I was enormously lucky to lead a discussion with Ruth Reichl, author and editor, and Dan Barber, chef-owner of the Blue Hill restaurants in New York and author, who came to the 92nd Street Y in New York City to talk about our food. The reason for the event was my new book Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food In America. But the discussion ranged from GMOs and organic food, to big A Ha! moments for both Ruth and Dan, Ruth’s in a small plane filled with the smells of strawberries from Chico farm, Dan’s on a Klaas Martens’s field, which grew cover crops, not wheat. I saved my favorite question from the audience to read last: “Is ice cream always bad for you?”

Yes, ice cream has sugar in it, and sugar seems to be considerably worse for us than we ever expected (but not when you get it in ice cream). Ice cream has fat in it, which people still think is bad for you! How can this be?! I can’t say it loud enough

Fat is good! Fat is flavor! Fat is our friend! We Love Fat!

Fresh milk and cream, eggs, the right amount of sugar. As Ruth said, “How can something like that be bad for you?” It’s bad for you in exact same way lettuce is bad for you. If that is the only thing you ever eat, you’ll get sick.

I address these matters in my book, which looks at how grocery stores got the way they are and at many of the food issues contained therein. I visit farms and food shows. I hang out in grocery stores behind the scenes. I shop with my doctor. And I also throw some memoir in there—my father loved grocery stores.

Media has been excellent so far:

I walked the aisles in New Jersey with Stephanie Strom who wrote about it for The New York Times, and I did the same for radio’s Ari Shapiro on All Things Considered.

Ron Holden wrote about it in Forbes.

My favorite review was from, of all places, Supermarket News—by a guy who’s beat is food retail.

It was nicely reviewed in the Wall Street Journal (though kept behind a paywall if you don’t subscribe).

And most recently, I had a conversation with The Atlantic’s Joe Pinsker about it.

Now as ever, I just want people to think. We’re the only ones who can transform the quality of the food available to us—not nutritionists, not lawmakers, certainly not the food manufacturers. Every time you put a dollar down for a specific item, it’s vote for more exactly like it, whether it’s good or bad.

Think about it.

(Photos by Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography)



5 Wonderful responses to “An Evening with
Ruth and Dan”

  • Judi Charlillo

    Congratulations on your new book! I am looking forward to reading it and gaining insight into the ‘behind the scenes’ workings of the grocery business, especially knowledge gleaned from my favorite grocer, Heinen’s.
    I’m so happy to have a positive light shining on a store like Heinen’s! We are so lucky to have them in the Cleveland area. I’ve been to Wegmans, too, which seems to share the same philosophy. While I realize you only use Heinen’s as a gateway into the subject matter of your book, I’m still pleased to have grocers like them recognized. I’ve shopped at Heinen’s forever and not only is the quality of their products superior to local big chains, but the EMPLOYEES make the trip worthwhile. I’d compare the experience between shopping at Heinen’s vs any other store to the difference between dinner at Luca or Lola’s vs a fast food meal; they will both satisfy your need but the quality and experiences will not compare. We live in Strongsville and except for the Chagrin Falls Heinen’s, I’ve shopped at every other Cleveland area store. I can honestly say that the employees at the Strongsville location go above and beyond for their customers and take such pride in their respective departments. The (former) produce manager knew my whole family by name and when I was ill for a time, she would take my grocery list from my husband and walk up and down the aisles with him to help. Once, a great guy from the deli counter actually took off the shiny metal part of the scale that weighs the meats and held it up like a mirror for me saying, “You’ve got a little something on your face.” When I thanked him, he smiled and said, “Oh, just another fine service provided here by your local Heinen’s store!” The fishmonger is so knowledgeable and proud of the fresh catches flown in and can answer any question. A young male cashier while checking me out, got out his wallet, took out a completed 5% discount/survey receipt, and as my bill was close to $300, insisted I use it to receive the discount. There is no limit to how wonderful they are. I’m sorry your book tour won’t take you to Strongsville.
    When you walk into any local chain store, the food quality/choices pale in comparison. ( I learned from the article on your book that Heinen’s sells Cowgirl Creamery cheese: SCORE! Easier than flying to SF!!) The biggest difference for me is the way I feel walking into Heinen’s compared with any bigger store. Instead of subconsciously tensing up and plowing through the job at hand, I walk into Heinen’s relaxed and eager to see what new item might be in ‘store!’
    Can’t wait to read your newest book ! Thank you 😊

  • Tana Anderson

    Dan Barber and Ruth Reichl and Michael Ruhlman in one room—talking. (All three, heroes of mine, mine, mine!)

    And I live in California.

    Humph. The nerve.

    (Looks great. It was great. I know.)

  • david

    I like to say “it’s not what you eat, it’s what else you eat”

  • Karen Monaghan

    Great evening… I couldn’t think of a question to ask… because I had so many… I would dream to join such a discussion… but was content to watch. P.S. Michael… we thought the ice cream question was because Dan started the discussion sharing his story of bribing his child with ice cream. So from that angle… I’m glad we can still treat it as a treat! Great book… wishing you continued success.

  • Dawn Singh

    Ruhlman and Dan Barber together on stage–wow. Two of my favorites. Just got my copy of “Grocery” and I look forward to jumping in.

    Will this 92Y talk be available on Youtube?