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Beware Fake Food says Bittman

BY JORDAN HANSEN | APRIL 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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Fixing food is going to require getting rid of what we think of as the “American Diet,” says food writer and New York Times journalist Mark Bittman.

Bittman was invited to speak Wednesday as part of the University of Iowa’s Lecture series. During the talk, he focused on two sides of food: political aspects of food and personal relationship with food, as well as ways to change both.

He said it is almost impossible to talk about food without bringing politics into the conversation, but he also believes the government is key to solving the food problem in America.

“The government exists to help people get things done,” he said. “If you look at what has been done with seatbelts and tobacco, that government regulation has saved lives. The same needs to happen with food.”

Food labeling should state where a food product was produced, the labor practices involved, pesticides, herbicides, and the antibiotics used, Bittman contended.

“The more we know about how our food is produced and what goes into our food, the angrier we will be,” he said. “That’s when people will start demanding real change in their food.”

Bittman discussed subsidizing various healthy foods instead of monoculture crops such as corn and soybeans.

“We need fewer people growing 2,000 acres of corn and more growing 200 acres of diversity,” Bittman said to applause by the audience. “Monoculture, like the kind that exists in Iowa, goes toward industrial food production and industrial animals.”

Subsidizing healthier foods to make them profitable to grow is a good start, said Tom Furlong, who owns a corn, soybean, and cattle farm near Muscatine and attended the lecture.

“The reason you have guys growing corn and soybeans is, because of subsidies, it’s profitable,” he said. “I think it would be interesting to see what happened if they chose to subsidize more fruits and vegetables.”

On the personal side of food, Bittman called on the audience to eat more “real” food, such as plants, and to stay away from over processed, unhealthy “unidentified foodlike objects” such as soda.

“Defining what is real food is something that is very empowering, and it’s something everyone can do,” Bittman said. “Once we realize what food is real and what food isn’t, we’re moving in the right direction.”

Melissa Palma, who is on the UI Lecture Committee and is studying to become a doctor, said she thinks Bittman has the right idea.

“Access to bad food, or fake food, is almost a default in today’s society,” Palma said. “I think that conversations like this are important because as a medical student, I plan on helping others with their lifestyles.”

Bittman said that educating the public, especially children, is key to changing the idea of food in America. He suggested, for starters, treating soda similar to cigarettes in the eyes of the law.

“I know it sounds ridiculous to put soda behind the counter out of view so people have to ask for it like tobacco, but look at the decrease in cigarette-related deaths since these laws were passed — regulation works,” Bittman said. “We have to make it just as difficult for companies to market this junk that’s not really food to our kids as it is for them to market tobacco to them.”

He stressed that change is not going to happen overnight.

“All of this isn’t going to happen soon, probably not in my lifetime; look at how long it’s taken for numbers of smokers to decrease,” he said. “In the end, we need to focus on supporting the production of food that is green, nutritious, affordable, and fair.”


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