#AWE a top summer reading pick

11 Jun

If you’re looking for some summer reading, #AWE got a couple nice shout-outs recently:

wow: an awesome press photo #that never happens

17 May

Delighted to win the Food Politics and Environment category at James Beard Journalism Awards 2013. Photo by JuanCarlos-H.

Delighted to win the Food Politics and Environment category at James Beard Journalism Awards 2013. Photo by JuanCarlos-H.

If you follow my Twitter feed @TMMcMillan, you’ll already know that on May 3, I was honored to receive the James Beard Journalism Award for Food Politics and the Environment. The irony of swanning around in a party dress with a champagne flute for writing about farm workers sleeping in the field is not lost on me — and neither is the fact that I should enjoy such things when they come my way. Here’s hoping this means that America, in general, is a little more interested in talking about things like farm labor than before!

 

James Beard Awards: A deep if problematic honor

3 May

Here’s what I”m thinking on my way to the James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards tonight, where The American Way of Eating—as well as a feature I wrote on farm labor contracting for The American Prospect—is up for an award::

(1) Awesome: These nominations suggests that maybe, just maybe, the gamble I took in writing these works is paying off. Maybe this means we’re entering an era where food isn’t just a cultural touchstone, but can yield common ground to build a food system (and world) aimed at helping us all, not just affluent consumers delighting in fine meals. To be given recognition for the kind of work I do suggests that the things that I care about — class and race and improving the world — are becoming part of mainstream thinking. That’s awesome and hugely gratifying and gives me real hope.

(2) Problematic: All awards are a bit onanistic, rewarding inner circles and connections as much as quality work. And the elite food world—as everyone from Anthony Bourdain to Malik Yakini have pointed out—is part of that tradition. Most of the people working in kitchens aren’t white, but the cross-section of people at these awards (at least, the cross-section that showed up the last time I was nominated, in 2006) doesn’t reflect that. Fine cuisine is, by definition, an elite thing; you can bring in all the home-cooked influences and soulful tales of Grandma’s famous casserole you want, but it’s still an insular world. Being offered this kind of award is a nod that says I can join this club if I want; the question I grapple with is whether I do.

I’m thinking a lot about Malik’s comments at the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards last year:

We can’t really talk about food justice unless we have the people who are most impacted by that at the table, so I just want to put that out for you to think about…racism [is] a continuing plague on American society where people with white skin continue to have unearned privilege and continue to have greater access to resources and it creates this inequity in American society and so if we want a just food system we have to begin to find a way to eliminate racism.

In the end, this is all a bit navel-gazey. It’s awesome and amazing and a huge honor to have my work recognized. But I think it’s important to keep my feet on the ground and remember that an award isn’t going to change the world at large. But it does change mine, because instead of writing quietly and smallishly and talking into the great vast dark, I have people’s attention—if only a little bit.

So what do I do now?

 

Nice nod from the New Yorker

23 Mar

A lovely nod this weekend from the New Yorker’s Daniel Fromson, via his recommended readings:

Theft is also a major theme in “As Common As Dirt,” from last September’s American Prospect, a narrative that is worth revisiting in light of its nomination for a James Beard Foundation Journalism Award on Monday. Tracie McMillan, author of the well-received “The American Way of Eating”—a “Nickel and Dimed”-esque account of toiling in a Walmart produce department, an Applebee’s, and the fields of California—returns to the last of these places and introduces readers to the seventy-five-year-old Ignacio Villalobos, who is lovingly sketched down to the plastic bags with which he lines his leaky boots. But it’s McMillan’s willingness to dig into a little-discussed corner of agribusiness, and the straight-talking tone with which she lays out the facts, that makes the piece stand out. The article is about farm-labor contractors, who “give American produce growers what companies like China’s Foxconn offer to Apple: a way to outsource a costly and complicated part of the business”—often at the expense of workers like Mr. Villalobos, who are routinely paid less than what they’ve been promised.

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/03/weekend-reading-tycoons-apartments-california-farm-laborors-malis-struggles.html#ixzz2ONoHpA00

Some great news: #AWE is up for a James Beard

21 Mar

I’m traveling for my fellowship (Istanbul! Pics to come) but wanted to make sure I let everyone know that The American Way of Eating is up for a James Beard Award–as is a feature I wrote on farm labor, “As Common As Dirt,” in The American Prospect In the event that you do not follow the food world, this is a big honor in those parts.

I’ve got enough of a punk in me to still feel conflicted about this; there’s a lot of money and pomp poured into a celebration of the monied and well-connected, and that’s not really my thing.

But here’s what IS cool:
It’s a recognition by somewhat powerful people that there is real value in writing, and thinking, about food as it works in the lives of our poor and working classes. It suggests that maybe, just maybe, there is the inkling of a change in the way we grape with food afoot, And I am all about that.

Many thanks to the endless list of people who’ve supported me in my work. I very literally popular not have done it without you.

Here’s why I’m thrilled #AWE became a Book for a Better Life via @MSSociety. Many thx to @RebeccaLitAgent @ScribnerBooks & more

12 Mar

A very quick note of thanks and appreciation goes out this morning to the National MS Society, Publisher’s Weekly and all the other folks who make the Books for a Better Life Awards Happen. I would have been happy to walk out of last night’s event with my free wine, snacks and talking to good people — and it’s a surprise and honor to have actually won the “Green” category.

When I first heard about the Books for a Better Life Award, I confess that — as an investigative journalist — I was a little leery; they sounded a bit fluffy. But when I really thought about it, I realized that I’m pretty fully on-board.

Most of my work is about looking at how power and class and politics determine people’s lives. In the best scenario, my work helps to improve their lives—make them better. And that’s what Books for a Better Life recognizes: a book’s potential to improve people’s lives. That they picked an investigative book aimed at policy as much as at individual self-improvement is a vote of confidence that I never would have expected, but am certainly happy to have.

There’s also a very personal reason that I was honored to receive the award. In The American Way of Eating, I describe quickly and with little detail that my mother was ill for most of my childhood. I don’t mention it, but her primary affliction was Multiple Sclerosis. I know very well how debilitating that disease can be, and how vital treatment and a cure are for the millions of patients and their families can be. And I also know how important hope and empathy are until that cure arrives.

At the same time, that was such a formative experience for me that I can’t fathom being who I am today without it. And much of what people have appreciated about The American Way of Eating—particularly whatever empathy I show to the people about whom I write, any capacity I have to connect with people, even my semi-self-defeating compulsion to try and fix the world however I can—can all be traced back to having grown up with, and sometimes caring for, a sick parent. As Meredith Vieira said last night at the awards, this isn’t a club I would have volunteered to join.  But it is one that has given me a strangely useful skill set in my chosen trade.

So to have an institution that was founded to cure the disease my mother fought for so long publicly recognize that my book might, in some way, make lives better— well, that’s an interesting bit of life coming full-circle.

 

Also, I do have to thank Susan Molodow and Nan Graham at Scribner, as well as my graceful editor Alexis Gargagliano and tireless publicist Lauren Lavelle, for their support and faith in my work; Rebecca Friedman, my agent, at Hill-Nadel Agency; and a few key supporters, particularly Annia Ciezadlo and Mohamad Bazzi; Oscar Owens and Elissa Berger; Mike Rabinowitz and Elana Karopkin; Camille and Larry Owens; Jessie Doan, and the USDA Food Stamp/SNAP program, all of whom made my work possible in very concrete ways.

 

Great piece from @tomphilpott at @MotherJones on heartland states replacing grassland with cash crops. http://ow.ly/hX82Y

22 Feb
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