The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket Spiral-Bound | November 9, 2021

Benjamin Lorr

★★★☆☆+ from 1,001 to 10,000 ratings

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"A deeply curious and evenhanded report on our national appetites." --The New York Times

In the tradition of Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma, an extraordinary investigation into the human lives at the heart of the American grocery store

The miracle of the supermarket has never been more apparent. Like the doctors and nurses who care for the sick, suddenly the men and women who stock our shelves and operate our warehouses are understood as 'essential' workers, providing a quality of life we all too easily take for granted. But the sad truth is that the grocery industry has been failing these workers for decades.

In this page-turning expose, author Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on the highly secretive grocery industry. Combining deep sourcing, immersive reporting, and sharp, often laugh-out-loud prose, Lorr leads a wild 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 this journey:

  • We learn the secrets of Trader Joe's success from Trader Joe himself
  • Drive with truckers caught in a job they call "sharecropping on wheels"
  • Break into industrial farms with activists to learn what it takes for a product to earn certification labels like "fair trade" and "free range"
  • Follow entrepreneurs as they fight for shelf space, learning essential tips, tricks, and traps for any new food business
  • Journey with migrants to examine shocking forced labor practices through their eyes

  • The product of five years of research and hundreds of interviews across every level of the business, The Secret Life of Groceries is essential reading for those who want to understand our food system--delivering powerful social commentary on the inherently American quest for more and compassionate insight into the lives that provide it.
    Publisher: Penguin Random House
    Original Binding: Trade Paperback
    Pages: 336 pages
    ISBN-10: 0553459414
    Item Weight: 1.2 lbs
    Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.31 x 8.3 inches
    Customer Reviews: 3 out of 5 stars 1,001 to 10,000 ratings
    "An intense, immersive, humorous, and sometimes shocking portrait of the modern American supermarket." 
    —NPR Shots

    "The Secret Life of Groceries reveals the unsustainable reality of American reader of this ambitious book will enter a store the same."
    San Francisco Chronicle

    The Secret Life of Groceries is a deeply curious and evenhanded report on our national appetites."
    The New York Times

    The Secret Life of Groceries takes us on a tour through the lives that the food system touches so that we have clear eyes about the human and environmental cost of our demands. If we can stomach it."
    The Washington Post

    “Is "literary muck-raking" a genre?  It is now.  This book is at once a satisfying, enjoyable meal and a glass of cold water to the face.  The modern shopper wants groceries that are ethical, sustainable, humane, affordable, fresh, and convenient.  But as Lorr discovers, the costs of our demands are recouped from the bottom of the food chain: debt-ruined truckers, foreign slave labor, and Whole Foods workers in our own communities -- the people whose lives Lorr shared (and sometimes lived) for weeks or months.  Does it sound grim?  It's not!  The Secret Life of Groceries is a terrific read.  The stories flow, and the hard truths are seasoned with wit and hope.  Bottle this man and get him into every home!”
    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
    “A titanic achievement of reportage, insight, humor, and humanity,The Secret Life of Groceries will forever change the way you think about the American food system. Lorr journeys deep into our troubled supply chain with propulsive force and insight and brings us back the goods.”  
    Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams: : A Journey Through the Heart of America's Fast-Food Kingdom
    “Lorr’s frank tone and detailed descriptions carry the reader through the splendor and horrors of your neighborhood retailer.” 
    —Smithsonian Magazine, “In The Secret Life of Groceries, Benjamin Lorr demonstrates through lively and meticulous reporting how much the enthronement of the American consumer has cost workers, from truckers who live on $100 a week to slave laborers who fish the waters off Southeast Asia. With compassion and humor, Lorr introduces us to very real people who constitute that abstraction we call the “supply chain” and challenges us, in a thoughtful and nuanced way, to consider the high price we pay for supermarket bargains.”
    Timothy Noah, author of The Great Divergence: America's Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It

    "This fascinating, deep dive into the American supermarket changed how I thought about grocery stores. Both entertaining and enraging, Benjamin Lorr offers a compassionate indictment of the way we feed ourselves." 
    —Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table

    "With prodigious research and vivid writing, Benjamin Lorr follows our food through a bizarre culture of enslaved fishermen, inventive entrepreneurs, underpaid truckers, exploited store workers, and chains so corrupt that bribes are routinely labeled 'fees.' Don’t read this book if you want to remain complacent about your groceries. If you want to be informed, as you should, this book is a must."
    —David K. Shipler, former New York Times correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of seven books, including The Working Poor: Invisible in America

    "A brain-bending look at how and why these massive stores filled with every type of food are even possible... Check out The Secret Life of Groceries!"
    —NPR Planet Money

    "If you have ever wondered who made that bottle of spicy condiment; who brought it to you; who is behind the wheel of the truck you just overtook that delivered it; who stacked it on the shelf; and how you came to choose it, read this book, because you will learn all those things. If you didn’t think it was possible for a book about groceries to have richness, insight, humor, humanity, and charm all at once, read The Secret Life of Groceries. You’ll never look at a sauce bottle with indifference again."
    —Rose George, author of Ninety Percent of Everything: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry That Puts Clothes on Your Back, Gas in Your Car, and Food on Your Plate

    "I loved this book... How many times have I been in a supermarket? I thought I understood it. But The Secret Life of Groceries taught me that I didn’t know much at all about the way food turns into groceries.  Benjamin Lorr has given us a perfect book - deeply reported, brimming with interesting characters, and written with great style. Read!"
    Caitlin Flanagan, author of To Hell With All That: Loving and Loathing Our Inner Housewife
    BENJAMIN LORR is the author of Hell-Bent, a critically acclaimed exploration of the Bikram Yoga community that first detailed patterns of abuse and sexual misconduct by guru Bikram Choudhury. Lorr is a graduate of Montgomery County public schools and Columbia University. He lives in New York City.