How can food change the world?

The New York Times magazine published its Food & Drink issue last weekend, with an intro by Mark Bittman, who opened with a couple of great questions: “How can food change my life? And how can food change the world?” As we all know, the way we eat is a highly personal decision, but Bittman points out that it’s not only personal; it’s political as well: “As well as you might feed yourself and your kids, the food ‘system’ is still out there, stuffing some people and starving others, poisoning the earth and the air, destroying cultures everywhere.” Read his call to action on this — as well as Michael Pollan’s Q&A on the food system, the American diet, and how to make a difference for good when it comes to factory farming, unsustainable agriculture, and animal cruelty.

Better yet, check out this TED talk with Mark Bittman — it’s not only interesting but alarming, enlightening, and, ultimately, inspiring.

Bittman is adamant that our diet (i.e., the Western/American diet) is deadly — and he’s right. (He wrote a very compelling op-ed for the New York Times on taxing bad food in favor of subsidizing good food.) Bittman points out that our Standard American Diet (SAD) is not only killing us — it’s also killing the planet. He offers a few facts that all Americans should be aware of before taking their next bites of food — among them,  that one-fifth of greenhouse gas is generated by livestock (more even than transportation), that half of the antibiotics administered in the United States is not for people but for animals, and that the U.S. alone slaughters 1o billion animals a year for food (that’s 10,000,000, 000).

He talks about the favorite “new” word: locavore, and points out that only a hundred years ago, we were all locavores. In 1900, there was no such thing as shipping food from faraway locales, no such thing as snack food or frozen food. Marketing had no role in what we eat, and all restaurants were local, not chains.

Bittman also reminds us to be mindful of where our food comes from. If animals that should, by nature, eat grass are fed organic soy or corn, it still makes them sick. Food that may be “organically” raised may be shipped or flown thousands of miles to get to your plate, and probably packed in Styrofoam, no less. He notes, in essence, that may be organic in letter are not necessarily organic in spirit.

Bittman’s message is simple: “Eat food. Eat real food.”

This means knowing a bit more about how our food gets to our plates … and this is well worth it in the end.