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Gather 'Round the Table - Mark Bittman's Food Manifesto

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 3, 2011 5:40PM

food-matters-2.jpeg Mark Bittman, author of the long-running "Minimalist" column in the New York Times, has hung up his chef's apron. After 13 years of creating recipes (many of which we have adapted for use in our columns), Bittman has turned to politics full-time. While we're sad to see him leave the kitchen, his eloquent and informed voice will be a welcome addition to the world of food politics. On Tuesday, Bittman released his first column, a "Food Manifesto for the Future." It includes such radical proposals as abolishing the USDA, outlawing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations and mandating truth in labeling. These all raise important questions about the relationship between the government and the food-consuming individual, which boil down to: Do we have a right to eat federally-subsizided junk food until we fall over dead?

Rather than joining the ranks of food writers who write horror stories of sad, suffering animals and workers, Bittman is taking a policy approach, giving specific suggestions rather than mouthing platitudes. These are some serious suggestions! He is certainly not the first to argue that we should reinvest in sustainable agriculture or that we should encourage home cooking, but he envisions a completely new set of connections between the government and our food.

He suggests things like taxing the marketing and sale of unhealthy foods to raise money (the marketing of junk food is tax deductible), providing cooking and nutrition classes in all public schools, giving the FDA the power and money to recall or regulate anything they want and eliminating farm subsidies for processed food. In this age of Republican control of the house of representatives, it seems unlikely that many of these items will become reality, but sometimes food-related legislation has a strange way of sneaking through congress. After so many recalls and scandals, giving the FDA more power doesn't seem like "big government;" more like a necessity. And as countless millions of people shop at farmers markets and as small organic farms become a huge part of the American economy, a few subsidies seem reasonable. We would love to see Vitamin Water relabeled "sugar water with vitamins" as soon as possible. What do you think? Is it the place of the federal government to make these sweeping changes in the food world, or is this infringing on private citizens' rights to make decisions? Is there a difference between regulating food and, say, regulating automobiles and planes?