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Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America

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Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen's and Fazio's, and his memories of his father's love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative. While he notes that many other writers have co Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen's and Fazio's, and his memories of his father's love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative. While he notes that many other writers have covered the history of the grocery store, the broken industrial food production system, and the nutritional benefits of various foods, Ruhlman delivers -a reported reflection on the grocery store in America,


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Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen's and Fazio's, and his memories of his father's love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative. While he notes that many other writers have co Cookbook author and food writer Ruhlman explores the evolution of the American grocery store and how it has affected what we eat. The author uses two of his Midwestern hometown grocery chains, Heinen's and Fazio's, and his memories of his father's love of food and grocery shopping as the foundation for this engaging narrative. While he notes that many other writers have covered the history of the grocery store, the broken industrial food production system, and the nutritional benefits of various foods, Ruhlman delivers -a reported reflection on the grocery store in America,

30 review for Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra-X Off having adventures

    I read this book in early October. I added it to my shelves, I did the usual notes while reading and updates that passes for a 'review' with me and now it's disappeared. I wonder if it is because I mentioned The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket and how I hadn't really liked the author commenting on what I'd written about it. I read this book in early October. I added it to my shelves, I did the usual notes while reading and updates that passes for a 'review' with me and now it's disappeared. I wonder if it is because I mentioned The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket and how I hadn't really liked the author commenting on what I'd written about it.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    I found this book fascinating; I love a book that gives me new insights into aspects of the world I take for granted, like grocery stores. In fact, maybe I'll make a list of books like this—books such as "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt. I found this book fascinating; I love a book that gives me new insights into aspects of the world I take for granted, like grocery stores. In fact, maybe I'll make a list of books like this—books such as "Traffic" by Tom Vanderbilt.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    A book that should've gotten five stars. I *love* grocery stores. I hoped that this book would give me all the inside scoop, like an expanded New Yorker article. Most of the book, however, is Ruhlman talking about the kinds of food we should be eating. He's a good writer, and his advice is pretty solid, but the grocery store is less of a focus of the book than a vehicle for Ruhlman to tackle his pet food issues. There is very little here, for example, on logistics. Nothing about employee schedulin A book that should've gotten five stars. I *love* grocery stores. I hoped that this book would give me all the inside scoop, like an expanded New Yorker article. Most of the book, however, is Ruhlman talking about the kinds of food we should be eating. He's a good writer, and his advice is pretty solid, but the grocery store is less of a focus of the book than a vehicle for Ruhlman to tackle his pet food issues. There is very little here, for example, on logistics. Nothing about employee scheduling. Nothing about career advancement opportunities, or the (presumably) complex relatinoship between baggers and cashiers. If he's just given the book a more Pollan-esque name I would've been prepared and probably given a proper three or four stars, but the bait-and-switch was too much.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    It's interesting and I'm glad I read it. But the title is not accurate, IMHO. He uses his own favorite grocery store and the small chain it represents as the pivot of good example. It's also a nice to read tribute to his father who loved to shop there. And why. But this particular woman who is writing this review started out her life living behind a Mom & Pop grocery, fruit, necessity vital neighborhood store in Chicago. It was on Wentworth Ave in the 50's South. It's still there but not a store- It's interesting and I'm glad I read it. But the title is not accurate, IMHO. He uses his own favorite grocery store and the small chain it represents as the pivot of good example. It's also a nice to read tribute to his father who loved to shop there. And why. But this particular woman who is writing this review started out her life living behind a Mom & Pop grocery, fruit, necessity vital neighborhood store in Chicago. It was on Wentworth Ave in the 50's South. It's still there but not a store- you can see if from the Dan Ryan Expressway. All that was across the street from the Blue Goose was eminent domained taken and knocked down to build that expressway. The expressway wasn't there when I was there. My earliest memories in my existence all have to do with filling customers' orders. I was my Nana's favorite because I was her youngest and also I could get all the correct cans and bring them to her or refill shelves where they belonged. She could hardly walk by the time I remember her. Most times I did not read as much as I used the pictures on the boxes or cans. But before I was 4 I COULD sound the words out. And I could read all the signage before I went to any school. In my life there was no tv, no flash cards, no one on one attention to me at all- but it was AWESOME for seeing things and knowing what they were. Besides I could wait on the pick and bag candy counter and give the kids a penny extra. And saw all kinds of people and every mode of talking to/with them too. And the SMELLS! You have no idea unless you've ever had a barrel of chitterlings less than 50 feet from where you slept. So reading this book, for me, was a first choice pick. I LOVE grocery stories. Always have and always will. I go to one now at least 5 out of 7 days every week. I'll never shop at one store to the exclusive of others. And rarely shop for any bulk shopping at a store which hold great expanses of prepared foods as their mainstay. (Opposite of many working families, I know.) Because I ate fresh and natural- cooked the most difficult ways in a time sense my entire life? That's only part of it; my taste buds were developed early. And I recognize the differences to the quality/types of what most Americans eat today more easily than most customers too. Some things I know where they come from just by visuals. I always see it (current American diet) laying on the belt for the customer in front of me. Cereals, lots of boxes, tons of cans, much that comes in plastic/ cellophane bags or plastic containers. Frozen prepared- big time on that also. Not only in meat, but in most of the fruits and vegetables absolutely too. Altered, dipped or covered. For instance, I don't think I've ever opened a can of soup to eat in my life. Which is 7 decades of years and most of them feeding between 5 to 10 others for at least 2 meals a day. Starting in my teens and never a pause either. No gap years. LOL! So THIS BOOK! First of all, he and his family were cotton bread eaters and non-food people. His mother never entered a grocery store in her 22 years of marriage. I find this nearly untranslatable to being a food critic or grocery expert, regardless of the practice and research. His affection for his store chain overcomes many of the prime aspects this book should have been equating more evenly. YET- he gives some interesting past cabals about salt, eggs, fat and other "nasty" and bad for you regimes that have reigned. Also the truth of having extremely small profit margins and the changes in massive "one stop to get everything" stores. And what that has meant and caused. I could have helped write this book. Considerably. It would be a bitter task in some ways with all the dreck that people buy routinely that you'd have to get through. But cooking is rarely more than a hobby type occupation now. Not a constant at all, as in my life. Not only making everything from scratch, but also growing most of the plant based that is possible, yourself. I haven't eaten within my home meals- a store bought tomato or pepper or eggplant or squash in years, for instance. And in season also corn, broccoli, onions. It's not easy in our climate. I don't do it myself but have a physical dynamo partner who does far more than his half. But home grown and local grown are best. My Grandfather actually grew figs in Chicago proper. Another whole story. But I grocery shop constantly and never at one store. Not even when I had no time to do so. At times I have shopped at 9 or 10 pm. Where I live, it is possible except for meat or good bakery. So read it, but understand that it is coming from a person who ate green beans and chicken soup with dehydrated onion casserole for dinner with a side of hard cooked chicken breasts. He talks about food deserts and this I have to add. One of the most incredible voids of ghetto living is that they have NO DECENT FOOD STORES. Food stamps and every free stuff avenue under heaven is supplied and no active work. And if a food store opens that is decent, it needs bars on all the windows, and anti-theft tags on every item over $1 in the place. People are shot for a $70 to $200 cash register and the entire place is carried away in under 2 years. It happens over and over and over. Why don't the powers that be organize grocery training and franchise neighborhood watch and operated GROCERY STORES?? They do with the gardens. Which sometimes work if a few people are extremely vigilant to barriers and placements for night security. Once, we had an idea started but it failed for participant slack. But it has to be better than what calories and quality eaten now. Michael Ruhlman in Ohio makes some extremely regional assumptions too that are odd and naive. He has not traveled much. Which I have. And I rent space and I food shop. Rarely do we eat out on vacation. I know, we are odd ducks. Some of the biggest USA cities have the best food, btw. Not only in the USA but also out of it. If you visit, always visit their food market spaces. It can tell you tons about a city too. Seattle's Pike Place Market is awesome. Overall his estimation of Whole Foods, Aldi, Walmart are biased, IMHO. They are his opinion. All stores do some things well and others not as well. But at the rate that people actually cook their own foods, eat well and balanced, and also the time that they are willing to give to chores surrounding foodstuffs? Well, I think until people learn far more about the food they eat and are willing to feed their children prime foods unaltered - that the groceries stores are going to do what sells. Of course it can not be 50% of your income either. Overpricing is ridiculous presently too. The majority of humans do not have $3 just for a head of lettuce, or an avocado at $2 each. They don't. He also doesn't include many nation wide chains beyond Kroger, the old A & P's and ones that have delved into and then left the food end, like the Super K Marts. Or that sometimes the very same chain in CA has completely different "best" departments as the same one in IN. That would be a BOOK. The book is also somewhat outdated too, IMHO. He mentioned piped in music often. We are far beyond that in suburban Chicagoland. Mariano's has a grand piano playing for you LIVE, while you shop. And you can get a city block of cheese choices and samples, the bakery just as long- and the meat case has opportunity for individual cuts after a short wait with a number. Meijer has more quantity of choices than Walmart and is often better priced. Jewels are trying to go the two aisles of "prepared" ready to cook route. Dominicks caved when they tried that. All the individual bakeries by us have closed in the last 10 years. Some Italian specialty and meat only are still open but they are barely hanging. He doesn't give enough space to the family operated and century long stores. Like Walt's or Butera's or some of the Meijer's. They are regional but most of them are mighty. Just like his favorite of Heiman's. Or how the benefits levels have caused some of those to demise quickly. The profit margin in excellent food for lower and middle class buyers is minute. And perishable foods have to have a quick, quick turnover. When it goes to online- grocery shopping? I'd never eat anything that I cook at home without SEEING it before buying it. I'm old enough to assume that I may get by without ever having to do so. If I'm lucky. Food is life. Have you ever read Camilleri? Montalbano could be my food son. So we won't even talk about the fish chapters here. My real life son drives all the way to Western MI every month or two to get the freshly slaughtered 1/2 pig for the smoker roast contraption he made. Food is not tangent to my tribe. Not even among the very pickiest of us. Good book, skewed and not titled properly but he has some great points about placements and what different people believe and choose for "proper" food. And why. Forgot a last tidbit that has mesmerized me for more than a decade and he mentions it here too. WHY OH WHY are the blueberries in MI (when I can pick them myself on top of it) when MI supplies the great majority of blueberries in the USA; WHY are they MORE expensive in MI then they are when I see the same blueberries 3 days later in Chicago at 1/2 the price? Sometimes actually they are even the bigger sized blueberries sent to Chicago? There are some of those aspects to fresh foods that I never will understand. It doesn't make any sense, unless the locale group is protecting their own crops to not over buying/selling in their own district where it is grown. A kind of artificial built in "top down decision" regulated pricing that has nothing to logically do with supply and demand equation to pricing levels? Cabals everywhere. And he doesn't visit sales taxes on food and any other added taxes on foodstuffs enough at all in this book. We have wars going on in IL right now over the just added (last month) beverage/sugar tax that Cook County set down to try to make up its immense budget deficits and make us "healthy" all at the same time. The Will/Cook County divisions and the Dupage/Cook division lines are all further visited now. While the major stores within 2 or 3 miles of them in Cook have empty checkers. Beyond the liquor, cigarette and other added taxes that Cook has instituted, there is a peoples' revolt going on. Every third commercial running on TV is people who are spitting mad or condescending arrogant. Families are going a couple of extra miles to get 30 bottles of flavored water that doesn't even hold any sugar but has had its price doubled by the new tax. (Penny per oz.) It's a circus at times- the grocery store. Read your labels and YOU decide what you will eat. Do not let others make that decision for you.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    Too much time is spent discussing nutrition, and I'm not convinced Ruhlman is objective about what he thinks is best practice. And the focus is on Heinen's to the extent that I almost want to move to Cleveland so I can shop there. I wanted more about what the subtitle promises. Yes, he points out that some ppl buy food at club stores, department stories, drug stores, and gas stations, but doesn't expand. He doesn't realize how fast online grocery buying is growing, doesn't anticipate order online Too much time is spent discussing nutrition, and I'm not convinced Ruhlman is objective about what he thinks is best practice. And the focus is on Heinen's to the extent that I almost want to move to Cleveland so I can shop there. I wanted more about what the subtitle promises. Yes, he points out that some ppl buy food at club stores, department stories, drug stores, and gas stations, but doesn't expand. He doesn't realize how fast online grocery buying is growing, doesn't anticipate order online & pickup at all, and doesn't mention dollar stores either. I do like the 'mythbuster' bit about the layout of a grocery store. No, grocers are *not* more 'devious' than other retailers. And the reason that the milk is in the back is because it needs to be in an easily stocked area where the big machines can keep all the dairy cool. Too bad this was a small bit. He talks about nutritional supplements a lot, 'stripped carbs' and long ingredient lists a little, when he explores 'the center aisles' but doesn't admit that there's a lot of real food there. For example that's where dry beans and canned tomatoes are, good cheap honest food there that he never mentions. The chapter on produce, #16, is interesting. Start there to see if you want to bother with the rest of the book. Book-dart marked passages include: "What to do when there are too many product choices on the store shelves" Consumer Reports March 2014 Salad mix bags are filled with nitrogen. "'Some studies show,' is a catchphrase you should read as 'nobody knows for sure.'" "We'd spend less money on Medicare. It's wrong when an avocado costs $3 and a loaf of Wonder Bread costs 99 cents." Mexico is now ok as a source of produce, and is poised to lead the way in hydroponics, which is poised to lead the way in modern farming (except of course for orchards etc.). Sriracha-honey-lime sauce. Add a little bbq sauce to red pasta sauce. I should try to find a Wegmans to shop at, too. Oh, and if I do go to Cleveland, I want to see the Heinen's downtown, in the old round stained-glass roofed Cleveland Trust bank building. I want to possibly read Building a Housewife's Paradise: Gender, Politics, and American Grocery Stores in the Twentieth Century.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lindsay Nixon

    The title is grossly inaccurate. This book is mostly the author petaling or defending his food choices. Most of which have zero scientific backing... and the comments on vegans are embarrassing (for him). After spewing about how most Americans eat processed food devoid of nutrients he says vegans need be careful to get their nutrients 🙄 BYE FELICIA The whole book shows how much of a wannabe Pollan or Nestle he is, and their books are a better read. That aside, there's little talk about buying or The title is grossly inaccurate. This book is mostly the author petaling or defending his food choices. Most of which have zero scientific backing... and the comments on vegans are embarrassing (for him). After spewing about how most Americans eat processed food devoid of nutrients he says vegans need be careful to get their nutrients 🙄 BYE FELICIA The whole book shows how much of a wannabe Pollan or Nestle he is, and their books are a better read. That aside, there's little talk about buying or selling groceries or the logistics. He does give the history of a Midwest chain grocery store he likes but that's... dribble. It's more like he strung random things he read together and packaged it with policy propaganda and his personal beliefs which are meh

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen R

    Michael Ruhlman has written numerous cookbooks in conjunction with chefs and other non-fiction books related to cooking. Here, he gets into the nitty gritty of the grocery business. Who would have thought this topic could be so fascinating. It was! And eye-opening as well. Ruhlman has done exhaustive research on this transforming industry. He gathers info from many sources; by observing practices, interviewing a wide scope of people - visionaries, owners, buyers, vendors, farmers, nutritionists, Michael Ruhlman has written numerous cookbooks in conjunction with chefs and other non-fiction books related to cooking. Here, he gets into the nitty gritty of the grocery business. Who would have thought this topic could be so fascinating. It was! And eye-opening as well. Ruhlman has done exhaustive research on this transforming industry. He gathers info from many sources; by observing practices, interviewing a wide scope of people - visionaries, owners, buyers, vendors, farmers, nutritionists, the list goes on. His passion for food is obvious and I found his style of writing to be very readable. The book is chock full of good information and advice. Rahman also touches on nutrition in general and trends grocers have to keep up with in order to satisfy customers. Are you attracted to that well-placed package on the shelf marked “low fat”? Have you considered what the replacement is for the fats that are taken out? Food companies are inserting questionable ingredients into products to increase their bottom line and too few people are paying attention. It’s no wonder there are so many health issues. Ruhlman makes clear that people need to take the time to read labels and learn what puzzling ingredients are for the sake of their own health and our country’s growing epidemic of health issues. Luckily, the pendulum appears to be swinging in the right direction - more consumers are making nutritious food choices and the industry is following the trend with healthier organic choices. Via this insightful book, I earned a new respect for my own neighborhood grocery store and the efforts that go into its smooth operation. The book also reaffirmed that my family is doing it right most of the time - going the natural, whole food route, following good practices of reading food labels, buying mostly organic in the “rainbow of color’ produce department and cooking most meals at home so we know exactly what we are eating.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    Quite enjoyable, interesting, with a balanced tone but a tendency toward repetition and confused structure. | It's not easy to write with a conversational feel in a factual book with source citations, but this manages it. I have at times in the past been harsh in my reviews of Ruhlman's books, because he can't seem to keep himself off the page in places he doesn't need to be. Here, finally, he's found a theme and style where his presence in the narrative makes sense and isn't a distraction. I di Quite enjoyable, interesting, with a balanced tone but a tendency toward repetition and confused structure. | It's not easy to write with a conversational feel in a factual book with source citations, but this manages it. I have at times in the past been harsh in my reviews of Ruhlman's books, because he can't seem to keep himself off the page in places he doesn't need to be. Here, finally, he's found a theme and style where his presence in the narrative makes sense and isn't a distraction. I did find myself irritated by some of the points repeated ad nauseam. Constantly it was mentioned that consumers now have many places to buy the same items, when that used not to be the case. Uncountable sentences re-explaining the diversification of product lines. Again and again it was pointed out that Costco, Sam's Club, and Wal-Mart came on the scene offering better prices, and that Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, with their specialty goods, went national. Every single time these things were written as if they'd never been mentioned before. Add in the contradictions--he says Whole Foods sells a version of Froot Loops, which he lists the ingredients for to point out that it's sugar and stripped carbs, and 3 pages later says you can't buy Cap'n Crunch at Whole Foods because the chain offers food that supports health--and I find myself going round in confused circles. There was a lot of meandering, all of it on interesting subjects (I mean, I gave this four stars, so I clearly found it fascinating), but much of it seemingly barely related to what preceded it, and a lot of very suspect ideas were given much page space without being justified by the central idea of the book. An entire chapter is devoted to the opinions of a very negative analyst, presenting them as proven fact, despite their not matching life as I've known it in the four states I've lived in. In the end, I enjoyed the book and was glad to read it, but there was no cohesive thesis behind it, and I found it exceptionally difficult to explain to others just what this book I was reading was about. Appreciation to the publisher for the ARC, which in no way affected the content of my review or the rating.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I completely loved this book. The clincher for me? FOOTNOTES!!!! Also all of the information of food in America, where it comes from, how it's made and how it's sold. As well as how the Standard American Diet truly is SAD and killing us. I love how he got interested in grocery stores through his father and how he honored him in the writing of this book, though the ending made me TEAR UP like nobody's business. That aside, this was an awesome book and I highly recommend it to just about anyone wh I completely loved this book. The clincher for me? FOOTNOTES!!!! Also all of the information of food in America, where it comes from, how it's made and how it's sold. As well as how the Standard American Diet truly is SAD and killing us. I love how he got interested in grocery stores through his father and how he honored him in the writing of this book, though the ending made me TEAR UP like nobody's business. That aside, this was an awesome book and I highly recommend it to just about anyone who eats food in America. We should know where our food comes from and how it affects us once we eat it. My only annoyance was that this book was an ARC, so NO CITATIONS OR NOTES IN THE BACK, but the table of contents says they DO exist, so the finished copy will have that highly desirable section of the book. But the footnotes sated my desire for notes and he was very good about including the book titles and authors he gets the info from, so guess who's Mt. TBR just grew? Really great book, highly recommended. 5, yummy, stars! My thanks to NetGalley and Abrams Press for an eARC copy of this book to read and review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Let's go shopping! There's a few errands to take care of first -- an homage to dad, a quick review of the history of grocery stores -- but then, straight to business. Aisle by aisle, from dried pasta to fresh fish, the way Americans approach food is changing, and Michael Ruhlman's Grocery shows us how, using -- literally -- the neighborhood grocery store, the one just down the block from his childhood home. Ruhlman has a particular passion for food, one inherited from his father -- a man who gen Let's go shopping! There's a few errands to take care of first -- an homage to dad, a quick review of the history of grocery stores -- but then, straight to business. Aisle by aisle, from dried pasta to fresh fish, the way Americans approach food is changing, and Michael Ruhlman's Grocery shows us how, using -- literally -- the neighborhood grocery store, the one just down the block from his childhood home. Ruhlman has a particular passion for food, one inherited from his father -- a man who genuinely looked forward to his weekly run to the grocery, one who kept journals of the meals he'd entertained company with -- and has turned that into a series of books, including one that took him into chef school. Here he's spending his time with the twin brothers who run a series of stores that grew out from their father's, one that has continued to stay on top of modern eating trends. During Ruhlman's childhood, the grocery store was a place where you bought groceries. Wal-Mart changed that, though, when they invaded the grocery market, and other stores like Target followed in their wake. A lot of what a grocery stocks, the stuff in the center aisles, are commodity goods that are the same regardless of where you buy them: a box of Cheerios, say, canned soup, or jar of olives. The quality doesn't change from store to store, and it's hard for a local grocery to compete with prices against the likes of Wal-Mart, let alone Amazon. Their future will lie in offering high-value goods or culinary experiences that can't be thrown on a truck. Although Americans cook increasingly less -- Michael Pollan speculates gloomily that the next generation may view food prep as weird and alien to their life as milking a cow or beheading a chicken --- we're still obsessed with food. Part of this is not a healthy obsession, although "health" is the object: there is an increasing tendency to view food as medicine, buying it based on its advertised health claims rather than its actual quality. Neither Ruhlman nor anyone he interviews are impressed with the USDA's track record in declaring foods as "healthy" or unhealthy, having previously damned eggs and butter to the devil's bin. What most people miss is that no food is "healthy", Ruhlman writes. Food can be nutritious, but it's only part of a healthy lifestyle. Even if the granola bars people are so increasingly fond of were unequivocally good for them -- and they aren't, really, given the amount of sugars packed in as preservative -- people need varied diets and physical activity to be "healthy". Still, what the market demands is what it gets: the Heinen brothers visit organic expos and look for genuinely nutritious snacks they can introduce in their stores, but they're mostly beholden to what people demand...be that Cheerios or free-range lambchops. Happily, the market in general is shifting to favor organics and local produce, so the absence of spring fruit in winter is no longer a deal breaker for people who visit the store. Grocery stores are having to go beyond food, too: the Heinen brothers have long emphasized health in the products they stock, and their most recent store (in a renovated Beaux Arts bank) has a restaurant and bar. This is not not unique to the Heinen brothers, as other chains like Trader Joes have experimented with coffee houses and the like; from the surviving neighborhood grocers to WalMart, prepared food is an increasing part of the grocery store's stock in trade. What is unique to the Heinens is that they have a doctor on staff, one who vets the quality of their produce and health departments, and who gives community seminars about food and wellness. Grocery has a lot of topics thrown in the buggy -- the history of grocery stores, critiques of our modern diet, insight into the marketing and purchase decisions of grocers -- though some of it may be repetitive if you've been reading an author like Michael Pollan. The store he chose has a unique character, and I enjoyed learning about the brothers' business and their attempt to contribute to a fresh food culture in their part of Ohio. Also, I have to be a fan of anyone who takes a beautiful but abandoned building and turns it into a community center, at a big risk to themselves. My only real complaint with the book was the occasional repeating of a really specious claim made by people whom Ruhlman was interviewing. (For instance, that it's possible to taste mountain wind in lamb meat. )

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tom Franklin

    Ruhlman's Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America is part love poem to the Cleveland area-based Heinen's grocery store chain and part memorial to his recently deceased father. Set amongst the characters of the Heinen's chain, Ruhlman's father's death, his own imminent divorce, his love for food, and his fascination with a grocery store chain that does things the way he would do them, his book weaves in and out of the Heinen's aisles and people who provide the produce and meats that en Ruhlman's Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America is part love poem to the Cleveland area-based Heinen's grocery store chain and part memorial to his recently deceased father. Set amongst the characters of the Heinen's chain, Ruhlman's father's death, his own imminent divorce, his love for food, and his fascination with a grocery store chain that does things the way he would do them, his book weaves in and out of the Heinen's aisles and people who provide the produce and meats that encompass the periphery of any good grocery store. (The center aisles being given over to pre-packaged foods) The title of Ruhlman's book is somewhat misleading. Early on he says he's not going to be writing a history of the grocery store. (Others have already done so) Instead, he focuses on the chain he grew up going to and learned to love early on in life. Less than halfway through his book I considered this to be the best advertising campaign Heinen's has ever had; by the end I was convinced that Ruhlman was going to hold the launch party for this book in the Heinen's in the former Cleveland Trust Building -- a renovation at the center of the final, "Where We Are Headed" section of the book. Instead of "The Buying and Selling of Food in America" this is a book about "The Buying and Selling of Food the Heinen's Way." By Ruhlman's account, Heinen's does a lot of things the right way, from the way it treats its own employees to the way it sources the vegetables and meats for a demanding customer base, to the way it prepares and manages the pre-cooked food it offers for people too busy to cook at home. Comparisons are sparse in this book, with the more nationwide Krogers and Whole Food being the major examples of either How Not to Do Things or How to Take Advantage of the Trails Heinen's Has Blazed at a Corporate Level. Ruhlman's book occasionally wanders off in areas that best make sense to Ruhlman. His impending divorce and his recent father's death weigh heavily on his writing at times; he quotes from Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma so often that it became distracting. Much of the book falls into the category of The Cult of Personality (Heinen's own "Doctor Todd" and employees ranging from the co-owner brothers, Tom and Jeff, and numerous Heinen's employees who came from other areas of the food industry to work for a grocer they believed in, to many of the vegetable and meat providers). Here the book is more about people who love food and the production necessary to meet grocery store demands than groceries, per se, as Ruhlman goes into lengthy details about how foods are grown/raised in the best, most sustainable ways. I have no doubt that Heinen's will be proud of Ruhlman's book, as his father would undoubtedly have been. I found it an engaging, if somewhat distracting read that lacked any hint of negatives to what Heinen's does. Ruhlman may have convinced me that I should visit Heinen's if I'm ever in the Cleveland area, but I'm not about to believe the 'characters' in his book walk on water the way they're depicted.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Blakeman

    This is really a 2.5 star review. Some chapters were OK but this was largely a self-serving book. The more accurate title would have been "Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food at Heinen's." I grew up on the west side of the Cleveland media market so I remember Heinen's ads as a child but since we didn't live in a fancy part of the Cleveland suburbs, there was no Heinen's, which makes the point that this store serves a very upscale clientele. As a result the book feels very incomplete in telli This is really a 2.5 star review. Some chapters were OK but this was largely a self-serving book. The more accurate title would have been "Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food at Heinen's." I grew up on the west side of the Cleveland media market so I remember Heinen's ads as a child but since we didn't live in a fancy part of the Cleveland suburbs, there was no Heinen's, which makes the point that this store serves a very upscale clientele. As a result the book feels very incomplete in telling the story of America's grocery buying. As other reviewers have said, there is a lot of rehashing other material (Omnivore's Dilemma for example) so frankly I didn't learn much. This was a wonderful 250+ page ad for a small Cleveland grocery store. However if you want to learn about America's eating habits, find another book. There are many good ones, just not this one.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jena

    This started out strong and had chapters that were really interesting, but it seemed like the author lost steam about halfway through. Then, it became less of what made grocery into what it is and more of an advertisement for Heinen's and a eulogy for his father. The over the top physical descriptions of women and the instance of overt anti-Native American racism were super, super distracting, too. This started out strong and had chapters that were really interesting, but it seemed like the author lost steam about halfway through. Then, it became less of what made grocery into what it is and more of an advertisement for Heinen's and a eulogy for his father. The over the top physical descriptions of women and the instance of overt anti-Native American racism were super, super distracting, too.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Liralen

    Dad and I watched Mom making Julia Child’s recipe, or rather spectated, because she brought the making of béarnaise to the level of entertainment: The more butter, the better, but add too much and the sauce would break, the thick emulsion collapsing into soup; no one understood why. Mom insisted on giving the sauce a sporting chance to break and so always added more butter, to our alarm and excitement. Bam! Gasp! Cooking could be entertainment. (11) Ruhlman’s Grocery explores—you guessed it—a sub Dad and I watched Mom making Julia Child’s recipe, or rather spectated, because she brought the making of béarnaise to the level of entertainment: The more butter, the better, but add too much and the sauce would break, the thick emulsion collapsing into soup; no one understood why. Mom insisted on giving the sauce a sporting chance to break and so always added more butter, to our alarm and excitement. Bam! Gasp! Cooking could be entertainment. (11) Ruhlman’s Grocery explores—you guessed it—a subset of the American grocery store. Ruhlman focuses on ‘small’ groceries, although his definition and mine (and perhaps yours) differ: he’s looking at size from an economic perspective, which is to say that the margins and profits are small even if the company is a chain with many stores spread across a large geographic area. Groceries changed as food supply changed, and it’s that shift that Ruhlman tracks more than, say, the day-to-day work that goes into keeping a grocery running. He’s less interested in operations than discussing what we eat, and what we cook, and what we can’t be fussed with. Take broccoli: A child growing up in the early twentieth century probably didn’t know whether he or she liked broccoli, because it didn’t really exist in America. Thomas Jefferson is said to have brought seeds back from Italy, where it has grown for centuries, and planted them here in 1767. But American farmers didn’t start growing it until the 1920s. And major production didn’t begin until after World War II. Now we each eat on average nearly six pounds of it a year. (206) (Not until the 1920s! But I’m also over here thinking, what? Only six pounds a year?) Some of it I found markedly less interesting. I’ve read enough books that go into the benefit of whole foods, and the rise of process foods, that at this point I’m looking for something new if that’s what a book talks about, and I don’t think this really offers that newness. There’s a very long wander into nutrition and wellness, and it’s fine and all, but it’s not so much about groceries—it’s about telling people what’s good for them. This is not a judgment on what you choose to eat. If you hunger for a cheese product grilled between bread that’s been stripped of its nutrition, along with a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup (made with tomato paste, corn syrup, and potassium chloride), fine. It was one of my favorite childhood meals. Just be aware. Buy fat-free half-and-half if that’s what you like, but know what it is you’re putting into your body (and your children’s bodies) and why. Because, and this is the judgment call, fat isn’t bad, stupid is bad. (103) Take out the second parenthetical there, and I think you can get away with saying that quotation isn’t a judgement, but…but you’d have to take out the second parenthetical. There ends up being quite a lot of opinion in the book and what is and isn’t worth eating, and a deviation into whether or not meat is ethical, which…I don’t know. If even the writer admits that his arguments for eating meat are facile (191), maybe he…shouldn’t be making those arguments? I’m saying this as someone who has been vegetarian for almost the entirety of my life—I don’t know what meat tastes like—and also someone who knows there are more and less ethical ways to consume meat, and that people should make up their own damn minds. But I cannot read I believe existence is an end in itself, and if we didn’t raise pigs and chickens and cows for their meat, eggs, and milk, they would exist, if at all, only in the wild, a more cruel and unforgiving place than a farm or feedlot (191) and take it seriously. Is it really better for chickens to have short lives pressed together in an overcrowded production house than to have short lives out in the wild? (Animals did just fine in the wild before humans entered the picture.) Okay. Rant over. Let’s get to the…meat…of the thing, or at least what could be the meat but wasn’t: impact of gender roles. Ruhlman touches on it, again and again, and then backs off.This was the beginning of a cultural shift, the rise of the working woman, that would help transform our food supply and arguably the quality of the food we served our families. (12)---But Balzer has noticed another major change in his lifetime. “We discovered that men can cook,” he said. And who was promoting this? “Every wife in America was telling her neighbors that nobody can barbecue like her husband. And for only one reason. Then and today, the number one person preparing the food is a woman. And she wants to do one thing, which the ages of humanity were trying to solve, and that is get out of it. So supermarkets come along and say, you know what? We’re going to start preparing food, because we are a food-service operation. “The history of mankind always follows one path when it comes to eating,” Balzer concluded, “and it never deviates from that path. And that’s who’s going to do the cooking. The answer to that now is the same as it was since we began cooking: not me.” Or to repeat his words to Pollan: not going to happen, because we’re cheap and lazy. (91)--- “Right now prepared foods account for 4 to 6 percent of our sales,” Carin told me. “In Chicago, that number is 8 percent. And I expect it will see double-digit growth, which is unheard of in any other department.” “What accounts for the growth?” I asked. “The driving force is women in the workforce and how much time people have,” she said. This seems intuitive, but her second reason for the growth was, to me, ominous. “Also, nobody knows how to cook anymore. It’s mind-boggling. Some women don’t even know how to hold a knife.” “Interesting that you single out women,” I said. “Why is that?” “Because, like it or not, women are still the ones who are mainly responsible for the meals at home.” (232) ---But what of the increasing number of prepared foods? It is surely a good thing, no? A range of nourishing, all-natural, good-for-you dishes that require no more preparation than a frozen dinner. Perfect for the busy dual-income family that has little time to devote to cooking. But it also means we have even less reason to cook. We have no need to share the work of preparing the food because someone else can do it for us. But with work comes a heightened appreciation of that work’s result, so when we bring home prepared food and heat it in the microwave or on the stovetop, there’s no one to thank or be grateful for, there’s no deeper appreciation of the food other than whether it tastes okay, and the house is without the relaxing aromas of food cooking. (251) ---Growing up in the 1970s I ate a lot of green beans, because that’s what Mom cooked while Dad was outside grilling the steaks. (253)I know it wasn’t the point of the book, but I ended up really wishing that Ruhlman had gone deeper into this rather than into what people should and shouldn’t be eating. Because…what I’m seeing is a suggestion that once women had more opportunities in the workforce, they put less time and effort into cooking, and men don’t want to do it either: that it’s a chore. And I’m left wondering: who does Ruhlman think should be responsible for cooking? Is the answer to learn to love it, or learn to get used to it? Why do we so often see cooking as a chore? It’s not a bad thing for anyone to spend a lot of time in the kitchen if cooking is something they enjoy, but it’s also not a bad thing for women to no longer feel pressure to spend so much time cooking for the family. But what then? Ruhlman’s stories from childhood suggest that his father did the shopping (because he enjoyed it) but his mother did the cooking (because it had to be done?), but I’d have liked more. Feels like a can of worms that is opened but not…I don’t know how to finish this analogy. Not fed to the fish? Two tangents, and then I’ll lay this review to rest. First, on store organization and produce: Produce also needs to be near the refrigerated storerooms behind the walls. Not only do half the products need to stay moist and cool, much of the produce must be removed from the bins and shelves after the store closes and properly stored overnight, so the closer they are to the back storage coolers, the more convenient it is. This is why you will never find produce in the center of a store—it would be impractical. (145) I’d actually love to see statistics for this. Ruhlman’s aim is to refute the claim that groceries put produce at the front of the store so that people feel like they’ve started off healthy and thus aren’t bothered by putting processed foods in their baskets later, but it’s pretty anecdotal, and I have some anecdotes of my own: my mother’s favourite independent grocery has produce in the centre of the store. It’s an upscale grocery, probably markedly smaller than the places Ruhlman discusses, and ‘centre store’ there is in fact within easy access of the back storage. The Wal-Mart, of all places, that is near my parents’, also has produce in the middle of the store…and that’s not a small place. Meanwhile, a number of the grocery stores near me in Germany have produce at the back of the store, or tucked away in a corner—just depending, I suppose, on where it made logistical sense. So I’m perfectly happy to believe that ‘produce needs to be near the refrigerated storerooms’—but I’d like a better argument than ‘you’ll never find it in the middle’ when…I can. And I have. And I currently can’t set foot in a grocery without evaluating where the produce is. Lastly: Is this or is this not the most random, amusing flex you have seen in a while? I did see some monster bills when I was bagging—$100, even $500—and I myself have personally spent more than $1,000 during a single grocery store run when cooking for a large group over the course of a week at the Publix in Key West. I once filled four whole shopping carts, twice what my dad would buy in the 1960s to feed a family of three for a week. (245) All in all, it’s well written and clearly a product of passion. Not really what I was hoping for, but then, do you really know what you’re getting into when you pick up a book about grocery stores? I received a free copy of this book via a GR giveaway.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    I saw the author promoting his book on one of the morning news shows and was energized by his passion for food and grocery stores. It turns out this passion was nurtured by his dad who died in 2008 or so. So it’s a labor of love and another son reaching out to his father. Ruhlman is a Cleveland native and we learn all about grocery stores in the context of Cleveland’s local grocer- Heinen’s. These mid size grocers are the ones who drive innovation and change. Big chains like Kroger respond more s I saw the author promoting his book on one of the morning news shows and was energized by his passion for food and grocery stores. It turns out this passion was nurtured by his dad who died in 2008 or so. So it’s a labor of love and another son reaching out to his father. Ruhlman is a Cleveland native and we learn all about grocery stores in the context of Cleveland’s local grocer- Heinen’s. These mid size grocers are the ones who drive innovation and change. Big chains like Kroger respond more slowly to change or sometimes wrongly like A&P according to the author. We also visit trade shows with Heinen buyers as well as roam the range in Idaho with shepherds and Heinen’s CEO. Ruhlman goes department by department within the store. We learn a lot about health and bad food as well as meeting a host of eccentric characters loving what they do each and every day. I’m ready for a visit to Cleveland now.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Riley

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. THE GOOD The book has some good general history and observations like: Grocery shopping can be nostalgic. Remember the times shopping with your family. Consumers tend to throw reason out the window and pick product based on what the easiest to evaluate, not what's most important. We stick to the familiar or go by price because we don't want to deal with so many choices and scrutinize label claims or nutritional information. THE BAD: As much as I wanted to like this book, I just couldn't. While some o THE GOOD The book has some good general history and observations like: Grocery shopping can be nostalgic. Remember the times shopping with your family. Consumers tend to throw reason out the window and pick product based on what the easiest to evaluate, not what's most important. We stick to the familiar or go by price because we don't want to deal with so many choices and scrutinize label claims or nutritional information. THE BAD: As much as I wanted to like this book, I just couldn't. While some of the history at the beginning it quickly transitions into an adventure of ranting regarding what is wrong with food today. If I wanted material on this I would not have picked up a book entitled "Grocery, the buying and selling of food in America". Instead I would have picked up one of the handful of books the author references constantly across chapters.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    4 stars based on 3 stars for chapters that I skimmed and 5 for the ones that totally caught my interest. There were two elements that made me anxious to read this book: one was that I'm a huge fan of Ruhlman's food journalism (SOUL OF A CHEF is at the top of my favorite food/restaurant/chef books), and the other is I love delving into the inner workings of industries, businesses, restaurants, retails stores--heck, I'd even read a book about auto dealerships or realtors if they outlined how everyt 4 stars based on 3 stars for chapters that I skimmed and 5 for the ones that totally caught my interest. There were two elements that made me anxious to read this book: one was that I'm a huge fan of Ruhlman's food journalism (SOUL OF A CHEF is at the top of my favorite food/restaurant/chef books), and the other is I love delving into the inner workings of industries, businesses, restaurants, retails stores--heck, I'd even read a book about auto dealerships or realtors if they outlined how everything in the business works. So I couldn't wait to read more about grocery stores and how they operate. Turns out I was a little disappointed. I still like Ruhlman's style but found some of the chapters less than interesting, although chapters that focused on where produce and meats come from and how they're marketed were informative, as were the chapters on prepared deli foods (who knew they weren't much of a moneymaker?), how new products are found and brought in, and the "healthiness" of many of the foods (and food should be called "nutritious" instead of "healthy"). What fell short (for me anyway) was that the book centered on Heinen's, a family owned store in the east, that is primarily a cross between a supermarket and a Whole Foods, with many specialized and "natural" type of foods (for those of you in Salem, OR, Roth's would be a good comparison, only on a smaller scale), and while he touched on the topic, I wanted more about huge conglomerates such as Safeway, Kroger, et al. Ruhlman also spent a lot of time on the history and development of supermarkets and foods. A phrase that caught my eye was "This is a good rule when evaluating food that is a box or a bag: Read the list of ingredients, and if you can buy each one of them in the grocery store, it's probably real food." So I went to the cereal drawer and looked at the list on two favorites. One said "Contains wheat" and other had a good list until "acacia gum." Hmmmm... Read this if you want to know about grocery stores and where our food comes from, and especially if you are a frequent shopper at Heinen's or similar stores. The footnotes reminded me a bit of Mary Roach's science writing and fans of hers may enjoy the author's research experiences. Thanks to the publisher for the advance digital reading copy.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Betts-Green (Dinosaur in the Library)

    ARC copy from ALA Midwinter--excellent microhistory.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Everyone buys groceries. Everyone should read this book and learn more about their food from someone who knows a helluva lot about it and makes it super approachable and fun at the same time

  20. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    This is much more than a history of the grocery store; it is also a behind-the-scenes look at how a modern grocery store is operated and managed, and the industry’s continuous evolution. Through interviews with the owners of Heinens, a Midwestern grocery chain, we learn about the workings of different departments and even learn the real reason why the dairy and freezer cases are at the rear of the store. (I always thought it was to make me walk past the snack aisle!) There is an entire section on This is much more than a history of the grocery store; it is also a behind-the-scenes look at how a modern grocery store is operated and managed, and the industry’s continuous evolution. Through interviews with the owners of Heinens, a Midwestern grocery chain, we learn about the workings of different departments and even learn the real reason why the dairy and freezer cases are at the rear of the store. (I always thought it was to make me walk past the snack aisle!) There is an entire section on avoiding the center aisles of the store and why you should shop the perimeter. I found it amazing that we are headed towards a society where almost no one cooks anymore. Entire prepared Thanksgiving dinners can be purchased from the local grocery store, something almost unheard of a decade ago. The author’s personal stories and memories combined with his extensive research of the grocery industry make this an interesting and absorbing read. His description of the grocery store in the 1960s brought back my own childhood memories of grocery shopping as a Saturday morning family outing. Audio production . . . The narration was performed by Jonathan Todd Ross in a pleasant, clear voice with smooth pacing. This was an easy-to-follow narrative and a good selection for audio. Non-fiction is a good choice for new audio listeners or for listening in the car as there is no complex plot or characters to remember. I read both print and audio and found my time listening to be a perfect choice for multitasking.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

    3.25 This book was a love song by Ruhlman to his father, and that purpose, woven through this book, was touching and authentic. Ruhlman contrasts eating and shopping habits during his childhood and patterns now, from the perspective of the accomplished chef he has become. There was much interesting info in the book, but I felt a loss of focus in the last half, with many pages devoted to redevelopment of a historical building in Cleveland, a shopping trip with a fish monger, a wine and cheese car 3.25 This book was a love song by Ruhlman to his father, and that purpose, woven through this book, was touching and authentic. Ruhlman contrasts eating and shopping habits during his childhood and patterns now, from the perspective of the accomplished chef he has become. There was much interesting info in the book, but I felt a loss of focus in the last half, with many pages devoted to redevelopment of a historical building in Cleveland, a shopping trip with a fish monger, a wine and cheese car trip, and other stories. I felt bothered by a question whether the book was an advertisement for a family grocery chain in Ohio, which I've never been to or even heard of

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    This is exactly the kind of book I want to read. I love food; I love reading about food. This book made such a pedestrian thing as a grocery store so fascinating and intricate. This book includes a history of the grocery store in America, but it's really about the business of running a grocery store today, how food is sourced, stored, marketed, displayed, sold & eaten. This was really an ode to the grocery store, a celebration of what it does and can provide, and it gave me all sorts of informat This is exactly the kind of book I want to read. I love food; I love reading about food. This book made such a pedestrian thing as a grocery store so fascinating and intricate. This book includes a history of the grocery store in America, but it's really about the business of running a grocery store today, how food is sourced, stored, marketed, displayed, sold & eaten. This was really an ode to the grocery store, a celebration of what it does and can provide, and it gave me all sorts of information I never knew I was dying to know. Great read. And Ruhlman referenced a ton of other food books I now need to read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Damona

    I love food. I love grocery stores. I love food shopping, preparing, and cooking. And I love this book that is about all of these things.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tara L. Campbell

    I used Ruhlman's baking guide book Ratio to get past the hurdle of recipes and move on to a more experimental place based on science and formulas. I adore that book. This book, however, I wanted to chuck against a wall 40% of the time and call the author a pompous, self-important ass. But then I got sucked into the inner workings of supermarkets and how our industrial food system keeps the average person utterly dependent and clueless about where the food comes from. We're essentially hapless id I used Ruhlman's baking guide book Ratio to get past the hurdle of recipes and move on to a more experimental place based on science and formulas. I adore that book. This book, however, I wanted to chuck against a wall 40% of the time and call the author a pompous, self-important ass. But then I got sucked into the inner workings of supermarkets and how our industrial food system keeps the average person utterly dependent and clueless about where the food comes from. We're essentially hapless idiots and are dead the moment disaster strikes. Ruhlman, what are you doing? In the first part you breathlessly wax about the degraded quality of food today and how it even causes *gasp* the autism (insert some pearl clutching here), but then later in the book praise the genius of Temple Grandin's cattle flow system that fixed the problem of panicking steers without ever mentioning that she's autistic, a woman who grew up pre-degraded food era. Food quality does not cause autism, stop encouraging the idea that it's a devastating condition. Please read Neurotribes by Stephen Silberman so you don't look like such a twit. Warning: this guy has it out for the gluten free. He despises "the movement" with a weird passion. The biggest irony of all? I used his other book Ratio to perfect my gluten free baking. Because celiac disease. Y'know, the disease where the only treatment in existence is to not eat any foods containing gluten. I suppose one could have weirder things to rant and hate on, though. Riding the waves of interest mixed with eye rolling, I was hit with bouts of rage. How dare this cis white guy declare that American's don't cook, don't know how to cook, and should get back in the kitchen to cook and save ourselves. First of all, it wasn't Americans who used to cook, it was American women and my grandmother and those before her never had a choice, they were forced to assume that role their entire life, toiling away multiple times a day, day after day, feeding everyone while "men's work" was increasingly reduced by the changing work options and technology. My mother's generation at least had some choice but it was one of work and cook and tend home, or just cook and tend home. Kind of a BS set of options. And while he does acknowledge the fact that cooking *still* falls predominantly to women to take care of today, he glosses over it so fast I had to back up to verify. Nowhere in his multi-chapter diatribe did he even consider the fact that full-time working mothers are also underpaid and overworked in nearly every sector, on top of tasked as the primary parent in child rearing, but boy they should just get back in the kitchen because look at the mess caused by a lack of home cooked meals. Please read Pressure Cooker by Bowen, Brenton, and Elliot to get a clue on this topic. After the faux pas and frustrations were smoothed out with more really good information, the ending came around to a touching conclusion about Ruhlman's father and his love and care for others through food. In this way, I understand some of Ruhlman's blind spots. His dad was the cook, the grocery shopper, the creative feeder of the family rather than dumping it all on his spouse. A rarity in those times. A refreshing end that should have been the setting throughout the book and not just endcaps to a bonkers rant. I recommend the book still for the good parts, but go in prepared to slap some reality down on the table. This guy clearly has blinders on.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trudy Preston

    I gave this terrific book 4 stars only because occasionally the author's writing is opaque and his sentence structure is sometimes convoluted as hell. But he's an excellent researcher and he provides exhaustive information on the evolution of America's eating habits. I didn't read this book because I'm fascinated by grocery stores but rather because I read multiple reviews extolling its virtues and I was definitely rewarded. Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating? One of the points he m I gave this terrific book 4 stars only because occasionally the author's writing is opaque and his sentence structure is sometimes convoluted as hell. But he's an excellent researcher and he provides exhaustive information on the evolution of America's eating habits. I didn't read this book because I'm fascinated by grocery stores but rather because I read multiple reviews extolling its virtues and I was definitely rewarded. Who knew grocery stores could be so fascinating? One of the points he makes early in the book is something that has occurred to me multiple times over the years, as I've walked through a grocery store pushing my cart: does anyone stop to be amazed at the bounty we are offered on a daily basis, 365 days a year? Our ancestors would have been astonished at the depth and breadth of what's on display. Ruhlman recounts how all of this has come about as he provides a brief history of food stores and how they've developed over the years. He touches on many topics --the first true grocery store (A&P), how we perceive food and how it relates to our health, how a grocery store is arranged and why it's arranged that way, and his theories (based on his extensive research) about where we're headed. He does not avoid the negative. He mentions the outrageous inefficiency of our meat-centric diet and his controversial opinion that if you are intent upon eating meat you should be willing -- at least once -- to kill and dress an animal so that you know what's behind your carnivorous practice. And here is what he has to say about our overall food system: ...[America's] ingenuity and commitment to capitalism, combined with the consumer's demand for ever cheaper food, had created a bizarre and dysfunctional...food system, one that seems guaranteed to trash the environment on which everything we eat relies. It pollutes our soil, rivers, and oceans, and at the same time debases the food itself. Most of all, it makes us sick." His lengthy discourse on the presence of sugar in all its forms in nearly all of our processed food has made me once again make sure I have my reading glasses when I shop so that I can carefully read the ingredients. One takeaway for me: don't eat boxed cereal. He also throws in the occasional interesting tidbit. Did you know that Nordstrom has determined what the most flattering color is on most people? Periwinkle. One grocery chain checked that out to decide what color their uniforms should be, but ended up going with the second most flattering color -- blue -- because they thought guys might resist periwinkle. I was also delighted to read that my very most favorite grocery chain in the country, Wegman's, Ruhlman considers to be the best grocery chain in America. All in all this is an excellent book and it has had an effect on my grocery-buying habits and in what I eat as well. Food, Ruhlman tells us isn't "healthy" -- it's nutritious. WE are healthy or we are not and food plays a huge part in why. Highly recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Liz Sawyer

    First I start with the question - do you enjoy nonfiction? If so then keep going. This is definitely a nonfiction book weaved with personal narrative and hands on research/exploring by the author. I really enjoyed his approach and the breadth of information he covered, yet sticking on point. I learned really interesting things about the history & trends within grocery stores, vendors/suppliers, etc. I feel motivated to support stores that are more compatible to my consumer preferences, especiall First I start with the question - do you enjoy nonfiction? If so then keep going. This is definitely a nonfiction book weaved with personal narrative and hands on research/exploring by the author. I really enjoyed his approach and the breadth of information he covered, yet sticking on point. I learned really interesting things about the history & trends within grocery stores, vendors/suppliers, etc. I feel motivated to support stores that are more compatible to my consumer preferences, especially more local small chains. He heavily relies on stories from Heinen's chain in Cleveland. I read Omnivore's Dilemma back when and I liked this book in the sense it motivates you to appreciate where, how & what you are eating in a similar way. A couple quotable items I liked: We can spend our money here (grocery) or we can spend it at the drugstore. Suggested read What to Eat by Marion Nestle - professor of nutrition and food studies at NYU Washington Post reporter Roberto Ferdman confirmed that Frito-Lay uses the same size bag / and charges the same price - for all its potato chips but puts fewer flavored chips in the bags than plain chips..... a reduction of 5 percent could add as much as $80 million to company's bottom line, given the volume of chips sold ($1.6 billion annually) I think stores are going to get smaller Jeff said. If Amazon has its way that stuff in the center of the store will all be delivered to your door. And we'll go back to the old days where it's all specialty stores. We'll be prepared foods and specialty products and everything else will be so commoditized that we won't be able to compete from a price perspective (Dad) carried the deep, intuitive understanding of the power of food to connect people.... a direct channel to the greater pleasures of being alive, and that it could be so only when that food was shared with friends...

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    Grocery does a fair job of describing the ins and outs of the grocery business in the US, at least from the perspective of the small, regional supermarket chain. It provides limited insight into the corner store, except as a historical notion, or into the operation of the national chains, which largely loom as soulless money machines that the plucky regionals stand in counterpoint against. A significant part of the book is preaching on American eating habits, but covers little new ground, repeat Grocery does a fair job of describing the ins and outs of the grocery business in the US, at least from the perspective of the small, regional supermarket chain. It provides limited insight into the corner store, except as a historical notion, or into the operation of the national chains, which largely loom as soulless money machines that the plucky regionals stand in counterpoint against. A significant part of the book is preaching on American eating habits, but covers little new ground, repeatedly referring to Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, and echoing their sentiments. Ruhlman likes his facts and figures, except when science might illuminate his arguments about food, lifestyle, and cooking, where he lets anecdote and "common sense" do the persuading. Most troubling, he talks only briefly about food deserts and similar aspects of the economics of food. He glorifies his local childhood grocery chain, as they heroically plan to lose money by selling $500 wines in a redeveloped downtown landmark building, but doesn't point out that most of the food he wants us to eat and much of the traditional cooking he would like us to do is just not available economically or geographically to large portions of the population. And his local grocers, though they seem to put a strong focus on treating their employees well, aren't doing anything to help those folks who can't get fresh produce, organic or not, by offering lamb raised in a national park to the wealthy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This is the first book I've read by Michael Ruhlman, and it won't be my last. The book is ostensibly about the grocery business but there is so much more to it that contributes to an engrossing enjoyable read. I'll admit to being a small-time foodie; we cook most of our meals at home (even before Covid-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders) and love to experiment with Thai, Indian and Chinese flavors and techniques. Ruhlman focuses on Heinen's grocery stores, a chain of 22 stores in Ohio, but This is the first book I've read by Michael Ruhlman, and it won't be my last. The book is ostensibly about the grocery business but there is so much more to it that contributes to an engrossing enjoyable read. I'll admit to being a small-time foodie; we cook most of our meals at home (even before Covid-19 and the resulting stay-at-home orders) and love to experiment with Thai, Indian and Chinese flavors and techniques. Ruhlman focuses on Heinen's grocery stores, a chain of 22 stores in Ohio, but also compares this smaller operation to mega-chains like Kroger and Ahold. The owners of the store allowed Ruhlman to accompany them on trips to see their suppliers which allowed Ruhlman to really understand the grocery business from the inside, which was fascinating to me. In addition, Ruhlman also brings in his own life experience shopping with his father who was fascinated by grocery stores. This added depth to the story and gave me insight into how Ruhlman perceives grocery stores and what is available to us as consumers.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Becca Smith

    This book could have been easily given four stars with better editing. The main focus was not always about grocery stores, but whatever the author felt like ranting about or his food and ingredient biases. I felt a bit mislead with the title of the book being “Grocery” since that wasn’t always the focus. He also relied on too many other sources instead of his own research, which was limited to just one specific grocery chain in Ohio, and didn’t compare this store’s practices to others, so we are This book could have been easily given four stars with better editing. The main focus was not always about grocery stores, but whatever the author felt like ranting about or his food and ingredient biases. I felt a bit mislead with the title of the book being “Grocery” since that wasn’t always the focus. He also relied on too many other sources instead of his own research, which was limited to just one specific grocery chain in Ohio, and didn’t compare this store’s practices to others, so we are only given a glimpse into how this specific chain operates. Research into other grocery stores, even in the Ohio area, would have given a well rounded perspective into the average grocery store. That being said, I came away from the book with more knowledge about the food going into our stores, the ingredients being used in our food, and how food is sourced to the store. I’d recommend if you were interested in the topic, but also take it with a grain of salt.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nick Spacek

    an excellent view of the history of the grocery industry, as well as a touching personal memoir of ruhlman's father and their relationship with food. the author ties in elements of conservation, organic farming, and the nature of food to neighborhoods to create a book which is both fascinating and entertaining, but also ably demonstrative of the western world's emotional involvement with food. the grocery industry as a whole is also explored, although very specifically tied to one particular chai an excellent view of the history of the grocery industry, as well as a touching personal memoir of ruhlman's father and their relationship with food. the author ties in elements of conservation, organic farming, and the nature of food to neighborhoods to create a book which is both fascinating and entertaining, but also ably demonstrative of the western world's emotional involvement with food. the grocery industry as a whole is also explored, although very specifically tied to one particular chain, but ruhlman's nods to the larger big box stores and the rise of places like whole foods makes for an intriguing read. a deeper exploration of how stores such as costco, sam's club, or aldi affect the shopping habits of american consumers would've made for a better-rounded read, but the specificity of how one chain does things well does such a good job, it's but a mild complaint.

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