Wanna Fix the Food System? Science Can Help


A few weeks ago I published my farewell opinion column in the New York Times. After five years, I felt ready to make the leap from writing about a broken food system to trying to do something about it. I had decided it was time to shift my focus toward activism and action.

In doing this, I wanted the help of the best and brightest people working to transform the way we grow and eat food in this country. These people had to develop positions – on the food system, among other things – that were based in reason, and whose policy and advocacy strategies are rooted not in politicking but in science. That was important to me and increasingly rare in a world where so many opinions are based on … well, previous opinions.

Wanted: healthy, green, affordable and fair solutions

I learned a lot about fact-based opinion while doing journalism and later writing opinion columns at the Times, and one of the people who helped me through this process was Ricardo Salvador, who is currently senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. (He’s also not only an intellectual crush of mine but like abrother to me.) At UCS, Ricardo works with citizens, scientists, economists and politicians to work towards transforming our current food system into one that endeavours to grow food that’s healthy, green, affordable, and fair.

In general, UCS – which follows the example set by the scientific community – shares information, seeks the truth, and lets their findings guide their conclusions. As a result, they’re heralded as a trusted resource for both their fairness and accuracy. That’s why UCS is regarded as one of the most reputable sources for rigorous and independent science, and has been for decades.

For this reason and so many more, I am excited to announce my new partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists, where I will spend the next year as a Fellow working alongside Ricardo and his team. As good friends and now colleagues, we will embark on some of the innovative thinking, careful planning, and prioritized research needed to drive big changes in the national conversation around food systems, including (we hope!) the development of a book project. We’ll work to mobilize a broad range of voices and elevate important ideas.

An urgent need for leadership

Ricardo’s vision for a sustainable and just food system is one that I deeply respect and share – and one that we’ve written about together. This vision is especially important as we enter a critical political window to push both current and future leaders to talk about the crisis of our food system and outline an agenda for working toward a better one.

Ricardo and I also share an understanding of the urgency of these conversations. Our current food system works well for a handful of corporations at the expense of farmers, rural communities, taxpayers and food workers, to name just a few. The impact on the health of both our people and our planet is grave. The cost of this system is too high, the consequences too dire, and the practices and policies too outdated to allow them to continue without challenge. We need reform and we need leadership committed to ensuring access to healthy, affordable, and safe food for all Americans.
I can’t help but feel like I will be learning from the best as I work to tackle these challenging topics alongside some of the smartest scientists and advocates out there. And of course, I look forward to sharing what we learn with all of you.

Posted in Food Politics

Perfectly Cooked Salmon, Every Time

salmon the kitchen matrix

Whether it’s farmed or wild, salmon is an absolute treat. Farmed salmon comes with two distinct advantages: it’s not expensive, and its high fat content makes for not only good eating but also for extremely forgiving cooking. Wild salmon (like King, Sockeye, and Coho) is leaner, much more flavorful, and generally better; and you can typically find wild Alaska salmon in the fresh or frozen section of your grocery store.

As with any seafood, mislabeling is something to look out for. It’s not unheard of for purveyors to label any kind of wild salmon—or even farmed salmon—as King. Buy from people you trust.

A good piece of salmon only really needs a hot skillet and a sprinkle of salt, but to make it even more enticing, I’ve included recipes spanning a wide range of flavors and cooking methods, all of which will work for whatever kind of salmon you can get your hands on.

To learn how to cook salmon 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here

For this week’s Matrix Challenge, I will be offering one of those above mentioned rare treats. Cook one of these recipes this week, or share a salmon recipe of your own, using #MatrixChallenge, and one person will win a $50 gift card to purchase Alaska salmon.

Posted in Seafood

9 Ways to Cook Chicken Breasts People Will Actually Love


I used to be one of those people who ragged on boneless, skinless chicken breasts for being flavorless and dry. That was until I learned how not to overcook them.

In preparing chicken breasts, remember that they should be cooked only until the last traces of pink have vanished—and no longer. A thinnish breast subjected to high heat can be done in as little as 6 minutes, or it might take as long as 10 minutes or even a bit more—but never 20 minutes unless you are cooking the thing on a radiator.

Whatever you cook a chicken breast with is going to gain prominence, and whatever cooking method you use will have plenty of impact. This provides a good reason to keep things as simple as possible: a skillfully sautéed chicken breast with lemon juice is a beautiful thing. But gaining that skill takes some practice, and even for veterans, attention must be paid.

Here are nine of my favorite chicken recipes, all featured in The Matrix.

Cook one of these recipes this week, or share one of your own, using #MatrixChallenge. Just like last week, I’ll be sharing some of your dishes, and one person will win a 12-inch cast iron skillet from Lodge.

Posted in Mark Bittman Books

The Changing Face of California Agriculture

This is the ninth episode of “California Matters,” a series of videos about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating that I produced in collaboration with the Global Food Initiative at the University of California.

Jennifer Sowerwine’s work at the University of California, Berkeley, centers on bringing largely unrepresented voices to the table for discussions around food security and food systems change. Much of her time is spent working with Hmong and Mien farmers in California’s Central Valley, some of whom I visited a couple of years ago for a story I wrote about that area in The Sunday Magazine.

Many of these farmers, or their families, came to California from Southeast Asia, usually Laos, mainly as political refugees in the ’70s and ’80s. Sowerwine looks at how they got into small-scale farming, how they find and keep land, how they make farming economically viable, and how they’re adapting and changing their practices to meet new challenges. In looking at these things — along with labor and crop diversity — she’s found that these farmers have had little access to government resources.

Read the rest of this article here.

12 Fantastic Ways to Cook With Zucchini

kitchen matrix

Nobody complains about having too many cucumbers, tomatoes, or eggplants. But zucchini, the most productive vegetable (yes, I know that technically it’s a fruit) of summer and early fall, does not get enough love. It’s so prolific! It’s so cheap! What are we going to do with all of it?

I suppose it’s not just zucchini’s omnipresence but also its mild flavor—and indeed, the difficulty of bringing out some of its character—that makes us feel challenged. But zucchini is a workhorse: tender enough to eat raw, and quick- cooking and amenable to all kinds of flavors. And there’s something else in zucchini’s favor: it maintains its firmness and freshness longer than any of the more beloved mid-summer vegetables.

When buying, look for the smallest zucchini and yellow squash; they don’t have to be designated “baby,” but something under 6 inches long and 1 inch or so in diameter will have better smaller, less cottony seeds. If a zucchini is tender enough, you can even eat the stem. You may also come across pattypan squash; their flying-saucer make them a bit trickier to cut up, but they can be used in any of the recipes here, as can yellow summer squash.

No doubt you have grilled and sautéed zucchini, and have probably also eaten it raw (even if it’s just a bite taken while chopping it to be sautéed), but it’s possible you’ve yet explored the wonders of zucchini in the microwave. Microwaving makes zucchini silky and tender with the push of a button. If you’re without a microwave, you can move those recipes to a saucepan over medium heat.

Appreciate the zucchini. In the scope of the season’s bounty, it may not steal the show, but you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

To learn how to cook zucchini 12 ways, read this excerpt from my new book Kitchen Matrix here.

This week, cook one of these zucchini recipes at home, or create a version of your own, and post to Instagram or Twitter using #MatrixChallenge.

I will be reposting some of my favorites, and one person will win an Inspiralizer from this week’s Challenge co-host, Inspiralized.com.

Posted in Uncategorized

A Watchful Eye on Farm Families’ Health

This is the eighth episode of “California Matters,” a series of videos about sustainable agriculture and healthy eating that I produced in collaboration with the Global Food Initiative at the University of California.

C.H.A.M.A.C.O.S. stands for the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, and also means “kids”in Mexican Spanish. It’s the name given by Brenda Eskenazi, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, for a group studying the effects of exposure to agriculture chemicals on children born in Salinas Valley between 2000 and 2002. The longitudinal study has followed more than half of the research population since birth.

Eskenazi and her team have focused primarily on three aspects of health that may be affected by these exposures: neurobehavioral development, which, if disrupted, can affect a child’s I.Q.; respiratory health; and growth, including weight and metabolism. This population sees higher rates of exposure to organophosphate chemicals, which are found in pesticides, than the general population, so there are possible implications of this study for farmworker communities and Californians at large.

Read the rest of this article here.

Mushrooms Upon Mushrooms

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times

Photo by Grant Cornett for the New York Times

Say ‘‘mushroom mille-feuille’’ to most veteran cooks and eaters, and they will most likely picture a golden mound of puff pastry filled with wild mushrooms in cream and herbs — a fine dish, if old-fashioned and increasingly rare.

This is nothing like that.

Read the rest of this column and get the recipe here.

Posted in Produce, Recipes

The Roots of Organic Farming

Visiting the farm at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was a personal high point of this series, though I couldn’t say exactly why. It could well have been because there’s an experimental blueberry plot there, and when I went in the spring, it was raining, and the green leaves were sparkling and the wet berries were offset perfectly, and here was this glistening working farm on an otherwise more-or-less normal college campus, which just happened to be on a hill above the Pacific.

Or it could have been because the Santa Cruz campus has a series of beautiful, renowned, well-run gardens and farms, unlike on any other campus in the country.

Read the rest of this article here.