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Friday, May 22, 2009

 
Mark Bittman's Expertise

by tristero


While I do think that eaters desperately need representation of their interests in DC - much of the food Americans eat really isn't food but elaborately perfumed chemical goo; a lot of the industrially-grown real food truly tastes like cardboard; the food system is not sustainable; etc, etc - I'm not sure I completely agree with my bloggy colleagues Jill Richardson and Ezra Klein that Mark Bittman is the person to do it. As far as I can tell, from reading his wonderful blog, his brilliant columns, his great cookbooks, his pretty-good manifesto Food Matters, and watching his videos, Bittman's truly deep interest lies in preparing and eating food not in the details of food/agriculture policy. His expertise is not in doubt, but it's not really the relevant expertise. Yes, he's knowledgeable about food policies, but from what I can tell, he has not done the kind of in-depth research that others, such as Marion Nestle or Michael Pollan, have done. In fact, Food Matters illustrates that perfectly. The first half is just a decent rehash of Pollan, et al - Bittman's heart doesn't seem in it. But the second half is wonderful, all these quirky, delicious recipes and meals. So, when Bittman says,
I'm qualified to speculate about policy but I'm not really qualified, in Washington, to talk about policy. The soda tax is an interesting proposal. Ending some of the subsidies that have proven so destructive over the years would be a good thing. But I'm not going to be part of those discussion. I'm -- and I'm not being modest here -- not qualified to be part of them.
I believe him. Ezra says,
Bittman doesn't have to lead the discussion. But he shouldn't walk away from it.
Which strikes me as unfair. Bittman has often spoken out, and written passionately about, how awful the food industry is. He is planning to write even more. More importantly, Bittman has demonstrated by example and through his writings the positive importance of home cooking and sensible eating. If Bittman believes that the way he practices his cooking and eating - informally, un-systematically, and with both humor and skill - don't scale well to the klieg lights and rigid Kabuki of Congressional hearings - and I don't think they do - that is hardly walking away. Rather, that is embodying the very values - local, small, personal, intimate, and cheerful - he espouses.

Bittman is leading by example, but we need a very different voice in DC. Oh, yes, and like Jill says, sin taxes aren't the greatest thing, but if a tax on soda and beer is the way we're gonna get decent healthcare in this country, then yeah, it's definitely worth serious consideration.


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