Mark Bittman writes a regular Op-Ed column about food for the New York Times in which he explores the connections between food, health and the environment. In town this week for a Seattle Arts & Lectures talk titled "The Future of Food," he also answered questions from the audience.
You say that the 800-pound gorilla in the future of food is politics.
In California right now, there's Prop 37, that would require labelling of food that contains GMOs [genetically modified organisms]. Right now, it has a 45 point lead in the polls, and if it passes, Big Food will have to rethink its recipes because the public isn't going to buy genetically mpodified food. Transparency is the answer. The more you know, the angrier you're going to be.
What about the Stanford study that questioned the benefits of "organic" farming?
A blow to good research. I think we'll find out that a lot of the funding came from the processed-food industry.
Spokesmen for industrial food say it's the only way to grow enough food to feed the planet's nine billion people.
Human history is 200,000 years old. Agriculture is 5,000 years old. Industrial agriculture is 75 years old. We don't even know if small scale ag is sustainable. But we know industrial ag is inefficient, and poisoning the planet besides.
What would you like to see in the future?
We need to eat less junk. Part of that is personal responsibility, but the government can help. Smoking, child labor laws, police and fire, sewers. Those are major public health issues. Banning big gulp sodas a step in the right direction. We need a soda tax. Obesity is a $150 billion health pandemic. We're all paying for that.
Isn't the ban on Big Gulp soda in New York an example of Nanny State intrusion?
High fructose corn syrup has added 200 calories a day to the American diet. Banning Big Gulp sodas may be a slippery slope, but it's the beginning of better public health policy. We have to stop marketing junk food to kids, on TV and on the Internet. It should be illegal to sell soda in schools. We should tax soda and demonize it like tobacco. Hell, we shold demonize bad food in general.
Some years ago, by your own account, you were overweight, you were sleeping badly, and your doctor told you to go on a vegan diet.
I wasn't going to follow his advice, not the vegan part, but I did work out a solution that I called Vegan Before 6. No "white food," no processed food before dinner. Then I ate whatever I wanted. After six weeks I'd lost 35 pounds, my cholesterol was back to normal, and I went back to running again. It's a diet that worked for me, maybe not for everyone.