Mark Bittman's Food Manifesto is causing controversy

Food journalist and author, Mark Bittman, made headlines earlier this year when he closed out his beloved NY Times “Minimalist,” a column focused largely on recipes, and replaced it with a “Food Manifesto” on February 1st calling for big change–or rather, a big move toward “smaller” food; and he was not necessarily talking about portion size.

Bittman’s manifesto read in fellow NY Times contributor style, echoing author and foodie, Michael Pollan’s opinions on developing a personal relationship with our food by pushing for the disassembling of the monster organizations, government subsidies and wasteful industries currently monopolizing the majority of America’s food products.

“Here are some ideas — frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented — that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring,” wrote Bittman as he went on to call for an outlaw on concentrated animal feedlot operations, taxes on unhealthy foods and snacks, concerted efforts in waste reduction and my personal favorite: Subsidies for people who cook their own meals. Bittman says in a side note that we’ll be hearing soon about his ideas for a “Civilian Cooking Corps.” When families eat together, Bittman observes that they’re also more stable, “We should provide food education for children (a new form of home ec, anyone?), cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.”

Critics factory farm operators responded to Bittman’s manifesto with disdain and expected defenses, lauding their efforts as sterile, humane and necessary. Randy Spronk, Chairman of the Environment Committee of the National Pork Producers Council, in a letter to the Times wrote, “As for “sustainable” alternatives, perhaps they can produce enough meat for the wealthy, but not for a world population that is growing and demanding more protein.”

For all the reasons there may be to shake a fist at the rich, they are actually as unhealthy as other Americans. Latch key kids in suburbia gorge themselves on junk food, fast food, video games and sodas, suffering from obesity and diabetes on par with inner-city neighborhoods without access to fresh, healthy food.

But Mr. Bittman’s suggestions clearly look beyond the wealthy. His call for truth in labeling and an urgent plea to end to food waste empowers every American, regardless of their tax bracket. Worker conditions, exposure to food-borne illnesses and healthier options in our schools are a matter of public interest. Sustainability is solution-oriented for everyone’s benefit, as well as that of our planet and the creatures we have no business inconveniencing in the first place. According to Bittman in an explanation of his new column, it is, “to encourage the relatively tiny but all-important trend moved along by those people who want to see real food, produced by agriculture that honors its laborers, its animals, its land, and its consumers, and brings us toward a place – the future – where food nourishes rather than harms.”

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 Photo: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com