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Publisher's Summary

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 American supermarket is an everyday miracle. But what does it take to run one? What are the inner workings of product delivery and distribution? Who sets the price? And who suffers for the convenience and efficiency we’ve come to expect? In this rollicking exposé, author Benjamin Lorr pulls back the curtain on this highly secretive industry. Combining deep sourcing, immersive reporting, and compulsively listenable prose, Lorr leads a wild investigation to:

  • 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 “rain forest friendly” and “fair trade”;
  • 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 result is a compelling portrait of an industry in flux, filled with the passion, ingenuity, and inequity required to make this piece of the American dream run. The product of five years of research and hundreds of interviews across every level of the industry, The Secret Life of Groceries is essential listening 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.

©2020 Benjamin Lorr (P)2020 Blackstone Publishing

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What listeners say about The Secret Life of Groceries

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Weirdly terrifying....

a book I couldn’t stop listening to yet dreaded to press play, but couldn’t help myself. I HAD to hear more...revealing the terror of our everyday grocery experience. Moving

3 people found this helpful

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wish it was required reading

In the midst of plenty, you'd think our food supply wouldn't need to be exploitative. This book does a beautiful job of telling the stories of our food supply chain. It's not a radical animal activist telling. He investigates that point of view, but doesn't exactly take their side. It seemed like a fair depiction. However, the stories he tells from the top to the bottom of the supply chain need to be heard. He paints wonderful pictures of amazing (ordinary) people, and he tells the story of a system that will give you pause. It's not all bad, but there are problems with how we get food. I think we all know it deep down, but this book starts to shine a light on it. I understand not wanting to look or feeling overwhelmed, but seeing there are problems is the only way to start fixing them.

3 people found this helpful

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an intellectual, moralistic read....

This was not as I expected. it delved into corporate beginnings and current corporate structure of Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. Perhaps I wasn't looking for slave labor and food farm stories akin to THE JUNGLE. I liked the possibility of knowing why grocery stores placed and purchased for customers but had precious little of that. it was more of a "see how terribly sourced this food is" review of ghastly conditions and space labor. the reader was the author and he was speedy. His writing is beautifully intelligent in vocabulary, analogies, historic reference and description

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Very Interesting Story; Performance Could be Better

A very interesting story. I thought it would be “light” listening in these difficult times, and in many aspects it was. In many it wasn’t. Be ready to rethink your relationship with seafood. The performance wasn’t the greatest. I love listening to the author reading their work, but this could use some help in editing. Many times he ran one chapter or subsection into the next without even a breath never mind a pause, somewhat disconcerting to have subject matter change without knowing he’s on to another chapter. Well worth listening to.

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Engaging and wide-ranging exploration of our food

A comprehensive look at the grocery business, this book is a narrative backed up with facts. Fast-paced and interesting. Read by the author, who does a good job. I’m not usually a fan of nonfiction, but this book is exceptional.

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Amazing

Kudos Ben. Truly amazing work. The insights into grocery and retail in general are deep and thorough. Every retailer should take heed.

1 person found this helpful

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We Owe This Topic, This Book Our Time

For all the time and money we spend in grocery stores, we owe this important book our attention. The prices we chase and labels we trust are betraying us and the workers along the entire value chain. Each chapter is an intriguing insider look at the various stops our food takes before it reaches our tables. Each chapter is its own story of intrigue, surprises, and heartbreak. If a consumer can’t be swayed by arguments to make choices that have mercy on the planet or animals, then this book is the last ditch appeal for consumers to have mercy on mankind. Slaves most likely hauled-in that holiday shrimp cocktail. Cheated and manipulated truck drivers delivered it to the grocery store loading dock. The worker who packed it lives at the whim of inhuman automated scheduling software that typically gives him only 48 hours notice of when ishis next shift. No grocery chain is spared—Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Aldi’s and you can be sure you regional chain is part of the same system. The book is short on solutions for the consumer. But any intelligent reader knows what to do: buy as local and direct to the sources as possible. Don’t trust the “local” sticker in grocery store shelves and packaging. Find local farm coops and buy into their monthly shares. And then find ways to support organizations working to reform grocery value chain policies and practices to bring more humanity and integrity to the real people—the fisherman and factory workers and truck drivers—who provide our food.

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it's more than groceries

it's a high energy cacophony of imagery. it's the story of humanity told through the stories of selected individuals. it's the story of soaring hopes and the dismal reality of the daily grind. it's a little heavy on the story of trader Joe's - for the first hour or two I thought it was going to be only about trader Joe's. but then I really like trader Joe's so why should I complain? and eventually it did Branch into other topics such as the trackers the fishermen the store owners and managers and the stubborn food entrepreneurs who all make our food delivery system work. you'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish for more, I know I did.

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Top 3 favorite books of all time

You get the dense knowledge of a MBA, the storytelling of an Oscar-winning screenwriter, and the range of a history textbook. This book profoundly changed how I view the retail industry / groceries. I even literally teared up about the Slawsa story (no spoilers). It feels like the author did an ethnography-based PhD on each subject the book covers. Wow.

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Astonishing

Listen to this book. It is astonishing. The author has a remarkable facility with the language, and knows many words he can't pronounce. But seriously, the research is incredible, the characters described unforgettable and the book is written with jaw dropping clarity. If you want to really know about where your groceries come from and the impact they have on humans, you have to read or listen to this book.

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  • Principatus
  • 09-18-20

Incredible read

Not sure why I picked up this book, I don’t work in groceries nor am I fussy about shopping, but boy am I glad I did. It’s masterfully written, read by the Author who is equally talented at narration. No matter what he writes next I’ll read it. The story itself brings you into the lives of the people in the supply chain, I found at times I couldn’t put the book down, listening through the book in 3 days which is fast for me. Never once bored. It looks at both sides of arguments - particularly fascinating was a slave on a fishing boat being freed, getting a job and then deciding himself to go back to sea to do the same job he did when he was a slave - but the reasoning why and final outcome... it just opens your eyes. There’s learnings in this book too that I feel I took away and can apply to my own entrepreneurial Journey. Even insights into how people think and why we need to look out for people in our supply chains journey. Now truckers making drop offs at our warehouse have bottle of water / cokes and snacks if they’d like them while they wait. A tiny Gesture, but honestly not something that occurred to me before. If you’re considering this book and not sure the subject matter is for you, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a fascinating look into people.