Wage Justice Is on the Menu

When I first wrote in some small detail about food workers in the United States, it was thanks in part to Saru Jayaraman, a leader of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United. I’ve since come to rely on her for news about labor in general and food workers in particular. At that point, three years ago, her main focus was on tipped workers, who in 43 states are still paid sub-minimum wage (as low as $2.13 per hour) under the often-flawed and completely unfair assumption that tips will routinely make up the difference. Mostly, evidence shows, they do not.

But the 11 million-odd food service workers in the United States are subject to many other injustices, as Jayaraman discusses in this video: underpayment no matter what the scheme; sexual harassment; part-time work with unpredictable hours; lack of health insurance, sick days and paid vacation, and so on. In those terms, the plight of most workers in the food industry resembles that of industrial workers in the United States 100 years ago. What changed that, at least in part, was organization and, ultimately, unionization. That is what food workers need today.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in American, California Matters, Food Politics

What Oysters Reveal About Sea Change

This is kind of the good news/bad news department, as so many things are: The good news is that terrific oysters are being farmed in several locations in California; the bad news is that ocean acidification — the absorption of carbon dioxide into the sea, a direct result of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere — is a direct threat to that industry.

I saw both when I visited Hog Island Oyster Co. in Marshall, an operation north of San Francisco on Tomales Bay. (Actually, I’ve eaten at and of Hog Island dozens of times, and even shot video there for a PBS series more than 10 years ago.)

I went with Tessa Hill, who’s been researching ocean acidification at Bodega Marine Laboratory for eight years. Hill studies how changes in marine chemistry impact a variety of marine animals, including oysters, whose shells are getting thinner, smaller and more susceptible to predators. Her research looks at current conditions and develop a baseline for tracking the effects of climate change going forward.

Read the rest of this column here.

Alice Waters’s Perfect Aioli

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In Berkeley, where I currently live, ‘‘Alice’’ is a one-name celebrity, like Madonna. This is completely justifiable. In her lifetime, there has probably been no more important American in food than Alice Waters.

It was a matter of timing, of course — Alice is not a superwoman. She is, however, a dreamer and an uncompromising visionary. Some 40 years ago, when she settled in Berkeley — she had graduated from the university and then spent many summers in France — she had already recognized that good cooking was not about fancy French ingredients or techniques, but about taking the best local food you could find and not messing it up.

A Walk on the Wild (Edibles) Side

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Illustration by Becca Stadtlander from “Salad From the Sidewalk,” the illustrated accompaniment to this column.

When I went foraging with Philip Stark and Tom Carlson for what became the first of the California Matters series of videos, I had an idea of what to expect. I spent a lot of time in Vermont in the ’70s and, armed with Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, I learned about eating dandelion leaves, roots, and the base where they met, as well as crowns and even the little balls of unbloomed flowers (actually the best part, sautéed). I learned, too, about milkweed, a plant that can be eaten at several stages.

Most of the other ostensibly easy-to-find plants, however, remained elusive, largely because I found books inadequate for identification purposes and I had no guide – I was on my own. (I was finally shown wild asparagus by Lidia Bastianich in Istria, Croatia, 30 years later.)

 

Eating Outdoors: July 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 conversations from past months.

Photo illustration by the New York Times

Photo illustration by the New York Times.

For most of us north of the equator, it’s picnic season. I’m taking advantage with a perfectly packed basket and 101 20-minute-or-less dishes to eat outdoors. The best picnic foods get better as they sit, and since it’s summer, the less time spent in the kitchen the better—adventurous riffs on familiar foods are perfect. I bet in your neck of the woods the weather is nice enough right now that you’re also enjoying as many meals as possible outside.

There are plenty of ways to talk about food and the great outdoors: dining al fresco at restaurants, nibbling fresh harvests in the garden or market, having cookouts or going camping, and thinking and talking about the impact of our food system on climate change. Whether you’ve taken it to the streets, a boardwalk, or in a basket, I’d like to see.

Tom Willey among his eggplants. Photo by Jeff Minton for The New York Times.

Tom Willey among his eggplants. Photo by Jeff Minton for the New York Times.

Where and what are you eating outside right now? What’s fueling your adventures and vacations? Have you eaten anything good off a stick? How do you pack for a day the beach? Stay in touch this month—on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and in the comments below—and be on the lookout for details on the next tweetchat. Tag your photos, recipes, and reading with #BittmanTopics and I’ll feature my favorites back here in a few weeks.

Looking Back: Grow-Your-Own

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 months’ conversations.

@melinahammer

“Inspiration today brought to you by #vegetables. Go to the #farmersmarket. Fall in love. Take something home you’ve never tried before.” –@melinahammer

At first, grow-your-own suggests gardening—and it seems we’re all either gardeners or one degree of separation from one—but this month, we also talked about foraging, raising animals, and eating locally in a broader sense. In response to my Times op-ed “Let’s Help Create More Farmers,” I heard from many who agree we need to create new policies that make small farms more financially viable and had great ideas about how to make that happen. Also this month, my web series, California Matters, launched with an episode about urban foraging, and you all helped ring it in with a tweetchat. We’ll be having another one next month, so stay tuned.

Here’s just a handful of my favorite comments and photos that you sent me in June. Even though the month’s over, keep tagging your photos, recipes, and relevant articles with #BittmanTopics so I can follow along:

@thevillagegravy

“Leslie and Doug of Peach Mountain. Heirloom organics and garden starts. #bittmantopics #ysgram #mvohgram” –@thevillagegravy

“We need land and farmers, but we need markets and a form of shared risk. Anyone who contributes to a food hub should be eligible for the loan forgiveness-including those who market, distribute, promote, prevent loss, and process excess into value-added products that also support the local farmer. CSA member fees should be tax deductible. Small farmers have to be supported once they get the land.” –Carolyn Hennes, Facebook

@halflighthoney

“You guys! We got some goats! Very exciting day here at @skylinefarm ” –@halflighthoney

“I have been growing my own vegetables for decades. When we first moved here in the “country” area of San Diego County, we also raised our own animals- it was the time of people returning to Mother Earth (early 1970s). We chose to live here so we could give our children a taste of what this type of life where we were responsible for much of what we ate. We are still here and still have chickens for eggs in addition to a very large garden. I can much of our produce for winter in things like pickles, roasted tomato sauce, salsa, jams and marmalade.I am a college professor with a degree in home economics. I have run a culinary arts program and taught adults in cooking classes much of my adult life. Food is an essential part of my life. I try to pass on this love and caring to my friends, family and students. Currently I am teaching canning classes at Olivewood Gardens for women whose first language is Spanish. Over the many years I have tried to improve my gardening methods. I learned about composting from Olivewood Gardens and have had great success with that and using the manure from my chickens. Even in the drought, I can have my garden because I have taken measures to conserve everywhere else in order to grow this food.” –Cathie Roberson, markbittman.com

ourdailybowl

“@markbittman is doing a chat on foraging and gardening (and eating!) at 3ET. Here’s our herb garden. #BittmanTopics” –@ourdailybowl

I asked on Facebook what you’re all growing and you responded with full inventories of, really, everything under the sun: from tomatoes and herbs to cucuzza (“squash that looks like and grows as big as a baseball bat,” according to Marily Cura) and sea buckthorn. It seems to be growing season nearly everywhere—in driveways and studio apartments, on fire escapes and balconies, from the Bay Area to Scandinavia.

“[My garden] is not so much a ‘what’ but a ‘where’. While I fought it all the way, my husband convinced me to move the garden right outside the kitchen door here in Iowa. (It had been at the end of our lot.) I can’t believe how much it’s influencing what we eat. I get up in the morning and notice that the chard or a pepper or the dill or the beans are growing, and then I know what we’ll have for dinner.” –Kendra Hanzlik

@remyrobert

“figs and herbs aplenty at @esynola. really hoping i manage to keep the garden this beautiful (and alive) all summer… #BittmanTopics #gardening #gardeneducation” –@remyrobert

“Delicata squash, heirloom tomato, microgreens, chard, sugar snap peas, nasturtium, lettuce, basil, parsley, hardy kiwi vine, blueberries. – All in a limited .04 acre proportion, tucked in among the perennials garden and in pots and trays. The more I try the more space I find. Maybe going more vertical next year!” –Eleni Triant LaSenna

“I dug up the front lawn of my rental home in a small town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and created a large spiral garden. This year 4 families are enjoying the produce..Tomatoes, medicinal herbs, jing and burgundy okra, sunflowers, cocozelle, patty pan, kabocha and rampicante squash, scarlet kale, french gherkins, amaranth, shiso, rhubarb, japanese eggplant, beets, carrots, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom beans, cabbage, urfa biber peppers and so on…milkweed, bee balm and other flowers mixed in for the pollinators.” –Annette Abigail Wells

“Hakarei turnips. That and love are all we need.” –Elizabeth Meister

@thevillagegravy

“Salad ready purslane #foraging #volunteer #bittmantopics” –@thevillagegravy

Trust Me. Butter Is Better.

Why would you buy a processed food that tastes worse than what it was designed to replace, doesn’t exist in nature, and helps kill you?

Either because you had no choice or had been misled about its essence. And that’s exactly the situation most Americans find themselves in regarding partially hydrogenated oils and the trans fats they contain.

The good news is that — finally — the Food and Drug Administration isbanning food containing trans fats, although really only sort of, and really only after overwhelming evidence (and more than one lawsuit) made their dangers impossible to ignore. And in typical pro-industry fashion, the F.D.A. is not only allowing companies three years to get trans fats out of most foods, but will consider manufacturers’ petitions to keep them in.

 

Posted in Food Politics

“California Matters,” My New Web Series

Here’s the first episode of “California Matters,” a 10-part webseries I developed with the Berkeley Food Institute. To do it, I ranged throughout the state, talking to people about issues in food, from labor rights to pesticide exposure, the history of Chinese-American cooking, ocean acidification, and more. This first one — in which I roam the streets of Oakland with Berkeley professors Tom Carlson and Philip Stark — is about urban foraging and wild edibles: weeds.

Food-wise (and otherwise), what happens in California affects everyone in America (get it? California Matters), so I’m excited to share the series, and looking forward to telling more of these stories. Here’s a conversation I had recently about how and why we made the series, plus a couple podcasts for more info. Stay tuned, and click here to subscribe.

Let’s Help Create More Farmers

Just about everyone agrees that we need more farmers. Currently, nearly 30 percent are 65 or older, and fewer than 10 percent are under 35. The number of farmers is likely to fall further with continuing consolidation and technological innovation.

But displacement of farmers is neither desirable nor inevitable. We need to put more young people on smaller farms, the kinds that will grow nourishing food for people instead of food that sickens us or yields products intended for animals or cars.

The problem is land, which is often prohibitively expensive. Farmland near cities is prized by developers and the wealthy looking for vacation homes, hobby farms or secure investments. Many farmers have no choice but to rent land for a year or two before being asked to move and start all over, because the purchase of even the smallest plot is out of their reach.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Farming, Food Politics

Grow-Your-Own: June 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 here’s what we talked about in April and May.

Summer is the easiest time of year to eat locally, especially if you garden. This month on #BittmanTopics, I want to hear about your local food scene—from gardening and foraging to preservation or raising animals—whether you produce food yourself or know or live near others who do.

A front yard garden in Orlando, FL. Photo by Todd Anderson for the New York Times.

A front yard garden in Orlando, FL. Photo by Todd Anderson for the New York Times.

Even little things count. You don’t need much of a green thumb to keep a pot of herbs alive. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the folks—and there are more and more of them—who build raised gardens or keep chickens and bees. (I got my start somewhere in between, with some tomato plants in a 6-inch strip of dirt.)

We can discuss all of this in a tweetchat I’m hosting on June 10 at 3:00 ET (noon PT) in conjunction with the launch of California Matters, my web series produced by the University of California and Berkeley Food Institute. It premieres on June 8, and the first episode is all about foraging. Follow along with #BittmanTopics and come with questions.

Foraged morels. Photo by Rikki Snyder for the New York Times.

Foraged morels. Photo by Rikki Snyder for the New York Times.

How and what do you raise? What techniques have you found particularly successful? Why do you garden (or forage, raise animals, keep bees…)? Got any ideas for making the most of bumper crops? Do you have family, friends, or neighbors who share their bounty? Stay in touch this month—on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and in the comments below—and I’ll feature my favorites back here in a few weeks.

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Posted in Bittman Topics, Farming, Food Politics, Produce, Recipes