it's okay to play with your food

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bite Me, Bittman

So tonight was Mark Bittman's talk at the Philly Free Library. Bittman is known primarily for his work as The Minimalist in the New York Times and for his mammoth cookbook, How to Cook Everything. I had heard good things about his new book, Food Matters, and how it was a practical application of Michael Pollan's writing on food. In fact, buying his new book was one of the things on my 2009 Food-to-Do list.

I had set up an event for kitchenplay members on Facebook and ended up going with Daniel and Eleanor. The talk portion was great. He was funny, engaging, and committed to his topic. Basically, eat fewer animal products and processed food; eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. I was feeling good about the whole endeavor and looking forward to coming home, sharing the Bittman gospel and my latest recipe for Kale and Chickpeas on kitchenplay.

Then the Q & A happened.

Something I've been thinking about lately is what needs to happen for healthy eating to become a part of the mainstream American diet. I get an adrenaline rush when I think about processed food plants going out of business... industrial slaughterhouses closing up shop... kids growing up on wholesome fruits and not Little Debbies. But then I start to think about the economic consequences of that... specifically, job loss. These plants employ millions of workers, workers with families, in towns that are often built around a particular factory or industry. They work these shitty jobs because that's what is available. And for some politicians, their primary responsibility is to keeping these people, their constituents, employed. These politicians are also the ones who could be making progressive policy decisions towards how farms and businesses get funded, people who could have a critical influence on how our nation thinks about food and its production.

In the 30 seconds I had to ask my question, I must not have presented myself well. I didn't preface it with, "I'm a huge fan, Mr. Bittman, but here is something else I've been wondering about..." And I didn't confirm my adherence to what he was saying.* And perhaps I didn't phrase my question as well as I could have. (Q & A's make me nervous!) Because somewhere between me opening my mouth and him opening his in response, I pissed him off- NOT my intention. I just wanted to know what he thinks will/should happen to the millions of workers in these unhealthy food industries if the "food revolution" -as he called it- succeeds.

He proceeded to call my concern irrelevant. He asked me if I wanted the troops back from Iraq. When I replied in the affirmative, he asked what should happen to the 100,000 jobs that would be lost as a result. His voice raised, he proceeded to decry the jobs and welfare of those people "poisoning" us by making food that is bad for us. He even suggested they should start looking for new jobs now. Right... cause there are sooooo many jobs out there currently.

I guess it's easy to be indifferent about people's livelihoods when you have a sweet deal at the New York Times.

It was a big question. I get that. I also get that I didn't explain it as thoroughly as I could have. I thought about not bringing it up at all. But I also saw an opportunity to get the opinion of a well-respected food writer, one who, however reluctantly, is a member of the "Food Movement," a movement that concerns itself with issues of economics and policy in the way we eat. What I learned from him tonight was... blue-collar people don't really matter. Eat your veggies.

If any of you were there at the talk, I would be interested in hearing your interpretation of events or opinion of the "exchange." Or, if anyone has any thoughts about my quandary, please share. I don't know what the answer is. I think it involves responsibility for others as well as ourselves, supply and demand, creating a new American food industry, politicians, lobbyists and maybe a really awesome mascot- not necessarily in that order.

And yes, it involves eating your veggies too.

* Though if you look at the recipes on kitchenplay, most of which I make up myself, the majority are built around fresh vegetables and legumes.


carlmacs said...

That's too bad. I always liked Bittman based on his video podcasts and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. However, I think it's clear that his opinion of himself is at least as healthy as his cooking. Even if your question had been meant to attack him, he could have engaged the jobs issue more seriously. It's certainly not as cut and dry as he made it.

kitchenplay said...

Right... it was disappointing how he didn't take the issue seriously AT ALL. It seemed like a big joke to him...

Anonymous said...

I was there and thought that he become overly defensive. His attempt at making a parallel with that of the war in Iraq was a pathetic ploy at shocking you, the questionnaire, and the audience. Those who have faith in what they stand for don’t have any reason to argue defensively with those who offer insightful challenges. Kudos to you, kitchenplay!

Lauren said...

Oh Karina, I adore you.
I got all wrapped up in Bittman's theory of "beets don't need goat cheese at all. save a goat" rant, and I made his roasted beets recipe and came to the overwhelming conclusion that yes, beets need goat cheese.
love you!