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February 24, 2011

He’s Hatin’ It

New York Times Food columnist Mark Bittman is continuing to use his new platform on the opinion pages of that paper to convince America that we should all be a lot more like Mark Bittman.

His latest salvo is against fast-food giant McDonald’s, which perhaps more than any other restaurant chain, caters to people who are not Mark Bittman.

This drives Mark Bittman crazy.

In particular, Bittman takes aim at McDonald’s latest offering of oatmeal.  It’s not just that the oatmeal is unpalatable to Bittman, or that its nutritional profile is not to his liking, no, it goes much deeper than that:

It’s “wrong.”

How to Make Oatmeal Wrong

How is it wrong?  For starters, Mr. Bittman notes that McDonald’s oatmeal has:

“11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

Well, at least not in Mr. Bittman’s kitchen.

A quick look at the weird ingredients and we find Carrageenan, which is a seaweed extract that has been used for hundreds of years and is a readily available staple for molecular gastronomy enthusiasts.

Similarly, sodium citrate is a salty sour flavoring you can easily buy if you were so motivated.

The rest of the ingredients that Mr. Bittman finds weird are common additives for texture, flavor, color, and preservation and are the foundation of much of the convenience food that we take for granted.

But that’s not the point.  The point is that offering a totally unremarkable product with common ingredients to a willing customer base without first securing the approval of Mark Bittman is clearly “wrong.”

What if someone wanted to argue that McDonald’s heavily sweetened version tastes better?  As it turns out, they’re wrong too. According to Mr. Bittman:

“…they’re addicted to sickly sweet foods.”

You know who’s not addicted to sickly sweet foods?  Mark Bittman. He doesn't like sickly sweet foods. Ever. So neither should you.

What if you want to argue that going to McDonald’s is more convenient? 

Great, now you’ve made him angry:

“This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher.”

Note to self: Do NOT go to the McDonald’s in Mr. Bittman’s neighborhood, it apparently has really bad service.

“… you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.”

You might also want to talk to him about your dry cleaning bill.

“I asked them this, via e-mail: ‘Why could you not make oatmeal with nothing more than real oats and plain water, and offer customers a sweetener or two, a packet of mixed dried fruit, and half-and-half or — even better — skim milk?’”

Exactly.  And while we’re at it, why on earth don’t they make vegan tofu stir fry?  Or a fair trade sustainably farmed lentil-and-potato knish?  Indeed, why don’t they offer products specifically tailored to customers who have no intention of ever going to McDonald’s?  What kind of businesspeople are these? 

“Their answer, via e-mail and through a spokesperson (FMO is ‘fruit and maple oatmeal’): ‘Customers can order FMO with or without the light cream, brown sugar and the fruit. Our menu is entirely customizable by request with our ‘Made for You’ platform that has been in place since the late 90s.’”

Not to worry, Bittman has a comeback for that:

“Oh, please.”

Ooh, snap! That one is going to leave a mark.

“Here’s the thing: McDonald’s wants to get people in the store. Once a day, once a week, once a month, the more the better, of course, but routinely.

A business wants customers?  Interesting.  In theory.

"And if you buy oatmeal, they’re o.k. with that. But they know that, once inside, you’ll probably opt for a sausage biscuit anyway.”

Why?  Because you’re suffering from an incurable case of not being Mark Bittman.  Otherwise, you would be on the lookout for these Bittman-approved alternatives to McDonald’s oatmeal:

Cardamom-scented oatmeal pancakes.
Coconut oat pilaf.
Homemade granola.

Why, you could whip up a batch of cardamom-scented oatmeal pancakes while you’re dressing the baby, changing the oil in the car, volunteering at a charity auction and then eat them while you bike to work.

And then come talk to us about convenience!


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February 24, 2011 at 04:09 PM in Current Affairs, Health & Fitness | Permalink


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I think it's fair that Mark Bittman has a column on how to be like Mark Bittman, considering that a large share of his audience probably is Mark Bittman.

Posted by: Amarsir | Feb 25, 2011 3:53:24 PM

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