Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why Mark Bittman makes me stabby

Mark Bittman, author of "The Minimalist" series of cookbooks has been around forever, teaching people how to cook and cook well.  You can read all about him here.  While I've never gotten his appeal, he has a legion of devoted followers, many of whom take his word as gospel.

Bittman is now preaching his word in a new column in the NYT.  And boy is he ever preaching.  In the vein of Michael Pollan and others, Bittman is ranting about the current state of the American diet and calling for more government intervention in an attempt to prevent future generations from becoming even more obese and unhealthy than the current.  He advocates taxing unhealthy foods such as fast food, junk food, and sodas; ending subsidies for corn and soy farmers; creating subsidies for organic farmers, etc.  He firmly believes everyone has time to prepare foods from scratch, plant and harvest their own home garden, and the money to afford organic fruits and vegetables.  I believe you can see where I'm starting to feel stabby.

I have said time and again that we as a nation do not need the government in our kitchens.  We don't need them constantly haranguing us to eat less and exercise more.  We especially do not need Bittman and his ilk and their condescension should we choose to eat at McDonald's or gorge ourselves stupid on potato chips and ice cream and soda.  It's called personal responsibility and, last I checked, the government wasn't listening to me when I said they shouldn't be blowing billions of dollars on wars we shouldn't be fighting.

Bittman has the luxury to eat however he chooses; he has the funds and the lifestyle which allow him to have a fully organic diet and the time to prepare everything from scratch.  He can easily nurture and harvest his own garden and, in a pinch, pay someone to do the work for him.  This whole notion that people need to grow their own food is ludicrous.  Not everyone has the time or the means to do this, let alone the space.  Does he really believe that people working two, maybe three jobs just to make rent and buy generic-label food have the time or the inclination to spend on a garden, no matter how small?  So they should sacrifice valuable time spent with their children doing homework, or trying to put a meal together, or--dare I say it?--relaxing worrying whether the lettuce will grow or the tomatoes will come in?  And gardening is not cheap.  Good seeds that are not genetically modified can be pricey; then there is the investment in potting soil (organic, of course), containers, the constant attention, and, sometimes, the crushing disappointment when it all fails and you have nothing to show for all your labor except maybe one weepy tomato and half a pot of basil.  That could easily amount to a small fortune for a struggling family, a small fortune that could have bought groceries or been put into the bank.  It's this elitist attitude, this whole "look, I can do it and so can you" thought process that is so damn insulting it makes me scream.

I agree wholeheartedly that many, many people are coming apart at the seams.  But insisting that organics and grass-fed and vegan or vegetarian diets are the path to salvation is, again, insulting. Americans on the whole are not stupid. Yes, there are many who are too lazy to do anything except roll up to a drive-thru and get the value meal; however, let's give credit where credit is due. Change doesn't happen overnight. People do know enjoying everything in moderation, daily exercise, plenty of water, and a good night's sleep can do wonders both physically and mentally. But beating people over the head with so many negative messages only makes them defiant and can lead to a "fuck you, I'll do what I want" attitude that has just the opposite effect.

Finally, I'm getting really, really sick of the word "manifesto."


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Bridget said...

I know I try to eat good foods, grown as locally as possible. But sometimes the only thing that will really do it for me is a chocolate Hostess cupcake.

I really think most people do the best thing they can, given what they have - money, geographical location for instance. But FORCING people to eat one way only is like forcing them to THINK one way only - it just isn't gonna work.

PB said...


Foodie Fictionista said...

It is uncanny how often we seem to be sharing the same brain wave. Last night, I finished reading Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. I was inspired to read it after watching Fat Head - the movie. Fat Head is a response to Spurlocks "Super Size Me." It was a hilarious AND eye opening movie (Fat Head).
Net Flix has Fat Head. If you can, find a copy and rent it. You'll be glad you did!

Elle said...

Oh my gosh, I so agree with this! It's like beating your daughter over the head (figuratively, of course) about why she can't date the bad boy. Tell her not to, and you know exactly what she *will* do.

He's being totally unrealistic. He's looking for a perfect world, which he isn't going to find. Maybe in his own bubble, but its not the same for everyone. His best bet would be encouraging people to try and make small changes that can then lead to bigger ones.

Side note? I was on a rant three days ago to my daughter about why I hate hate hate the use of the word "manifesto." It's the new "uber." Way over used.