Recipe for a Better Food System

For the last year I’ve been working with my friend Ricardo Salvador and the Union of Concerned Scientists, strategizing about our so-called food system and making healthy food affordable for everyone.

One upshot of this is a recipe video series called, appropriately enough, “Recipe for a Better Food System,” which connects great recipes to even better food policies.

The first video uses peak season tomatoes to get us talking about the people who get those tomatoes (and all our food) to our tables, and the reality of their working conditions. You’ll learn something, I hope, and maybe get some ideas for dinner.

You can also find the video on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ blog.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics, Recipes

What Should We Be Eating? Nutrients Are Not Enough

What is a healthy and affordable way to eat? How should we think about the Food Pyramid? How do we cut through all the competing ideas about what’s right, to understand how we should eat? And what policies could be changed to get Americans eating more healthily and sustainably? Watch my talk below at the New York Times Food for Tomorrow conference to hear my thoughts on how we should tackle some of these pressing questions.

Posted in Food Politics

Wanna Fix the Food System? Science Can Help

carrots

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

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.

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.

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.

A Farewell

This is my last regular opinion column on food for The Times. I’m leaving to take a central role in a year-old food company, to do what I’ve been writing about these many years: to make it easier for people to eat more plants. (“Oh,” say my friends, “you move to California and join a start-up.” Yup. Corny as can be.) I see it as putting philosophy into action and will talk about details soon.

Read the rest of this column here.

 

Posted in Food Politics

Serving Up School Lunches of Tomorrow

This is the sixth 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.

It’s no secret that, although progress has been made, school lunches need help. This is a national project, and an important one. One of the proving grounds is San Francisco, where the school district is joining with researchers from the Department of Agriculture and the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health to evaluate a project designed to increase school lunch participation, improve nutrition, reduce waste and ultimately counter tendencies toward obesity.

I took a look at a pilot project for this program by visiting Roosevelt Middle School and chatting with Zetta Reicker, who’s the director of the school system’s student nutrition services, and Kristine A. Madsen, an associate professor at the school of public health. (I also talked to a few kids, and ate lunch. Which was — for institutional food — better than O.K.)

Read the rest of this column here.

Lunch: September on #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, growing it, or reading about it, food brings people together. Welcome to #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month. In case you missed the first installment, here’s how it works—and check the archives for past conversations.

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

Photo by Andrew Scrivani for the New York Times

September is a transitional month, time for heading back to school or maybe easing out of the summer vacation groove and into a routine. After taking it easy in August, I’m back in Berkeley; “California Matters,” my webseries with the University of California, will pick up again this week, and here on #BittmanTopics, we’re talking lunch.

The midday meal is easy to overlook, but with just a little planning, it’s also easy to ace. In recent years, school lunches have received the attention they deserve as an issue that intersects policy issues from public health and government regulations to food justice. Blogs have even cropped up about the desk lunch, parodying those that are sad and glorifying those that aren’t. What’s in your brown bag? How are the students in your life eating at school? Any time-tested tips for streamlining your own weekday lunches? Tales of lingering restaurant meals and brunches also welcome… This month, tag your lunch-related photos, tweets, recipes, and reads with #BittmanTopics and I’ll share my favorites.

What’s the Buzz About Wild Bees?

Among all the pollinators, honeybees get the most publicity, deservedly, because of the problems around their survival. Claire Kremen’s research at the University of California, Berkeley, looks at diverse pollinators — not just bees, but also birds, moths and many insects — and the issues affecting them as emblematic of the broader problems of the food system. Pollinators are critical to global food production and about 75 percent of crop species depend on them to produce food that is more abundant and nutritious than it would otherwise be.

Monoculture — a single crop in an open field that may measure many hundreds of acres — increasingly depends on importing thousands of hives (by truck, usually) for the pollination of crops, especially in places like California. For example, the state produces 80 percent of the world’s almonds, which has concentrated the need for bees way beyond the capacity of native pollinators.

Focusing on a single crop reduces the biodiversity pollinators need to survive, and the timetable they best work on. It’s also a risky endeavor to rely on one species, especially when there are diseases, management problems and the inherent risks of transportation. Yet the large single-crop farms require the large apiaries to get the job done.

Read the rest of this article here.