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

Fear of Almonds

I can’t tell you how many times in the last month someone has come up to me and said something like, “Do you think I should stop eating almonds?” or “I really miss almond butter, but I just can’t bring myself to buy it anymore.”

It’s typical: We focus on a minuscule part (almonds) of a huge problem (water use in California) and see it as the key to fixing everything: If only we stopped eating almonds, the drought would end! (If only we stopped eating “carbs,” we wouldn’t be overweight.) But there are parts of the state where growing almonds makes sense. Using dry farming techniques that take advantage of residual moisture in the soil and rainfall, there is some ideal almond country in California.

Posted in Food Politics

Looking Back: Grilling on #BittmanTopics

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“The summer grilling season has started! Baby back ribs with tangy BBQ sauce and grilled veggies” -@traceysivak‘s Memorial Day dinner

introduced #BittmanTopics as a way to share ideas about what—and how—we’re eating, and this month, we focused on grilling. Many of you were proud to announce you have year-round cookouts while others in colder climes are just now getting back to the fire. Most of us associate grilling with meat, but throwing some vegetables on the barbecue is actually a great way to practice “less-meatarianism”:—I shared my recipe for Mexican-style corn and you all shared your own favorites here and onFacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Below are some things you had to say and eat last month—check back tomorrow for June’s topic.

Grilled wings by my friend and colleague Kerri Conan: "The rub: Equal parts sumac and pimentón, less ground garlic and chili powder, salt and pepper; indirect fire."

Grilled wings by my friend and colleague Kerri Conan: “The rub: Equal parts sumac and pimentón, less ground garlic and chili powder, salt and pepper; indirect fire.”

The question of the month: “Currently raising my own pork, lamb and beef, looking for best all purpose combo grill/smoker – suggestions?” –@vpfarming
One colleague, Daniel Meyer, built his own smoker, which worked well until it burnt to a crisp. We like Webers, Big Green Eggs, and old-school campfires. But I’m eager to hear what you all use.

“My grill never hibernates.” -Kathleen Harold, Facebook

“Hibernate? Nay!! I grill year round. Yet another gift of So Cal life.” -Rachel Wooster Gangsei, Facebook

“Grilling in celebration of spring,” from @cherthollow Farm. That’s goat on the kebabs!

“Grilling in celebration of spring,” from @cherthollow Farm. That’s goat on the kebabs!

“Made Grilled Broccoli With Chipotle Lime Butter for some friends a few weeks back. There was a look of despair on one guests face when I revealed there was not enough for seconds…” -Phil, markbittman.com

“I enjoy grilling Veggies after marinading and rubbing them with Himalayan pink salt, fresh napoletano basil, savory, lemon juice and Fresh lime basil.” -Bonnie Hiniker, Facebook

“Lamb chops coming off the grill.” -@thevillagegravy

“Lamb chops coming off the grill.” -@thevillagegravy

Can We Finally Treat Food Workers Fairly?

Two pieces of seemingly unrelated news last week show just how deficient our values are when it comes to the treatment of the lowest paid workers in our economy, the largest portion of whom are employed in the food chain.

First, Los Angeles followed Seattle and San Francisco in setting its minimum wage at $15 per hour. With New York looking as if it might join the club, $15 could become the new, de facto $7.25, the current federal minimum hourly wage. (As I’ve mentioned before, many tipped workers make even less than that.) A couple of days later, Walmart, among the worst offenders in the realm of labor abuse, announced that it would push its suppliers for improvements in … animal welfare.

If Walmart’s new rules are enforced, they’d be stricter and more humane than any set by federal agencies. But the standards are voluntary, vague and without a deadline; and the company has a history of not following through on its promises.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

No Justice, No … Anything

In public appearances and classes this semester, I’ve talked about eating better and improving the food system in ways that would enable more of us to do so. That’s a discussion about food.

Invariably, someone asks me, “How do you help people eat well when they can’t afford food?”

That’s not a food question but a justice question. Without economic justice there is no nutritional literacy, there is no good eating, there is no health.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Let’s Make Food Issues Real

There is some talk about the food movement’s winning. I’m not even sure such a thing as a food movement exists.

Yes, we have seen some encouraging developments: a promised reduction in the use of antibiotics by Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, a marginal wage increase by McDonald’s for a small portion of its worst-paid workers, a reduction of the use of artificial colors by Nestlé, Kraft and others; the elimination of aspartame in some diet drinks by Pepsi (to be replaced by different artificial sweeteners, of course); a more sweeping (and credible) announcement on additives by Panera; and Chipotle’s claim to have all-but-eliminated foods produced using genetic engineering.

Wage increases and reduced antibiotics are welcome developments; the rest of this barely registers in its significance. Replacing aspartame with sucralose or high fructose corn syrup with sugar is rearranging the deck chairs. (The Panera move seems exceptional, but Panera is a new-wave company and has shown some principles from the start. They’re not reacting to pressure from the food movement but from their enlightened chief executive, Ron Shaich.)

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

A Bone to Pick, On Sale Today

Bone to Pick cover

My latest book, A Bone to Pick, goes on sale today. I’m particularly excited to share this book with you because it brings us one step closer to addressing the shortcomings in our flawed food system.

Until pretty recently, most of us didn’t know what a “food system” was, let alone that ours wasn’t working. But as issues of how our food is produced and consumed—and the impact of both on our health and environment—creep further into mainstream culture, media, and politics, more of us are realizing what’s at stake and speaking up about it.

So read the book, then share it with someone. Keep the conversation going on social media with #ABoneToPick, and see how it ties in for you with this month’s #BittmanTopics. There’s a whole lot to say.

Posted in Food Politics, Mark Bittman Books

This Month on #BittmanTopics: Grilling

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.

Photo by Francesco Tonelli for the New York Times

Photo by Francesco Tonelli for the New York Times

For many of us, May is a transitional month: it starts as spring and ends around Memorial Day, often with heat and humidity. Grills are coming out of hibernation; I’d like to hear what you’re doing about that.

There is nothing more iconic than the burger, and there’s no denying that the grilled burger is pretty tasty. But there are lots of ways to venture beyond the basic, whether you’re doing it for taste or because the true cost of a cheeseburger is so high. You don’t even need meat: I’ve been doing the less-meatarian thing for a while now (and even wrote a book on it), and most of these 101 fast recipes for grilling are vegetarian. Have a look.

Photo by Sam Kaplan for the New York Times

Photo by Sam Kaplan for the New York Times

Meanwhile, what’s your favorite—or most unexpected—thing to throw on the grill? How do you cook vegetables outside? Do you cut back on meat when you’re grilling, or go (forgive me) whole hog? Whether you’re a grillmaster or a first-timer, join us this month on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or in the comments below with #BittmanTopics. And keep an eye out for details about a tweetchat, which I’ll be hosting later this month thanks to Natalie Shrock’s suggestion on Facebook.

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