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Tracie McMillan concludes her intriguing and bold investigation in a manner parallel to many American celebrations: she takes it to Applebee’s. As one of the largest casual dining chains, not only in the US but, in the entire world, Applebee’s has come to represent something more than being restaurant quality food. McMillan argues, in her final chapters on the work that she does in the culinary establishment, that middle and lower class diners don’t really attend Applebee’s because they think that the food is better than they could have made even themselves. They attend the restaurant because being able to spend four-times their regular dinner budget, whether it be a $20 dinner for two or $70 for a family of four, the ability to go out, sit down, and pay for someone else to do the cooking, serving, and cleaning services of a meal for you represents the American dream in some way. This point she makes is also highlighted in her discussion of the processed and boxed foods for which we have made a staple of our diets (on average in America) versus cooking a meal from scratch in the kitchen. She points out that the true time difference in making a preprepared boxed meal (like Hamburger Helper in the case of her childhood memories) and a home meal from scratch is, on average, no more than about 10 minutes. McMillan also adds that this time difference is mainly due to simple prep work, like slicing and chopping.

The “luxury” of a food that is processed by someone else has been misrepresented in American culture as easier, more time saving, or cheaper than the sum of a grocery-store-purchased-parts meal made from scratch. However, what I took from McMillan’s finale in “The American Way of Eating” is that, what we really purchase these processed and restaurant foods for is self-righteousness. We LOVE taking advantage of the fact that, if just for one night, we can put aside our responsibility as a human to provide ourselves with proper sustenance and have someone else do it for us. The American dream dictates that hard work alone is enough to reward any person with their desires, and that does not exclude their diets. McMillan’s conclusion in the Applebee’s in Brooklyn showed that most mediocre processed and restaurant foods are all about the pride of signing the pay check after a hard earned check.

 

Questions:

 

How have Applebee’s culinary practices changed since the publishing of this book?

 

How can jobs that simply “make ends meet” be adapted so that the worker can enjoy more of their life?

3 Responses to “Why do we really buy processed foods?”

  1. sjksjk says:

    I feel that it is part of the “American Dream” that hard work rewards desires. Food is a desire for many, and some foods are dine-out only (ethnic food, fancy food, or anything prepared in a way that is not possible at home). I don’t think that eating out is all about signing the paycheck. Eating out allows someone to reward themselves with food that is not otherwise attainable.
    Also, the reason for the price being higher than a home-cooked meal includes the atmosphere, the service, and the fact that you do not prepare, cook, or clean up for the meal. Applebee’s, for example, markets its atmosphere more than its actual food. The convenience and experience is part of the price just as much as the food is.

  2. my_nguyen says:

    Yea I agree with the above comment. I don’t think it’s at all about paying someone to serve you but it’s more for self pleasure and reward after a day at work. Even though restaurants serve processed foods that are just like box mixes, I think the difference between eating out and buying box mixes is eating out is more for personal enjoyment and reward after a hard day at work to not have any extra responsibility whereas box mixes, you’re just trying to reduce the amount of work you have to do.
    I think one way to improve worker’s life is to raise wages since with more wages, workers can choose to work less and still earn about the same amount of money and spend that extra time doing whatever else they enjoy.

  3. laurenspiel says:

    I found learning about what goes on at Applebee’s to be so disappointing and disgusting. Maybe I am just a little naive, but when I think of going out to eat I also think of it as a time to enjoy a different type of meal than you’re used to at home, a social gathering or a break from cooking. I think most importantly wages need to be raised. I couldn’t believe that restaurants do things such as change the expiration dates, and microwave up older food. I wonder if the way the workers are treated in these type of places has to do with this lack of care for customers. I think the first issue we need to conquer is raising wages for workers at these type of places, and hopefully by raising wages some other issues will be erased as well.

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