Your guide through the sometimes grim channels of the American food system in The Secret Life of Groceries is the perceptive Benjamin Lorr, a writer with a gift for a pungent turn of phrase and a curiosity about how things happen. By the end of the second page of his introduction, you’ll know that the old adage about knowing how sausage is made applies many times over to the way supermarkets function and are supplied.
Fortunately, Lorr is also very much concerned with the human beings enmeshed in the sprawling system. Almost as John McPhee finds a farmer or geologist whose story briefly aligns with his narrative purpose and gives it a sense of scale, Lorr choses people whose experiences make his account vivid and immediate. These include not only the founder of Trader Joe’s but truck drivers and their dispatchers, entrepreneurs trying to get their homemade product adopted by a regional or national chain, near-minimum wage grocery store employees, food safety inspectors, and migrant workers who may for all intents and purposes be enslaved by producers whose only concern is holding down costs.
Fascinating, eye-opening reading.