This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

Mark Bittman on the politics of the plate

With what might be described as alarming frequency, we Americans are reminded of the trust exercise we perform every time we head to the grocery store. Thousands of people have fallen ill over the years after eating foods contaminated with e. coli and salmonella. The culprits have included spinach, salsa, peanut butter and papaya to name a few recent examples. But then there are the less obvious hidden dangers in the American diet. The ones created by food policy that some believe serve lobbyists more than the average American consumer.

If you’re familiar with long-time food writer Mark Bittman‘s work in The New York Times you may know that he’s branched out from the food pages to the opinion section, where he focuses on the intersection of food, politics and the environment. Bittman is the author of several books; his most recent is “The Food Matters Cookbook.”

Watch more segments from this episode.



  • Valleej54

    you missed the chance to explore meatless or nearly meatless diets as solution to the enviornment,affordability and health concerns . A mostly meatless diet can solve so many problems

  • DyNama

    Mr Bittman is generally wrong about everything. white bread, ground meat, soda pop have never been proven to be even inconducive to good health, let alone “almost poison.” he seems to champion an unadulterated diet from a couple centuries ago…when lifespans averaged 30 or 40 years. if we discovered a primitive tribe today and introduced them to the western diet, yes, they would gain 40 pounds, but they’d also gain 40 extra years of life. we have thrived on the diet invented after world war 2. by any objective measure, we are living longer, healthier lives, and the only real danger to that is adopting unhealthy “healthy lifestyles.”

  • Earthquake31

    One time I lost every nickel I had in Las Vegas. At about 1pm I checked the dumpster at a Jack in the Box and found about 35 plastic bags from breakfast eggs. Each bag had about 1/4 inch of liquid eggs that had setteled in the bottom of the bag. I poured all the bags into one bag and found about 25 slices of canadian bacon. Several bisquits had also been discarded. I had my backpacking folding skillet with me and went out to a field and cooked up the best breakfast I ever had. That was one plush dumpster. No food snobs allowed. Nor experts at fine dining.

  • Emily

    Mark has part of the story on the relationship of Americans and food, but not all. The proliferation of nonsustaining, nonnutritious foods in our diets are to some extent due to politics and profit, but bottom line is, we are trying to feed deprived selves/souls by eating these foods. If  you read Louise Hay on this, the symbolism of the disease of diabetes is lack of nuturing for the self, lack of sweetness for the self. The U.S. is the most productive nation in the world  – we are literally working ourselves to death, and we have nothing left over at the end of the day, the week, the month, the year to take care of ourselves, except food. Not to mention being overstimulated – the average person in current times processes more information in one day than the average person in the Middle Ages did in their entire life. And what do we get for all of this work and focus? If we are lucky, a job, insurance, maybe more than minimum wage, but the least actual take-home pay since the 1920s/30s – that is where the real politics come in – that in exchnge for having quiet, thoughtful, satisfying lives, we are frantically trying to stay afloat, at the mercy of employers who know we have nowhere else to go (in this ecnomy) and can inch by inch downsize our benefits and even our jobs. Why wouldn’t we pick comfort foods? The present and future are scary for everyone except rich people and corporations. Diabetes is a disease of the emotions as much as the body, and the foods that lead us there are the unconscious opiate for neediness, fear, and exhaustion.

  • Coratime22

    No, DyNama you are incorrect.  I encourage you to watch the documentary ‘Food, Inc.’ and it will all be explained to you: e-coli outbreaks, diabetes epidemic, copyrighted soy seeds/genetically modified foods, Clarence Thomas, a ‘corn’ society, Cows and other lifestock that can’t digest corn, the lack of variety in our supermarkets, Washington corruption. 

    When you are educated, you avoid observable ‘generalizations’ and get straight to the facts and the solutions.

  • Christi6746

    Seriously?  You think our longer life expectancy is due to consuming crap?  Wow.  How naive can you actually be?  Our longer lives are due in large part to advances in science in medicine, NOT processed foods.

  • Christi6746

    Seriously?  You think our longer life expectancy is due to consuming crap?  Wow.  How naive can you actually be?  Our longer lives are due in large part to advances in science in medicine, NOT processed foods.

  • Adrienne Boswell

    You are a fool!  Usually, I don’t get into flame wars, but I think this time it’s warranted.  The reason people live longer today is not because of the additives in our foods.  It’s because we have, for the most part, better medical care.   Centuries ago, people died earlier because of poor medical care, hard and sometimes dangerous labor, and economics. Look at Ramses – he was Pharaoh of Egypt and he lived to be 90 years old.  I’m sure that Ramses ate a very healthy diet.

  • Daniel Lenaghan

    I don’t see how this will work when the government, at least at the state level. is sending in SWAT teams to raid raw milk co-ops..

  • Earthquake31

    I survived for years on vasectomy trimmings, I dont see the problem here. Food is strictly utilitarian, like a screwdriver or a wrench. People pigging out here on earth at 200 dollars a plate will be hungry ghosts when they die. You will have a very large head and stomach with 10,000 times the amount of desire you had here, but alas your mouth will be a pinhole.  A full mouth in never fed. 

  • annoying grace

    I am a breatharian. I live on air.