When renowned, self-taught chef and cookbook author Mark Bittman retired his "Minimalist" column with The New York Times after 13 years, readers weren't sure what to expect. In his first column for The Opinion Pages, Bittman describes his "food manifesto" for the future. Among the ideas he proposes:
1. Ending Government Subsidies for Processed Food: As an example of foolish subsidies, Bittman points to corn. Despite the fact that the vast majority of corn goes toward livstock or cars, the US government subsidizes that crop alone with $3 billion annually. Bittman proposes creating subsidies, instead, for the small farms that provide actual food to consumers.
2. Disband the USDA and Increase Powers for the FDA: Citing the conflicting aims of the USDA (providing nutritional information while expanding the markets of unhealthy foods), Bittman wants to dissolve the USDA and grant the FDA greater powers to ensure food safety.
3. Stop Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Pointing to the fact that these feedlots harm the environment, directly and indirectly, and hurt the animals involved, Bittman proposes alternate animal husbandry practices.
4. Greater Education to Consumers: People make better choices when they cook for themselves, and cooking at home promotes a healthier family dynamic. Also, Americans have an unhealthy diet that relies too heavily on meat. Greater education could allow everyone to make better decisions.
5. Tax Unhealthy Food and Promote Honest Labeling: When you eat unhealthy food, you put a strain on the public health system. Bittman proposes taxing the unhealthy foods to help pay for the additional healthcare required when people continue to eat them. Additionally, most claims on product labels are misleading or blatantly false.
Not surprisingly, the media reacted to the column and here's what some sources said.
Salon: An admitted Bittman fan, Lam still praises the initial column as a cue to a "common-sense revolution." Though his column tackles an incredibly vast and important topic, Bittman summarizes the issues in a succinct and understandable way.
Center for Consumer Freedom: They hate manifestos. The center says that Bittman relies on generalizations ("all processed food is bad."). They compare processed foods to some of Bittman's own recipes, and find the chef himself offers higher calorie fare than processed food, on some occasions.
Grist: "I agree with you, but..." That's the basic message from Grist about Bittman's first column. While his ideas are bold and this first column "throws down" a challenge to the food system, getting there could be difficult.
photo courtesy of Flickr