September 7, 2021
How do we get food taken seriously? Is our diet feeding us or killing us or both?
Mark Bittman has authored more than 30 books including the How to Cook Everything series and the #1 New York Times bestseller VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good. Mark is a food columnist, opinion columnist, and was the lead magazine food writer at the New York Times, where he started writing in 1984 and remained for more than 30 years. Bittman is currently special advisor on food policy at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, where he teaches and hosts a lecture series. Mark’s most recent book and focus of this discussion is his latest book Animal, Vegetable, Junk on the history of food and humanity. Join us to learn about the interlinking issues that affect our diet, what shows up on our plate, and our public health including discussions of agriculture, environmental trends, land and labor justice among many other topics. Explore why it is even as obesity and diet deaths have become a number one killer that we haven’t made more progress.
Mark took us on an amazing journey of our food system, our history, our social justice system. He explained that people became interested in this writing when he started writing about food. Mark was initially focused on the pleasure side of food, writing about restaurants, cooking travel recipes, 30 plus bucks, but began to think about the future of food with some very tough questions about the future of our planet, and the challenge of feeding 10 billion humans. Mark broke the news early in our call that the majority of calories we consume in the US are in the form of ultra processed aka junk food that forms 60% of the adult diet in the US and about 70% of kids diets. Think Wonder Bread, cheeseburgers, chips, sodas, etc. Mark described the industrialization of food led by the US that brought us here with a triple impact from consolidation of farms mechanization and hybridization, favoring foods that have a long shelf life think wonderbread were easy to ship and are profitable, leading to giant farms with single crops the same by chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Mark described our current situation in the US and globally where chronic illness is responsible for more deaths than any other cause, and double the number of deaths of COVID. Yet our food policy doesn't seem to move one iota. Mark described the impact from our industrial approach to raising and slaughtering 77 billion animals a year, up from 60,000,000,010 years ago. He pointed out that in addition to complete cruelty and humanitarian issues, raising industrial animals is not sustainable and is a pop contributor to climate change. He pointed out that it would take for more Planet Earth for other countries to meet us meat consumption, and yet many are trying. In contrast, Mark pointed out that lagoons, which are the most important source of protein globally, has no food aisle, no lobby and no marketing program dedicated to it. In terms of answers, Marc admitted that we know what an unsustainable form of Ag looks like. But we don't yet know the formula for sustainable ag plan. In terms of his own diet, and his diet recommendations they start with, most importantly, avoiding the junk food which is everywhere, and which makes up the majority of our diet. Then he favors what he calls and I love this term, a plant forward diet, eating more food from the plant kingdom, then he favors eating fewer animal products and reducing sugar. He reminds us that vegan junk food is still at the end of the day junk food. Mark points out that we are at a planetary tipping point, we see that the climate crisis is here and largely being ignored. And he said the powers to be seemed to ignore the food crisis at the same time. He then gave us some great ideas for two places we could make a change immediately, namely antibiotics and pesticides. 80% of antibiotics are in use in the US today, through animal feed. This produces superbugs that kills 10s of 1000s of Americans each year, and he said if the FDA had political will they could change this. Pesticides, according to Mark are agents of death available in every neighborhood which are not being either tightly tested or regulated. Mark described a 500 acre model farm in California is copy Valley called full belly farm that lives many of the ideals he describes in his book with a focus on biodiversity polyculture, crop rotation, composting cover cropping and livestock. This is a model that Mark says isn't scalable to 5000 acres but is replicable. And in his book, he says that from his back of the envelope calculation. He believes that was five 1000 farms have full bellies caliber, we could feed perhaps 5 million people. So if anyone on our clubhouse call or listening to the recording wants to join the revolution, this farm takes visitors. Mark says he most admires farmers people in the trenches doing the hard work. And he says that leadership, with very few exceptions is not coming today from politicians from the top. Chris asked Mark was his first steps would be if he was Secretary of Ag, which I think Mark said he'd be glad to serve as on this call. And he gave us his first five steps one call the head of the FDA and put tighter controls on antibiotics to stop subsidizing corn and soy, three rewild 10% of land and encourage raising crops using regenerative principles for create an advisory committee with farmers, land advocates, nutritionists, doctors, and racial justice advocates on it, and five encouraged biodiversity and monoculture. Marc admitted that the first few steps are clear, but it is not clear what happens after that. He said we need to move boldly a step or two at a time. But right now he admitted we are barely moving at all. Mark raise the critical issue that in the long term to get adjust farm system, we'd need land reform. He quoted Karen Washington that we have today food apartheid with unequal access to food to land to income. Mark traces back to the the period in US history where great white wealth came from land that he said was stolen from indigenous people and redistributed to many of the people who now have some of the biggest wealth in the country. Food issues in the end according to Mark our democracy issues with food justice, land justice and agricultural justice as the next steps we all need to consider as activists. He said we need in the future to ask anyone who is running for office what their ag policies are not a question on many debate stages, and what their food justice intents are. I think it was an incredibly rich discussion. Thank you, john, Mark, Chris, and Max for a very rich evening. And thank you to all of the great questioners and our audience for staying with us for more than the two hours.