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Reading Together: 2014 Events and More »

For the first time in its history, Reading Together will feature TWO different titles written by TWO different authors, both of whom are confirmed to come to Kalamazoo in March/April 2014. This year’s theme, in a word, is FOOD, and these are the two titles chosen by the selection committee:

The American Way of Eating:

Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

by Tracie McMillan

When award-winning (and working-class) journalist Tracie McMillan saw foodies swooning over $9 organic tomatoes, she couldn’t help but wonder: What about the rest of us? Why do working Americans eat the way we do? And what can we do to change it? To find out, McMillan went undercover in three jobs that feed America, living and eating off her wages in each. Reporting from California fields, a Walmart produce aisle outside of Detroit, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee’s, McMillan examines the reality of our country’s food industry in this “clear and essential” (The Boston Globe) work of reportage. Chronicling her own experience and that of the Mexican garlic crews, Midwestern produce managers, and Caribbean line cooks with whom she works, McMillan goes beyond the food on her plate to explore the national priorities that put it there.

Fearlessly reported and beautifully written, The American Way of Eating goes beyond statistics and culture wars to deliver a book that is fiercely honest, strikingly intelligent, and compulsively readable. In making the simple case that—city or country, rich or poor—everyone wants good food, McMillan guarantees that talking about dinner will never be the same again.

(Tracie is originally from Michigan and some of her research for this book took place near Kalamazoo.)

About Tracie McMillan

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Tracie McMillan

A working-class transplant from rural Michigan, Brooklyn-based writer Tracie McMillan is the author of the New York Times bestseller, The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. In 2012, Whole Living magazine named her a “Food Visionary,” building on her numerous appearances on radio and television programs, which range from the liberal The Rachel Maddow Show to the “tea-party favorite” Peter Schiff Show. McMillan moved into writing about food after a successful stint as a poverty and welfare reporter while working as the managing editor of the award-winning magazine City Limits in New York City. While there, she won recognition from organizations ranging from the James Beard Foundation to World Hunger Year. In 2013, she was named a Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan, a year after she was named a Senior Fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

Farm City:

The Education of an Urban Farmer

by Novella Carpenter

Urban and rural collide in this wry, inspiring memoir of a woman who turned a vacant lot in downtown Oakland into a thriving farm.

Novella Carpenter loves cities — the culture, the crowds, the energy. At the same time, she can’t shake the fact that she is the daughter of two back-to-the-land hippies who taught her to love nature and eat vegetables. Ambivalent about repeating her parents’ disastrous mistakes, yet drawn to the idea of backyard self-sufficiency, Carpenter decided that it might be possible to have it both ways: a homegrown vegetable plot as well as museums, bars, concerts, and a twenty-four-hour convenience mart mere minutes away. Especially when she moved to a ramshackle house in inner city Oakland and discovered a weed-choked, garbage-strewn abandoned lot next door. She closed her eyes and pictured heirloom tomatoes, a beehive, and a chicken coop.

What started out as a few egg-laying chickens led to turkeys, geese, and ducks. Soon, some rabbits joined the fun, then two three-hundred-pound pigs. And no, these charming and eccentric animals weren’t pets; she was a farmer, not a zookeeper. Novella was raising these animals for dinner.

Novella Carpenter’s corner of downtown Oakland is populated by unforgettable characters. Lana (anal spelled backward, she reminds us) runs a speakeasy across the street and refuses to hurt even a fly, let alone condone raising turkeys for Thanksgiving. Bobby, the homeless man who collects cars and car parts just outside the farm, is an invaluable neighborhood concierge. The turkeys, Harold and Maude, tend to escape on a daily basis to cavort with the prostitutes hanging around just off the highway nearby. Every day on this strange and beautiful farm, urban meets rural in the most surprising ways.

For anyone who has ever grown herbs on their windowsill, tomatoes on their fire escape, or obsessed over the offerings at the local farmers’ market, Carpenter’s story will capture your heart. And if you've ever considered leaving it all behind to become a farmer outside the city limits, or looked at the abandoned lot next door with a gleam in your eye, consider this both a cautionary tale and a full-throated call to action.

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Novella Carpenter

Farm City is an unforgettably charming memoir, full of hilarious moments, fascinating farmers’ tips, and a great deal of heart. It is also a moving meditation on urban life versus the natural world and what we have given up to live the way we do.

About Novella Carpenter

Novella Carpenter is the author of the best-selling memoir, Farm City: the Education of an Urban Farmer, and a how-to book, The Essential Urban Farmer. She studied under Michael Pollan at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and now teaches at University of San Francisco. A popular speaker, she has traveled all over the country sharing her experiences raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, goats, and bees in the lovable but gritty city of Oakland, CA. Her new book, Gone Feral, will be published by The Penguin Press in June 2014.