Mark Bittman, the cookbook writer known for writing The Minimalist column in the New York Times and "How To Cook Everything" and its various spin-offs has become a leading voice in what some may call the "Food Movement", "Good Food Movement" or "Alternative Food Movement". In addition to his cookbooks and recipes, he has been speaking out on a number of issues, mostly food, agribusiness and the environment as a contributor to the Times Opinion page. Facing his own health issues, he wrote Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating in 2008 where he eschews processed foods and shared his approach to eating nutrient dense foods.
Last month A Bone to Pick: The Good and Bad News About Food, With Wisdom, Insights, and Advice on Diets, Food Safety, Gmos, Farming, and More was published. While I highly recommend the book, the most important argument is the central one of Eat The Vote: the food movement needs to be stronger, louder and more political. To read a shorter version of Bittman making this point read his Op-Ed: Let's Make Food Issues Real.
"I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues." -Mark Bittman, Let's Make Food Issues Real, May 6, 2015, New York Times
In January this year I went to Food Tank's First Annual Food Summit. Food Tank is a newer organization trying to fill the role of being the food movement's think tank. In about two years it has become a big player in shaping the discussion of food and food policy not just locally, but also globally. I'm a proud member and very supportive of their work. However, at the summit, Chef Michel Nischan who should be applauded as a titan of food justice, had the attendees literally pat ourselves on the back. He exclaimed excitedly that the "food movement is winning!" Like Mark Bittman, I'm not too sure.
The type of voting we do with our fork has made a huge difference. Organic and even local has now gained significant attention from retailers beyond just Whole Foods or your local co-op (Wal-Mart being the biggest one). Farmers markets are increasingly bigger, more vibrant and more plentiful than ever Organizations like Nischaun's Wholesame Wave as well as local groups have worked to ensure access to local produce to all through accepting food stamps (or SNAP) and often doubling SNAP benefits at the farmers market.
Unfortunately I have to agree with Mark Bittman. Too little substantial change has happened since his 2011 A Food Manifesto for the Future. We should celebrate the victories the disjointed food movement has accomplished, but Congress is still discussing further cuts to SNAP benefits like those in 2013. SNAP not only provides poor families with the means to purchase groceries, but can also help families from slipping further into poverty. SNAP or food stamps are only one of many issues. The debates surrounding GMOs, school lunch programs and food safety modernization (to name just a few) continue to unfold. The question we need to ask is: who will be invited to the table? The Sunlight Foundation found the senators most involved in writing the 2013 Farm Bill were given significant contributions from agribusiness.
Mark Bittman points out that food policy plays a very small, almost invisible role in politics. "To my knowledge, and with the exception of the wage fights and Bernie Sanders, no presidential candidate has spoken about any of the above [food policy] issues." Bittman is wrong on one account, though, with the election we DO have an ability to influence presidential candidates to talk about our food system. Let's make food a question at town hall meetings, meet and greets, Twitter streams and presidential debates from now until November 8th, 2016 to that the next president knows the voters care about food and expect their president takes food policy seriously.
We have seventeen months until Election Day. Seventeen months to prove to Mark Bittman and at least two presidential candidates that a food movement not only exists, but it is a force to be reckoned with. Seventeen months to Eat The Vote!
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