Goodbye Minimalist. Hello…

{Mr Bittman at mile 4 (?), Mohawk Hudson River Marathon, October 2010}

…Food Policy Commentator.

I don’t usually write an entire post on a weekend reading topic, but two items were of great interest this week and I felt they both deserved some exposition. First, the unfortunate but not surprising issue with Taco Bell’s “beef” (coming soon) and Mark Bittman’s departure from the New York Times’ Dining section as The Minimalist to his entrance into the paper’s Op-Ed section and magazine*.

If you follow Mark Bittman outside of his weekly Wednesday column; i.e. Runner’s World Blog, his personal website, his 2007 TED Talk, combined with the subjects of his latest two books: Food Matters and The Food Matters Cookbook, then you wouldn’t see this move as all that surprising. I guess you could argue that he could keep The Minimalist column going and going for a paycheck as he has hundreds of recipes under his sleeve…

That aside, I think his choice was a bold statement on where he would like to put his professional energy; speaking out on the important issues under the food systems and sustainability umbrella.

Mark Bittman, as The Minimalist, played a serious role as the “Everyman’s Cook“. He is NOT a trained chef, like many personalities on that food channel (oye) who “instruct” people to cook, but a food journalist and author. His style is friendly, informative, accessible,  informal, and sometimes bumbling (as seen in his videos). His immense body of work has helped welcome kitchen novices into the world of home cooking. Everyone can cook it’s not that difficult. One reader he helped was me. I’ve written my home cooking story before; Mark Bittman inspired me to believe in myself as an intensive home cook when the food allergy test results were announced. A daily 100% from scratch home cook where except for two meals a week at Chipotle, Saturday lunch after Kindermusik and Thursday dinner after daycare, ALL snacks and entrees come from my labor in the kitchen. I needed that helpful nudge, that “YOU CAN DO IT” voice and it came from Bittman.

Onto his “newish” venture, food systems commentator, I ask: What more could you want from a successful food policy commentator than the “everyman” style? He’s been there done that. He had a health scare and was overweight at 57. He didn’t think too much about the connection between sustainability and our food system until that health scare a handful of years ago. He set out to figure it out, like the rest of us. That’s where Food Matters & The Food Matters Cookbook came from. Below is a direct quote from

Cooking Like Food Matters

When I began work on Food Matters in 2007, I had been writing about food for nearly thirty years. So I was in the press box while the American diet underwent huge changes, few of them for the better. Restaurants boomed – especially the fast food types – and people cooked less and less, while waistlines – and the health problems that accompany excess weight – were growing exponentially.

Yet despite my awareness, my own health had become a problem: I was 57, and 35 pounds overweight. My blood sugar was up, my cholesterol was up, I had sleep apnea, and I had just had knee surgery. My doctor unironically told me to become a vegan. I reminded him that I was a food writer and asked him if he was out of his mind. He reminded me that I was a smart guy and that this was serious.

“Figure something out,” he said.

I could have seen this coming; I’d just spent a couple of years working on How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, in part because I saw the writing on the wall. I knew a plant-heavy diet was a healthier diet, and I knew we’d all be eating that way eventually; I was just unwilling to make the change. Still, when my marching orders came down, I knew a lot about cooking without meat.

And there were further incentives: As if on cue, across my (virtual) desk came a paper from the Livestock’s Long Shadow, a damning report about the connection between industrial livestock and global warming, which I can sum up very easily: The more animals we raise industrially, the more greenhouse gases we are producing. This study estimated that about 70 percent of all the land on earth is devoted to industrial livestock production, and generates 18 percent of our annual greenhouse gas emissions. More recently, analysts at an environmental organization called Worldwatch have reported that livestock and their by-products actually may account for as much as 50 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. (These numbers are debatable, but the point is this: industrially raised livestock is really bad for the environment. Not to mention the animals.) In the United States we eat almost 10 billion chickens, pigs, cows, and turkeys each year. And that’s just us!

That kind of settled it. If my own health as well the health of the entire planet could be improved by eating more plants and fewer animal products, it was time to start doing exactly that. Food Matters made the argument and began to sketch out how to tip the seesaw back towards plants, but now with the Food Matters Cookbook I’ve proven to myself (and hopefully to all who cook from it) that flipping the ratio in our “normal” cooking doesn’t feel like a sacrifice, and leads to some incredibly inventive and delicious food.

It’s also led to better health for me (my doctor isn’t yelling at me any more, and I’m running marathons again), and to a bunch of terrific recipes. Cooking like food matters can do the same for you.

“Cooking like food matters can do the same for you.” I mean come on- who wouldn’t want to read everything he writes when it comes from a place of such sincerity?! I believe (hope) Mark Bittman has set himself up to be heard and welcomed by a large, diverse audience. People might actually really “listen” to someone who comes from a place of “I’ve been there and I was sick and overweight; I’m not perfect and I’m no expert”.

I am sooo excited to read what Bittman has to say in the coming weeks, months and years. The small tidbits he’s had on his personal blog, linked below, have been thought-provoking and on-point, including such topics as soda tax, junk food and Humane Society’s recent report on a Smithfield pork facility.

Dear Mr. Bittman, I’m excited to share links to your future columns in my {weekend reading} posts.

*Starting on February 2, 2011 his Op-Ed Column will begin online, occasionally in print. He will have another column, ‘On Food’ in the The New York Times Magazine which will begin in March 2011 and be his take on food from around the world, profiles of newsmakers, policy issues and recipes.

Notable Minimalist links from the past couple of days:
Last column published on January 26,2011
Bittman chooses his 25 favorite Minimalist recipes, NYT, January 25, 2011.
Every 697 columns in one place on NYT!
First column published on September 17, 1997.
The 20 most-watched Minimalist Videos.
A great review of his Food Matters book on by Laura Miller.

The original Yahoo News story that shocked!
Forbes blog weighs in.
Examiner.Com has something to say about this…
Healthy Happy Life
on Bittman’s move.

Notable Food Policy Commentaries by Bittman seen in recent {weekend reading} posts:
Don’t miss his TED talk from 2007
His recent article in NYT on sustainable food.
Socialists Tell Americans to Eat Their Veggies
Does Soda Tax Have Enough Fizzle
Is Factory Farming Worse Than We Know?


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Alexis says:

    I will miss Mark’s food ideas, and especially his charming videos, but I am also excited to read his commentary on food politics!

  2. Celia says:

    I have been following Bittman off and on for about 15 years–pretty much since I started learning to cook from my parents. Between Bittman and Oliver, I think there’s a pretty strong movement toward helping people learn how to cook, and how to cook healthier. I’m looking forward to seeing his commentary as well as rereading some of his old recipes.

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