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February 08, 2011

But What I Really Want to do is… Dance!

For over a decade, Mark Bittman wrote a food column for the New York Times in which he demonstrated to readers, through recipes and detailed discussions of techniques and kitchen tools, how very much better it is to eat and cook like Mark Bittman.

However, merely encouraging people to behave like he does has ultimately proven unsatisfying, and so Mark Bittman last week bid farewell to his regular column in order to move over to the opinion pages of the Times where, rather than try to persuade his readers to live like he does, he could instead try to persuade the authorities to mandate it.  As he sees it:

 “…the continuing attack on good, sound eating and traditional farming in the United States is a political issue.”

It’s bigger than recipes.  It’s bigger than helping you conquer your fear of fish or describing the importance of having a melon baller on hand.  Something far more fundamental is at stake:

Part of my reasoning in going to the opinion section is to advocate, essentially, for eaters’ rights.”

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, with the possible exception of Mark Bittman, that they are required by their government to dine in certain ways, among these, eat more fruits and vegetables, cut back on the sugar and fat, and maybe try to go more macrobiotic.

In his first opinion column, “A Food Manifesto for the Future,” Bittman writes of our current food supply chain:

“It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.” 

This would be the same system that has produced bountiful amounts of affordable food, fed the world’s hungry, freed up over 95% of the population to pursue interests and vocations outside of farm life (like, say, writing for the New York Times), contributed to 80 years of nearly uninterrupted annual increases in life expectancy (with more projected) and has been sustained for generations.

And yet, it clearly is left wanting, given its broad nonconformity to the way Mr. Bittman thinks it should be.

So, how can we make it better?  Bittman lays out his ideas:

“End government subsidies to processed food.”

You know, we’re starting to like this guy, Bittman.  We could definitely get behind any program that would eliminate the state using taxpayer money to unfairly subsidize one…

“Begin subsidies to those who produce and sell actual food for direct consumption.”

Okay, we should have seen that one coming.

“Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages.”

And Bittman can’t support them all by himself, so he’d like to force you to. (Look, organic fair-wage endive doesn't grow itself, you know.)

“Break up the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”

Hey, he’s starting to win us over again what with his talk of eliminating...

“...and empower the Food and Drug Administration.”

Fool me once, and all that.

“…the F.D.A. must be given expanded powers to ensure the safety of our food supply.”

So much for small farmers and their employees making a living wage.

“Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the F.D.A.’s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.”

Of course, FDA-approved prescription-drug-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from tainted food so he might want to leave that one in pencil for now.

“…we must educate and encourage Americans to eat differently.”

Not all Americans, just those Americans who are not Mark Bittman.

“It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health and attack chronic diseases.”

And of course, those are the only valid considerations.  Enjoyment? Variety? Tradition? Personal preference? Bittman doesn’t value those things as highly.

And neither should you.

“Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.)“

It is not clear to us why he took this overly moderate course as opposed to proposing mandatory conscription into Top Chef.

“We should provide food education for children…”

“We” means “you,” by the way. 

“…cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.”

Braising isn’t a choice, it’s a right!

“Tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods. Another budget booster. This isn’t nanny-state paternalism but an accepted role of government: public health. If you support seat-belt, tobacco and alcohol laws, sewer systems and traffic lights, you should support legislation curbing the relentless marketing of soda and other foods that are hazardous to our health..."

That’s right, if you support basic hygiene, a working judiciary, and Netflix, then you should support the suppression of the free-speech rights of people selling products frowned upon by Mark Bittman.

It’s just common sense.

" — including the sacred cheeseburger and fries.”

Okay, so Mark Bittman doesn't like Cheeseburgers and fries, but it's not like he's trying to put McDonald's out of business.

Putting McDonald's Out of Business

Okay, bad example.

Come to think of it, he did call it a "manifesto."


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February 8, 2011 at 07:38 PM in Current Affairs, Health & Fitness | Permalink


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I love Mark Bittman's book, How To Cook Everything, even though my dad says its title is deceptive because there's nothing in it about cooking armadillos. But I gotta tell ya, it's the laws that him and his political bedfellows support that are driving small food producers out of business. When you have to keep a record of who buys every tomato you grew in your garden and sold at the farmer's market, who would bother?

Posted by: Wacky Hermit | Feb 9, 2011 10:22:14 AM

Right on both counts. He's a fine writer and a great cook, but like so many people who are good at something, he believes himself so good that everyone should value the same things he does and in the very same way.

As for small producers and regulations, I encourage everyone to click on the "So much for" link above for some additional information.

Of course, Bittman might be aware of the impact regulations have on his favorite small producers which is why he wants them subsidized which would be only the latest example of the government justifying more laws to address the problems it created with the first set of laws.

Posted by: Planet Moron | Feb 9, 2011 10:36:08 AM

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