The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket
By Benjamin Lorr
Published in September 2020
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
Knowing my interest in supply chains, my mom recommended this book to me. And what an amazing and eye opening book this is!
I haven’t read a book this interesting in a long time. It has completely changed my perspective on my own industry, on the fundamental pillars of Western life, and perhaps even on Western civilization as a whole.
Finding books about supply chains that are objective is hard. The literature seems to be either written by industry shills or left wing anti-industrial demagogues. It is hard to find a fair, balanced perspective that discusses both the good and the bad. This book is just that.
Lorr follows several iconic real life characters as they each embark on their own tiny part of the global dietary supply chain. The characters are incredibly memorable, and each of their experiences enlightens the reader, filling in part of the gap.
First, Lorr covers the adventures of a female truck driver. She is fat, a chain smoker, and carries around a pink revolver. Lorr talks about how proud she is to be one of the 5% female drivers in a masculine industry. He talks about how little money she makes, sexual harassment, and the unfair training practices. But he also describes the sense of freedom truckers experience, their pioneering spirit, and sense of self reliance. He also constantly reminds readers that without truckers, modern civilization as we know it would practically collapse as almost all goods that are used are ultimately shipped via truck to their end destinations.
Second, Lorr follows an entrepreneur desperately trying to promote a wacky new food idea. This entrepreneur has created an odd blend of coleslaw and salsa which she believes will revolutionize the condiment industry. For years, she struggles to get her product out, visiting trade show after trade show. Anyone who has ever been a struggling entrepreneur will inevitably relate. Lorr also visits the industrial kitchen where the product is made. Finally, when she succeeds, Lorr is there to witness her in all of her glory.
Finally, Lorr follows a slave fisher from Myanmar. Forced labor, although rare, still accounts for a significant percentage of the workforce in certain niche industries. This fisherman came from a poor background in Myanmar. When the war broke out, he fled to Thailand to seek out a better life. There, he was tricked into joining a fishing crew which enslaved him. On the boats, he was unable to leave, and subject to harsh physical punishments. At sea, he would lose a hand and see many comrades die slow painful deaths. Finally, he escapes, with the help of an NGO.
Lorr follows many other characters: the founder of Traders Joes, architectural consultants, human rights activists, Whole Foods trainers, just to name a few. All reveal a unique fascinating aspect of the dietary supply chain industry, slowly painting a picture of the whole.
Every single side of the supply chain is covered. The good, the glorious, and the downright miraculous; as well as the dirty, the ugly, and the evil. This is one of the rare books that truly can change the world, because it is so enlightening.
This book is a hands down must read for anyone in the supply chains business.
Most of my articles are book reviews, but I also write about many other topics.