Mark Bittman has just published his final farewell in his New York Times food op-ed column.The food writer who became famous as The Minimalist, teaching us how to eat simply for more than ten years, has spent nearly five of those years educating us about important food issues. But now the time has come for him to move on: Bittman is getting involved with a Californian food start-up, and as far as he's concerned, his goodbye comes at precisely the right time.
In his final column, Bittman says that when he got started writing about food issues was far less popular than it is now. But today, food is on everyone's mind. "I've raised the topics I thought I should; I made the best arguments around those subjects where I was capable; I threw my heart and energy into it; and to a large extent have said what I had to say," he says.
With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at what has changed since Bittman started writing in 2010 and what could still stand to evolve in the world of food.
1. On Our Way to Better Food Labeling
In 2012, Bittman wrote an article called "My Ideal Food Label," highlighting the ways in which food labeling could be more useful to the consumer as opposed to to marketing teams. The three elements that Bittman highlights in the piece, nutrition, "foodness," and welfare, are much easier to identify today thanks to outside entities like the Cornucopia Institute as well as more visibility for certifications like Certified Humane, USDA Organic, and Animal Welfare Approved. Our article on egg carton labeling shows you some of the many ways that you can make more educated decisions with your labels.
While we're still far from Bittman's ideal label, we've come quite a ways in the past three years.
2. Unfortunately We're Still Marketing Junk to Kids
In 2012, Bittman explored "The Right to Sell Kids Junk," rightfully tearing into first amendment rights supporters' arguments for free speech by equating the advertisement of junk food for kids to brainwashing. But while the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies urged junk food marketers to stop targeting kids in 2006, not much had changed by 2012, and that holds true even today.
While we've definitely seen steps towards lower calorie foods and foods with more whole grains being marketed to kids, according to Dale Kunkel, one of the authors of an American Journal of Preventive Medicine study, efforts by big food companies "have barely moved the needle in terms of shifting food advertising to children to genuinely healthy products."
3. We Haven't Levied Excise Taxes on Soda... But Mexico Has
Back in 2011, Bittman suggested two changes to the way in which we distribute food: levy excise taxes on soda and other sugary soft drinks and subsidize vegetables instead of commodity crops like corn and soy.
Both are still a matter of discussion, and unfortunately, neither suggestion has produced concrete, nationwide results. The movement towards these two ideals has been slow; in 2014, four states had excise taxes on soda, and in the same year, measure D passed in Berkeley, enacting a soda tax in that city.
But in 2013, Mexico enacted a soda tax that, according to experts, is a great model for the U.S. Maybe we should take a page out of the book of our neighbors to the south?
4. We're Eating Even Less Meat
In 2012, Bittman explored the change in our meat-eating habits, and happily, we've continued to decrease our meat consumption in the past three years. As we all know, eating less meat isn't just good for our health, it's also much better for the environment.
This is good news; we can only hope that we'll keep moving in this direction! So keep up your Meatless Monday efforts, and you might even consider looking to our neighbors to the north for more inspiration: Canadians are eating less meat as well.
Mark Bittman has been with us throughout an increasingly intriguing period in food culture and history, and while he's now moving on, his insight is just as true today as it was when he was first writing. We'll leave you with his food manifesto, first published in 2011, which, we believe, can still offer quite a bit of interesting tidbits today.
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New York Times image via M. Shcherbyna / Shutterstock.com