Obama and Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership … Unfortunately

There’s an important issue out there you may never have heard of, which is just what its proponents would like. That’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently being pushed by the Obama administration and its corporate (and mostly Republican!) allies. It’s a blatant attack on labor, farmers, food safety, public health and even national sovereignty.

And the details of the deal are largely secret. Other than what’s been leaked, the public has no access to its contents, and even members of Congress don’t know much. (On the other hand, “cleared advisers,” mostly corporate lawyers, have full access.) That’s because the TPP is way too important to its sponsors to allow little details like congressional or public input to get in its way, even though constitutional authority over trade is granted to the legislative, not the executive, branch.

Posted in Food Politics

Making Sense of Water

Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.

That doesn’t mean homeowners can’t and shouldn’t cut back.

But according to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Introducing #BittmanTopics

Whether you’re cooking it, eating it, or following the policies around it, food brings people together. In that spirit, I’m introducing #BittmanTopics: a place where we can all share ideas about a different food-related topic each month.

Here’s how it works: at the beginning of the month, I’ll introduce a new subject. For the next few weeks, you can use #BittmanTopics to approach it from whatever angle you like—share related news and articles, exchange recipes and photos, ask questions and swap tips, or just weigh in. At the end of the month, I’ll compile my favorite photos, recipes, and comments (with credit to you, of course) in a post back here on my site and share on social media. Now on to the topic for April…

Photo by Yunhee Kim

Photo by Yunhee Kim

Spring produce. We all thrill to the first hints of spring at the market, like real peas, favas and strawberries. Eating locally, obviously, isn’t new: barely anything was shipped more than a couple of hundred miles until after World War 2. But even though most produce is available year-round, the word “seasonal” still has plenty of meaning. Even now, some of us are enjoying local strawberries while others are just getting those first few ramps.

What does spring produce mean to you? What’s local to you this month? What springtime ingredients and dishes are you cooking right now?

Photos by Jim Wilson

Photos by Jim Wilson

Here are some recipes and readings to get us going: light stews to transition from winter to spring, an updated take on spring’s signature pasta, and asparagus 12 ways. For dessert, two of the easiest strawberry dishes. (Careful with those Big Ag strawberries.)

Remember to get in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in the comments below and share your favorite recipes, articles, thoughts and tips with #BittmanTopics. Check back in as often as you’d like and look for my favorites at the end of the month.

Posted in Food Politics, Recipes

McDonald’s Turns ‘Progressive’

You could almost feel sorry for McDonald’s. That’s an odd sentiment when you consider that the company’s revenues in 2014 were $27.4 billion and its stock price makes it worth something like $92 billion. It’s among the world’s most valuable brands and has three times the United States market share of Subway, its nearest competitor.

Enviable. Yet for years its new products, business ventures, even social media attempts have gone wrong: It sold a 90 percent share in Chipotle,now one of its strongest competitors; it introduced products like chicken wings, which went nowhere; it created a Twitter hashtag, #McDStories, that turned into a bashing event. And it has spectacularly failed to attract or even hold on to millennial customers, who’ve fled in droves.

Posted in Food Politics

Stop Making Us Guinea Pigs

The issues surrounding G.M.O.s — genetically modified organisms — have never been simple. They became more complicated last week when the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the widely used herbicide Roundup, probably causes cancer in humans. Two insecticides, malathion and diazinon, were also classified as “probable” carcinogens by the agency, a respected arm of the World Health Organization.

Posted in Food Politics

Why Not Utopia?

Why Not Utopia

Some quake in terror as we approach the Terminator scenario, in which clever machines take over the world. After all, it isn’t sci-fi when Stephen Hawking says things like, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

But before the robots replace us, we face the challenge of decreasing real wages resulting, among other factors, from automation and outsourcing, which will itself be automated before long. Inequality (you don’t need more statistics on this, do you?) is the biggest social challenge facing us. (Let’s call climate change, which has the potential to be apocalyptic rather than just awful, a scientific challenge.) And since wealthy people don’t spend nearly as high a percentage of their incomes as poor people do, much wealth is sitting around not doing its job.

Read the rest of this column here. Illustration by Kristen Hammerstad.

Posted in Food Politics

Feeding Kids Well

How the School Nutrition Association became an ally of what you might call the “let them eat cake” forces is a long story. What matters is that if, like the association, you’re taking a stand against the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — from a food perspective, among the two or three most progressive pieces of legislation of the Obama administration — you are simply on the wrong side. You’ve pitted yourself not only against better nutrition for current school kids but, even more important, against better nutrition for future students and adults. The School Nutrition Association’s position may not be the equivalent of the American Diabetes Association insisting that, say, we serve Coke at all meals, but it’s in that ballpark.

Posted in Food Politics

What Is the Purpose of Society?

The world of food and agriculture symbolizes most of what’s gone wrong in the United States. But because food is plentiful for most people, and the damage that conventional agriculture does isn’t readily evident to everyone, it’s important that we look deeper, beyond food, to the structure that underlies most decisions: the political economy.

Progressives are not thinking broadly or creatively enough. By failing to pressure Democrats to take strong stands on everything from environmental protection to gun control to income inequality, progressives allow the party to use populist rhetoric while making America safer for business than it is for Americans. No one seriously believes that Hillary Clinton will ever put the interests of Main Street before those of her donors from Wall Street, do they? At least not unless she’s pushed, and hard.

It’s clear to most everyone, regardless of politics, that the big issues — labor, race, food, immigration, education and so on — must be “fixed,” and that fixing any one of these will help with the others. But this kind of change must begin with an agreement about principles, specifically principles of human rights and well-being rather than principles of making a favorable business climate.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Good Riddance to the Foam Take-Out Carton

Strike another blow against so-called convenience and bring back the paper coffee cup with the Greek columns: foam cups and other polystyrene foam packaging, even packing “peanuts,” are going bye-bye in New York City.

They’re already banned, or will be, in over 100 jurisdictions in the United States, including the District of Columbia; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Minneapolis and San Francisco, and some 90 other municipalities in California. But the New York City move may signal the death knell for the stuff most of us call by its common (and technically misapplied) name, Styrofoam.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

What Causes Weight Gain

If I ask you what constitutes “bad” eating, the kind that leads to obesity and a variety of connected diseases, you’re likely to answer, “Salt, fat and sugar.” This trilogy of evil has been drilled into us for decades, yet that’s not an adequate answer.

We don’t know everything about the dietary links to chronic disease, but the best-qualified people argue that real food is more likely to promote health and less likely to cause disease than hyperprocessed food. And we can further refine that message: Minimally processed plants should dominate our diets. (This isn’t just me saying this; the Institute of Medicine and the Department of Agriculture agree.)

And yet we’re in the middle of a public health emergency that isn’t being taken seriously enough. We should make it a national priority to create two new programs, a research program to determine precisely what causes diet-related chronic illnesses (on top of the list is “Just how bad is sugar?”), and a program that will get this single, simple message across: Eat Real Food.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics