American way: 'Authorette' gets a boost from unexpected source

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 By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News
 
When researching her New York Times best-selling book, “The American Way of Eating,” Michigan native Tracie McMillan got more than she bargained for along the way. 
 
“I naively believed I’d work undercover and it’d work out fine,” McMillan recalled. “It took about three years and far more personal poverty than I was expecting. I wasn’t open and honest about the fact that I was journalist. I used my real name and Social Security number… I just specifically left out my background as a journalist.” 
 
McMillan, 35, was recently targeted by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh on his nationally syndicated show.
 
Limbaugh stated: “What is it with all of these young single white women? Overeducated doesn’t mean intelligent. For example, (McMillan) seems to be just out of college and already she has been showered with awards, including the 2006 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Social justice journalism. This woman who wrote the book on food inequality, food justice, got an award for social justice journalism.”
 
McMillan was unsure how she drew Limbaugh’s fire. 
 
“I’m certain Rush has staff who read The New York Times, and they keep an eye out for anything they might want to jump on… It’s pretty clear that Rush didn’t read my book; he just read the (review). There’s a line in there that says ‘food’s the essential human need that we left the distribution of to the private sector.’ That’s a flashpoint to somebody like Rush, who’s dedicated to promoting private enterprise as the equivalent of civil liberties and freedom,” said McMillan. “At the end, that’s when he delved into the idea of me being a single white woman, overeducated…and called me an ‘authorette,’ which is really condescending,” she added, laughing. 
 
She continued: “There is something to be said that (Limbaugh) doesn’t have a lot of respect or appreciation for women, particularly working class women. There’s a real sensibility women who aren’t necessarily educated shouldn’t have a lot of say in their lives… ‘Overeducated’ is an interesting word to use. I have sympathy for the fact there are people who have multiple advanced degrees that don’t know what the actual world is like… I put myself through college. Should I not have gone to college? All of that is code for ‘elitist.’”
 
This occurred on the heels of Limbaugh calling Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” on his February 29 show regarding her testimony before House Democrats about the costs of contraceptives.
 
This resulted in a firestorm of controversy. President Barack Obama, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and Republican House Speaker John Boehner all criticized Limbaugh for his remarks, while a number of national advertisers pulled their business from Limbaugh’s show. 
 
“To be honest, it’s incredibly helpful for me to have a national figure people pay attention to talk about my work,” McMillan said. “It was a huge boon to me, but the timing was a little insane because Rush decided to talk about me after (Fluke). He didn’t necessarily help my sales, but I’m pretty sure that the rest of the media jumping on it afterwards was helpful… because I’ve become someone a lot of editors have heard of either directly or indirectly. They might not remember my name, but they’ll remember I’m the ‘overeducated authorette.’”
 
The impetus behind this book occurred eight years ago when McMillan learned there was no public data about how much food was available in neighborhoods. She did the first analysis of food access in New York City in 2004. 
 
“It was really an honor to see that happen… The city has gone on to use the metric I’ve developed in their problem analysis regarding food access. So New York City now tracks food access as one of the metrics about community development and keeping an eye on quality of life in neighborhoods, which is really great,” she said.
 
A sobering experience was working in the fields in California, picking garlic and living in a two-bedroom home with 16 people. 
 
“The idea behind this law is that people will adopt piece rates that reflect the actual productivity of the workforce,” McMillan said. “In practice, it means a lot of farm labor is handled through contractors, so this isn’t the farmer whose stuff you’re buying at the store. This is the agricultural product company who pays the farmer to grow the food and pays a contract to harvest the food. It’s a common practice to take what someone earned from piece rates divided by minimum wage that you get the hours they would’ve worked if they were being paid minimum wage to earn that.”
 
She also worked at a Wal-Mart in Michigan with people around her age whose education extent was high school. 
 
“These were folks a generation ago who could’ve worked in a factory, gotten a union wage, and supported a family. I worked with a single mother of four, who was making $11/hour after seven years on the job. That’s just not a sufficient wage even for one kid,” she said.
 
Even though her pay-rate was maxed out, the woman wasn’t bitter, according to McMillan. It gave her some freedom and stability, so for her it was a good job, stated McMillan. 
 
“At the same time as someone who was raised to believe that America pays it workers well and there’s this upwards mobility… to see evidence of this not really being the case – that was really eye-opening for me. It was hard for me to see,” explained McMillan. “People asked me what job I liked the least and I’d say Wal-Mart. I had a very visceral reaction to it. As a farm worker, there’s no way I can get tricked into believing that could ever be me. But being at Wal-Mart, that was me working alongside people who are exactly where I would’ve been if I didn’t have the opportunity to go on to college. That was really sobering for me.”

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