Uncovering the Heroes Making a Difference Through Food - SNACC's Food Hero Series
Mark Bittman, author, journalist, activist, and advocate.
Where did you grow up?
Where do you live now?
Cold Spring, NY
Where do you work?/What do you do?
I run the Bittman project and I still write cookbooks. I'm on the second edit of a memoir of the first half of my career and I'm starting a nonprofit that I've been working on for the last year or two.
How did you become interested in food writing and food activism?
I was an activist when I was In my early 20s, at the time, I was a cook and I was a writer. And I began to write about food, although not from a political perspective, but as the years went by and as I learned more, I was able to write about food from perspectives other than just cooking and I started writing a cooking column for the New York Times for close to 20 years. I also wrote a weekly food column in the opinion section of the Times from around for about five years, beginning in 2010 until I left the Times in 2015.
What is your favorite topic within the food space to write about? Do you have a favorite article or book that you’ve written?
My favorite topic to write about is food justice. And the book that I'm most proud of, although it's not my best-known book, but the book I'm most proud of is called Animal Vegetable Junk; it's a history of the food system and what we need to do to fix it.
What is one of the most transformative or memorable moments in your career?
The realization that we have the capacity to organize a society in which everybody is treated well and everybody has equal opportunity and access to the important things in life. There’ve been many moments, but that’s probably the most meaningful and long-term.
What do you believe is the most pressing issue facing the food industry today?
The fact that more than half the calories we eat are in the form of junk food is probably the most pressing issue. Also, the fact that the food system is responsible for the dramatic increase in chronic disease, which is now the leading cause of death of Americans. So the leading cause of chronic disease is the American diet, and the leading cause of death is a chronic disease caused by the American diet. That's a big deal. Also, the fact that we are raising and then killing 50 or 60 billion animals a year in the United States is completely unsustainable and immoral… there are a lot of pressing issues.
How do you see the food industry evolving in the next few years, and what role do you see yourself playing in this change?
That is the kind of question where it depends on what day you ask me the question because sometimes I feel completely hopeless and think nothing's going to change. And other times, I think we will start to see changes. What’s clear is that food is a human right. And guaranteeing that right is our government's role; we should treat food the way that we treat defense and transportation and education. That is to say, everybody in this country is entitled to feel safe, everybody in this country is entitled to an education, and everybody in this country should be entitled to a nutritious diet. What would help, enormously, would be a cabinet-level Department of Food, with a budget adequate to make sure that every American gets to eat well. In the long run, that would pay for itself because healthcare costs would go down by so much. Do I see any of that happening in my lifetime? Not necessarily, but do see more and more people making arguments like that. And I see more and more people setting up models to try to make sure that we know how to do those kinds of things. The big changes are probably further down the road.
If you want to learn more about this month's Food Hero, follow Mark Bittman on Instagram!