Placeholder Banner

Let’s Make Food Issues Real

May 8, 2015
New York Times editor Mark Bittman recently published an impressive op-ed discussing the current food movement and his thoughts on which issues about food are truly worth debating over. This opinion piece came at a great time as Panera recently announced that it will drop artificial ingredients from its pantry along with the popular fast food chain Chipotle's news that it has successfully eliminated all GMO ingredients from foods served in its U.S. restaurants.

"There is some talk about the food movement’s winning. I’m not even sure such a thing as a food movement exists.

"Yes, we have seen some encouraging developments: a promised reduction in the use of antibiotics by Tyson Foods and McDonald’s, a marginal wage increase by McDonald’s for a small portion of its worst-paid workers, a reduction of the use of artificial colors by Nestlé, Kraft and others; the elimination of aspartame in some diet drinks by Pepsi (to be replaced by different artificial sweeteners, of course); a more sweeping (and credible) announcement on additives by Panera; and Chipotle’s claim to have all-but-eliminated foods produced using genetic engineering."

This isn’t a case of perfect being the enemy of good enough, said Bittman. It's one of not getting carried away by what amounts to a little greenwashing. We need to change that.

Bittman makes a number of suggestions to improve the "food movement":

• End subsidies to processed food

• Break up the Department of Agriculture and empower the Food and Drug Administration

• Outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations

• Encourage and subsidize home cooking; tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods

• Mandate truth in labeling

Bittman argued that we have seen little movement on any of his suggestions but then counters with what we have seen:
"Some increase toward labeling foods produced with genetically engineered seeds, which — if it were to lead to greater transparency — would be a good thing. But this is not a burning issue; better to see labeling that addresses antibiotics, pesticides and treatment of workers and animals...

"And, as mentioned before, there have been some promises on the part of a couple of corporations to reduce antibiotic use."

"To my knowledge, and with the exception of the wage fights and Bernie Sanders, no presidential candidate has spoken about any of the above issues."

However, Sanders has come out in favor of G.M.O. labeling, said Bittman. Yet he’s a natural ally, and could (and should) be pushed to bring them into any potential debates with Hillary Clinton.

"Of course, few of us are going to have much access to Bernie or Hillary. We can, however, reach the people running for Congress from our districts, and it’s time to start asking them questions like these: Where do you stand on getting the routine use of antibiotics out of our food supply? On polluting our land, water and air, on using precious resources to raise tortured animals? On making sure my kids grow up eating decent food? And so on."

I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues. I’ll believe we’re effective when I see the routine use of antibiotics outlawed and when that first CAFO closes. I’ll know we’ve started to win when anyone who wants to farm real food has land on which to do it, when there are high-quality school lunches that are free for all, when we’ve started talking about providing that same quality dinner to anyone who needs it. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.