In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store
What does it take to run the American supermarket? How do products get to shelves? Who sets the price? And who suffers the consequences of increased convenience end efficiency? In this alarming exposé, author Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on this highly secretive industry. Combining deep sourcing, immersive reporting, and compulsively readable prose, Lorr leads a wild investigation in which we learn:
• The secrets of Trader Joe’s success from Trader Joe himself
• Why truckers call their job “sharecropping on wheels”
• What it takes for a product to earn certification labels like “organic” and “fair trade”
• The struggles entrepreneurs face as they fight for shelf space, including essential tips, tricks, and traps for any new food business
• The truth behind the alarming slave trade in the shrimp industry
The result is a page-turning portrait of an industry in flux, filled with the passion, ingenuity, and exploitation required to make this everyday miracle continue to function. The product of five years of research and hundreds of interviews across every level of the industry, The Secret Life of Groceries delivers powerful social commentary on the inherently American quest for more and the social costs therein.
Journalist Lorr (Hell-Bent) investigates the production, distribution, sales, and marketing of retail food products in this wide-ranging and acerbic expos . Lorr documents the multiyear process of experimentation, pitch meetings, and negotiations behind new food products, and describes commercial fishing and shrimp farming practices in Thailand, where "NGOs estimate 17 to 60 percent of Thai shrimp includes slave labor... in its supply chain." On a trip with a long-haul trucker, he discovers that the woman's net pay for the previous year was $17,000 (out of $200,000 gross) after the cost of gas, supplies, and insurance were deducted. And working the fish counter at Whole Foods, Lorr learns what it's like to have no job security or set hours. In a brisk yet comprehensive analysis of the history of the American grocery store, Lorr spotlights the advent of packaged food and the reinvention of the traditional model by Trader Joe's owner Joe Coulombe, among other milestones. Lorr's stylistic quirks, including extensive footnotes, overlong sentences, and oddly heightened language (he describes one stage in the processing of chickens as "a moment when industry mimics the god") will be off-putting for some readers, but the depth of his research astonishes. Socially conscious readers will want to take note.
This was terrific
A series of vignettes relating to how we eat in this country…how did items on your grocery store shelf get there, anyway? How were they harvested, chosen, trucked in? This book is endlessly fascinating, partially because the author describes not just products, but people. And…did I mention…the main reason this book works is because the author is a FANTASTIC writer. Your whole experience of walking into a market will be forever changed by reading this book. Go for it.
Engaging, well-written, humorous and thorough - a great read.