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New York Times Food Issue

2011 October 4
by Paul Mabrey

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/10/02/magazine/29mag-food-issue.html?hp

Make sure to check out the recent New York Times Food Issue, lots of great interactive features – including Michael Pollan answering questions from readers. Enjoy!

Introduction

By MARK BITTMAN

This Food and Drink Issue of the magazine — the fourth annual — is full of questions. I have two of my own, and they’re the same questions I’ve been asking myself since I began cooking 40 years ago. How can food change my life? And how can food change the world?

I grew up during a time when the awareness of the quality of food was practically nil. It’s true that in the ’50s and even the ’60s people still cooked, even if much of the food was “convenient,” like Jell-O mold or tuna tetrazzini. It’s also true that pigs were still raised on farms, most vegetables were seasonal and hyperprocessed junk hadn’t yet achieved hegemony. But back then we took the good stuff for granted and never thought it would get anything but better.

The ’70s and ’80s were a more optimistic era, because cooking was in the news and the American food revolution was in full swing. It turned out, though, that it wasn’t a revolution but a civil war. Our side featured good people arguing for real, mostly simple cooking done with fresh, well- raised ingredients, a retreat from convenience and overly fancy stuff and a return to the basics. Arrayed against us in this fight — a struggle for the American palate and ultimately the global diet — was Big Food, spreading like the Blob.

It was hardly a fair fight: we were naïve, optimistic and unprepared, armed with spatulas, good food and journalism. The bad guys had nuclear weapons like scientific marketing and advertising, billions of dollars and, worst of all, government support.

But our side grew as more people began to care. Contrary to what you sometimes hear, it was not an elite group. It was traditional farmers, urban farmers (many in poor neighborhoods), high-school and college students, back-to-the- landers, concerned parents of all classes and, yes, hipsters and intellectuals. Our numbers began to snowball, as more people embraced the importance of good, healthful food in their lives.

To my way of thinking, cooking is central to this battle. Cooking changes lives in ways that eating never approaches. Cooking makes you care about nourishment, family meals, nutrition, pleasure, relaxation, skills, control, health, the environment, culture and the earth. And it leads your kids to care about these things too.

As rewarding as all this is, it’s not enough. There is the personal, and there is the political. As well as you might feed yourself and your kids, the food “system” is still out there, stuffing some people and starving others, poisoning the earth and the air, destroying cultures everywhere.

Which brings us to how food can change the world. For people to eat well, to live well, to thrive and be healthy (and for health care costs to become more affordable), for agriculture and rural areas and even towns and cities to be sustainable — that is, for agriculture and land and water and labor to endure — the food system has to change. That means working locally, nationally, globally. Fix school lunches. Support a farmer, or start growing your own vegetables. Work for a member of Congress who is committed to making Big Food pay its way. Support fair treatment of workers — and of animals too. As a friend of mine said recently, there’s plenty of good work to do. With food it can really have an impact, not only on your life but on everyone’s.

 

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