Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on the highly secretive grocery industry. Lorr leads an investigation, asking what does it take to run a supermarket? How does our food get on the shelves? And who suffers for our increasing demands for convenience and efficiency?
In the tradition of literary muckrakers, Benjamin Lorr’s The Secret Life of Groceries exposes the true cost of cheap food. Weaving history, statistics, experiences and interviews, Lorr investigates the sourcing, production, distribution and sales of retail food products. The most compelling chapters focus on the people tethered to an industry that maintains margins of 1.5% as food prices have fallen nearly three-fourths over the past century ... Extensive footnotes with quirky asides, social commentary and resources are a break from so much disturbing and often hilarious information, and the many hard truths are relayed with empathy ... Every grocery store shopper is linked to this chain; no reader of this ambitious book will enter a store the same.
You might imagine that of the five senses, taste and sight would be the most frequently invoked in a book about groceries, but Lorr’s book hits you hardest through the nose .. Lorr, though, is not on an Upton Sinclair quest to nauseate readers into changing their consumption habits. Instead, The Secret Life of Groceries is a deeply curious and evenhanded report on our national appetites ... I started The Secret Life of Groceries expecting that more of it would take place within the four walls of supermarkets. But Lorr’s more far-flung chapters, tracing supply chains and labor practices, yield characters rendered more richly than you often get in the pop-biz genre.
Lorr explores how the food we buy (never mind whether we actually eat it) is a proxy for our values. And as those values turn into personal choices — as well-meaning as they might be — we are complicit in the cruelties of the broader food system ... You won’t soon forget Lorr’s description of the smell he endured while cleaning the fish display cases when he was an employee at Whole Foods, a job he took to research the book ... Lorr balances the doom with a conversational style and occasional dark humor ... casual descriptions are a diversion from the book’s heartbreaking stories but such generalizations compromise the otherwise powerful reporting.