companies producing nutritionally inferior food. Second, get to the children; if they develop and appreciation for good, healthy food over the fat-, salt-, and sugar-laden stuff, then the next generation may be able to create change in the government and private industry. Third, take personal responsibility. Understand that a family budget should be geared more toward health and less toward consumerism. Additionally, demand quality – from our elected officials as well as from the companies we give money to.

  • Natalie Luffer Sztern

    Tracie, you know why, because Food and Celebrity have made this an elitist industry. Those who can’t afford Organic are made to feel they belong to a lower caste of people – money no longer seems to be the barometer in the world of Celebrity Chefs, Restos and writers – it is now the kind, quality and effort one puts into their meals that is the new barometer of success in the Food World. Those that balk at Organic because it is too expensive are scolded because of the insensitivity of what I term ‘ignorance’ in the socio-economic environment we now live in. Kind of like owning a Toyota vs a BMW; which drives best and which is more affordable? So much emphasis on Food has made most people who read about and write about and cook it, a very snobbish group of people concerned with America’s health.
    Absolutely nothing wrong, in my view, of buying a steak in the Grocery on sale for a family to whom a barbecued steak would be served on a very special occasion. Forget about Lobster Season.

  • Regan

    Love the comparison to drinking water! Why can’t the government do more to ensure everyone has access to healthy food? They sure as hell don’t balk at fixing the price of commodities and subsidizing various growers. And to those who say people won’t eat good food if it were more available: I say, it’s worth a try. What have we got to lose?

  • Russ

    I like Tracie’s book a lot and I found her very thoughtful when we did a panel together. However, I’ve gotta say that the drinking water analogy just doesn’t … well, you get it. There is only one kind of drinking water and we only ask one thing of it — that it be clean. Food is more complicated than that. And if you don’t believe that’s true, just wait until you’ve got someone else deciding what is best for you to eat. I’m afraid that the problem, as many of you have alluded to, is that no matter how much you and I believe that cooking is important, worthwhile — and yes, even fun — the vast majority of the public doesn’t. And so any effort to fix that will have to start with forcing people to do something they don’t want to do. Maybe it will be for the better, maybe not.
    Of course, maybe the real solution is just to have a lot of fun cooking great meals and sharing them with our friends and family (and readers) and winning converts by flavor rather than by fiat.

    • epic

      I disagree…cheap, clean food for everyone is easy(in theory) the only complication is political…we have distribution, we have the farms, we have the store fronts all we need is the money diverted from Corn, Soy, Wheat and Canola/Rapeseed and into actual food and the problem will fix itself…look at your typical Super Market foods made with ingredients that are heavily subsidized dominate the Produce section( dairy and meat don’t count they are feed with subsidized crops and dairy is subsidized too on top of that) All you need to do is turn on the money tap and america gets healthy as a result…

  • DiggingDogFarm

    I agree with the fact that people are lazy, there’s no doubt about that.

    But I can’t agree that price and distance are necessarily the reason the poor don’t eat quality food.

    I grow and sell organic produce at prices well below average and it’s made easily accessible to anyone. I have very few customers that are poor, even though the stuff I sell is very affordable!

    Now, this is where it gets real revealing!
    I give away hundreds of pounds of food each year to the disadvantaged, many of them, especially the younger generations, will refuse it because it requires effort to prepare or isn’t something they prefer!

    Another revealing thing is that I see people leaving grocery with carts full Oscar Meyer Lunchables at $2.50 a pop, and other junk, when that same $2.50 would buy 5 lbs. of potatoes at the farm stand just down the road!

    Again. people are lazy!

    ~Martin

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Hugh Anderson
    My only conclusion is to not trust anyone, especially government, media, food processors, or those with an ideological agenda (vegans especially). They don’t have my best interests at heart and never will.

    I totally agree!!

    ~Martin

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Regan
    They sure as hell don’t balk at fixing the price of commodities and subsidizing various growers.

    That’s a big part of the problem, many junk food ingredients are subsidized!

    ~Martin

  • derek

    25 mile drive (let’s say half an hour) for $20 of free stuff is not a very big deal if you believe that she was likely to buy it in the first place. that is maybe $30 an hour once you factor in gas, or about $70,000 annual salary, tax free.

  • allen

    Thank you for a fantastic guest post and another great book to put in my que. Love the cover and your writting.
    I just hope you dont read the cocktail post, such a smart writter. I lower my head in shame and appologize if you do, stay away from the poison if you don’t.

  • KBCraig

    Thanks for the article. We agree on the problem but probably disagree on the acceptable range of solutions (I always see government as the problem, not the solution).

    The links to Michael’s “Too Stupid To Cook” articles reminded me of a pet rant: availability of ingredients.

    Jeff Smith (“The Frugal Gourmet”) was famous for saying “..this is available in any major supermarket in America.”

    I suspect that wasn’t true even in SeaTac or Chicago; although the ingredients he used were available there, they weren’t available in every supermarket, not by a long shot.

    That brings me to Michael Ruhlman’s “Too Stupid To Cook” columns, and the recipes: if a recipe includes shallots, it’s not accessible. If it includes rosemary, thyme, leeks, or any other fresh herb or spice, forget it.

    I’m adventurous hobby cook in a medium metro shopping area (shopping population about 250,000), and finding leeks or shallots, much less fresh (instead of dried) spices and herbs would take many miles and hours just to put together a dish that celebrity chefs, including Ruhlman (who is my favorite!), just assume to be a short shopping trip away.

    Here’s a challenge for you: create a week’s menu using nothing that you can’t find within reasonable walking distance of your home. Assume, ad arguendo, that you’re in Texas in July.

    I’d give it one shopping trip before your list of ingredients is reduced to iodized table salt, black pepper in a rectangular tin, and perhaps a plastic shaker of lemon pepper.

    There’s nothing wrong with, “A chicken, an onion, and some salt and pepper”. If you’re trying to reach those who don’t cook, then don’t drive them away with ridiculous ingredients like shallots, leeks, and fresh herbs.

    • allen

      Acceptable substitutions are always available. If I need buttermilk and don’t have any I’ll make my own with vinegar and milk, or lemon juice and milk, any acid and dairy, or just some yogurt. There’s always something in the fridge that I can find to prevent a trip to the store.
      Non iodized salt is available everywhere, even in remote locations.
      Shallots? I use a sweet onion if I don’t have any, or just sweeten the onion you have, carmelize or add a little rice wine vinegar and salt. All recipes are just approximations of something, not an exact science.
      I still laugh at a trip I made to Wal Mart in the boonies trying to find leeks and no one knowing what the hell they were at the register; “price check on isle 2″. “What are they”? , “leeks” I said, “never heard of ‘em, let me see if I can find someone that knows how much they cost” tic tok…tik tok… “grrrrr”!
      Now I’ll just use some other form of the onion/garlic family if I don’t have any on hand, maybe add some carrots to sweeten it up. It will work out and you won’t hurt a thing if your somewhat close.

    • mantonat

      Seriously? Shallots, fresh herbs, and leeks are ridiculous ingredients? Rosemary grows in the ditches in many of the southwestern states. Shallots are just like little onions – I’ve never been in a grocery store that doesn’t carry them. Many culinary herbs can be grown on a window sill more cheaply than buying them cut and packaged. You can buy a seed packet in a hardware store for less money than a pack of fresh herbs in a grocery store. You can use old, chipped coffee mugs as pots. You can scoop some dirt from just about anywhere if you can’t buy a small bag of potting soil. Leeks are a little harder to come by, but part of that is because they are seasonal and don’t store as well as onions, garlic, or shallots. It wasn’t so long ago that leeks were a staple in American cooking.

      In terms of teaching people to enjoy cooking, demonstrating creativity in the kitchen will go farther than wowing them with ridiculous ingredients (real or perceived). If people are being taught to rigorously adhere to every step and ingredient in a recipe, they aren’t really learning how to cook, they are just learning how to follow directions. Good cookbooks and teachers will allow for flexibility and will explain similarities so that people can experiment on their own or substitute unavailable ingredients.

  • Jean | Delightful Repast

    Tracie and Michael, how did something so simple get so complicated? “Food” has turned into “The Food System” and every simple solution I can think of ends up being very complicated. Your line, “… the most effective policies are those that make the best behavior the easiest choice,” jumped out at me. I’d like to see that happen.

  • ChrissyV

    Fresh herbs? Sure! Do you have a sunny window to grow some basil? With a porch or deck you can have a nice garden just growing stuff in pots.

  • Carly

    Agree with some of the other commenters here that access is one thing, but prep is another… I know some of the food banks I’ve volunteered for have a hard time giving away produce because people don’t know what to do with it. Some of them have then spent time typing up easy meal ideas and recipes, and then it’s a time issue, or in some cases even access to a kitchen with working appliances.

    That said, I appreciate that this is but one brief post, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the book.

  • Laura

    Agree with so many of the points especially about personal responsibility and I would add victim mentality. But I also think that people who feel like second class citizens because they “can’t” afford good food are dooming themselves. There is usually a way.

    In fact I recently read that for the price of one meal for 4 at Mc D’s you could buy produce and meat and make one meal for the same 4 plus a couple of other meals from the leftovers done a different way for the same price or less. For example soup one night and risotto the next.

    Seriously, the way I see it learning to cook is what needs to be mandatory. Much of the rest will follow, the will to cook, the palate to eat better tasting food, the knowledge of healthier choices, and the support for good ingredients grown by smaller farmers rather than huge corps.

  • David

    this is a great article:
    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/05/a-high-price-for-healthy-food/
    “Energy-dense munchies cost on average $1.76 per 1,000 calories, compared with $18.16 per 1,000 calories for low-energy but nutritious foods …… Although people don’t knowingly shop for calories per se, the data show that it’s easier for low-income people to sustain themselves on junk food rather than fruits and vegetables ….. Based on his findings, a 2,000-calorie diet would cost just $3.52 a day if it consisted of junk food, compared with $36.32 a day for a diet of low-energy dense foods. However, most people eat a mix of foods. The average American spends about $7 a day on food, although low-income people spend about $4 …. “

    • derek

      Agreed with DiggingDogFarm. The people who did that study cited in NYT have apparently never heard of dried beans or grains, not to mention frozen vegetables.

  • DiggingDogFarm

    Here’s an article on a more thorough study that came to the opposite conclusion.
    Healthy food no more costly than junk food, government finds……
    “Previous research has just looked at price per calories and found that healthy foods are more expensive, but Carlson says price per calorie isn’t a fair measure. For example, non-fat milk has a higher price per calorie than 2% milk but most health experts recommend drinking non-fat or 1% milk, she says. “Whole milk and skim milk are about the same price per gallon at the grocery store.”
    Another example: a half cup of broccoli has 27 calories while a one-ounce bag of potato chips has 154 calories. To consume 100 calories of broccoli, you’d have to eat almost two cups and that’s more than what most people normally eat in one sitting, she says.”
    http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/story/2012-05-17/healthy-food-cost-USDA/55018070/1

  • Jon

    Let’s see… open fewer containers, chop a bit of this, heat some of that, walk a little each day, and have some quiet time for ourselves. Seemingly, these would be a good sensible start in the right direction towards better health. Unfortunately, we are, in the aggregate, a lazy lot, as Tracie deftly points out. As one from the South, I am likely spoiled as to availability of fresh produce. Certainly, their are the mega-stores offering varying degrees of ‘fresh’ produce, but the South, in particular, and America, at large, is blessed with ubiquitous farmer’s market’s and roadside stands. As ya’ll know, in the South, farmer’s markets are surpassed only by quilt sales and flea markets! Seemingly, the availability of food in the ‘land of plenty’ is not an issue unless one is destitute, in which case, everything is an issue. Adding that food is thrown out each day, I say we should put that food to good use brother! Fortunately, good effort is expended towards that very cause.

    Since I tend to believe the vast majority of us live with a reasonable distance to a mega-store, or fresh market, or what-have-you, I wonder if preparing food daily is the crux of the good tasting and healthy food issue. Convenience surely plays a part, but it is our own choice as to whether we stop at a drive-thru, order out, or cook at home. Some posting here indicate difficulty finding quality food produce. Poppy-cock! Must we cook like Eric Ripert with a mise-en-place suitable for Le Bernardin? Must our raw foods be of impeccable quality else we decry what are palate must endure? Of course not. But, if so, we are missing the point of MR’s blog.

    Yes, I tend to think MR would disagree with this perfection mentality that all must be of the best quality at home or forget the experience and exposure. Further, I am pretty sure MR would agree that a bruise or two here and a bit dry there will not spoil the party if properly prepped prior to cooking at home. High end has its place, no doubt, but only a professional chefs should aspire to consistently put out professional quality dishes… and that’s only at work. Stereo-typically, Italians get this instinctively! Wonderful food can be had with what is at hand. I mention MR here as this is his blog spot and MR seems (if I’m understanding correctly) to have this perspective on food and cooking. I invite Michael to correct me if I’m wrong with the above, but I doubt I am.

    A bit lazy are we? Yes. A bit stuck on ourselves? Perhaps. What is interesting to me here is the correlation that exists between Tracie’s premise concerning food, laziness, and in the larger sense, America’s health habits, and that of MR’s blog spot position. I believe that correlation to be…

    “America’s composite health picture would change if we could get more folks into the kitchen to prepare simple foods.”

    To me this is ‘exactly’ what Michael’s blog is about; that of exposing folks to the enjoyment of the most basic of human needs in a way that will hopefully encourage one to start with basic foods and techniques, sans high-end expectations, and enjoy the experience just enough to do it again and again. I also believe that is the exact prescription to preclude laziness in the kitchen and the ills of convenience. Enjoy.

  • james

    I’m just going to throw out something here and then duck and run. Nobody’s considering attitudes towards the concept of time here. Back when I was studying anthropology, I decided I wanted to study nutrition. I can tell you one thing. Poor folks who spend $3.99 a pound on breaded industrial crap food chicken parts rumored to stay crispy in the microwave have an entirely different way of looking at time than anyone reading this site does. Ask them why they don’t buy a whole chicken (at that time 69 cents a pound on sale, now way more due to commodity contracts that can’t be sold short, so always increase in price), season it and bake it for 45 minutes in an oven with some potatoes. Well, they’ll tell you they don’t have 45 minutes. Of course, you tell them they don’t have to actually DO anything for 45 minutes, that the food ACTUALLY COOKS ITSELF and they can watch Judge Judy spew her drivel for a half hour and MIRACULOUSLY they’ll have food they can love afterwords and they’ll look at you like you were from a different planet.

    Try it. It’s nuts.To us. To the initiated.

  • Epicuranoid

    Realizing I am a little late to the party — summer in Maine is short so I don’t keep up so well on my blog reading — I agree totally with the ‘make it easy’ concept. When teaching managers how to manage I always tell them to make procedures that are easier to do right than to do wrong.

    Lately however, I have been looking at the concept of ‘lazy’. Maybe we are lazy as a society, but I think what superficially looks lazy, for a society or for an individual, turns out to be more a lack of motivation upon a closer look. We are a very productive society, but not properly motivated, perhaps that is “why”?

    This does look like a great book, I look forward to reading it.

  • Matt

    Folks, be careful…the author of this book is of the exact same cloth as those that banned foie gras in CA. Just a railing against capitalism and an argument for a greater nanny state. Questions her motives, research, and specific targets…

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