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mark bittman

Megan Betz

Photo taken from Lavin's online speaker series.

Photo taken from Lavin's online speaker series.

On Tuesday, Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist and author of (among other things) How to Cook Everything Fast, came to campus for an evening of food talk with students. The event was part of Indiana University's themester, Eat, Drink, Think: Food from Art to Science.

Rather than giving a more formal talk, Bittman joined two students on stage for a question and answer session that built on themes from his TED talk & most recent column, "(Only) Two Rules for a Good Diet".

Leading up to the talk, the College hosted a reception for students, faculty, & those in-betweeners like myself (Associate Instructors teaching & taking themester classes). Between bites of brownies & lemon bars, Bittman was snatched up into conversation about his favorite meals and his upcoming plans, about his outlook for the ballot initiatives being voted on at that moment. I was hanging back, waiting for an opening into which I then threw one of my former students (who had been a part of the team that put together the list of questions for the Q&A). I realized that these are my favorite teaching moments--watching students experience thrilling moments of self and community-based discovery, watching them become amazing citizens. 

Then, he came up to me right in the middle of my standing-alone-texting-my-husband moment. He put his drink down and began asking me about my research, asking if community orchards and gardens were in any way connected to England's allotments. I've been looking for a way to explore urban agriculture in France, and though tangential, I think he may have handed it to me in less than five minutes of introductory conversation...

Shortly after our quick chat, it was time to walk over to the auditorium for his talk. The talk culminated in two simple to-do lists that reflect what I share with Bittman: an optimism in the food "movement" and a belief that government is here to help & serve us. First, when asked what students with busy schedules & tiny budgets could do, he returned to his two rules & added a third:

  1. Eat food that is fair, green, nutritious, & delicious: This is "what food needs to be" & helps you eliminate the food-like, processed products that lead to poor health & dependence on a more industrialized system.
  2. "Eat more plants than you did yesterday, or last year": Follow the mantra. Worry less about organic versus conventional potatoes. While this is important, you'll be making significant beginning steps by focusing your energy on the choice between a potato & potato chips. This means that Rule 2 has a Rule 2(a): Cook. Buy foods that need to be cooked, & you'll be doing well.
  3. Get political: Push your university & your government to foster a food system that is truly sustainable, accessible, & promotes health.

How do we get political? What should we ask for? Bittman believes the Obama administration still has time for significant change. Our job is to push, to demand reform. These were his starting points:

  1. Get antibiotics out of food.
  2. Stop marketing processed, nutrient-void food to children.
  3. Create a national food policy that explains how we would like our citizens to eat, have equitable access, & maintain both personal & environmental health. This, Bittman acknowledges, is a bonus that is significantly less attainable.

We have work to do.