Mark Bittman Cooked Everything. Now He Wants to Change Everything.

03.16.2021 - By The Ezra Klein Show

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Mark Bittman taught me to cook. I read his New York Times cooking column, “The Minimalist,” religiously. I bought “How to Cook Everything,” that red brick of a cookbook, and then, when I gave up meat, I bought its green companion, “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.” He was like my cranky, no-B.S. food uncle.

But now Bittman wants to do more than teach me, or you, how to cook. He wants to convince us that the whole food system has fallen into calamity. His new book, "Animal, Vegetable, Junk" is a stunning reinterpretation of humanity’s relationship to the food it forages, grows and, nowadays, concocts. It’s about the marvel of the modern food system, which feeds more than seven billion people and offers more food, with more variety, at less cost, than ever before. But even more so, it’s about the malignancy of that food system, which is sickening us, poisoning the planet and inflicting so much suffering on other creatures that the mind breaks contemplating it.

Even as someone who is fairly critical of our modern food system, I wasn’t prepared for the scale or sweep of Bittman’s indictment. And I’m not sure I’ve bought into every piece of it. But it is bracing. And it raises profound questions about the relationship among humans, animals, plants, capitalism, technology and morality. So I asked him on the show to discuss it.

Recommendations:

"Classic Indian Cooking" by Julie Sahni

"How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" by Mark Bittman

"Lord Emsworth" by P.G. Wodehouse

"The New Book of Middle Eastern Food" by Claudia Roden

"The Old World Kitchen: The Rich Tradition of European Peasant Cooking" by Elisabeth Luard

"The Optimist's Telescope" by Bina Venkataraman

"The Wuggie Norple Story" by Daniel Manus Pinkwater and Tomie dePaola

You can find transcripts (posted midday) and more episodes of "The Ezra Klein Show" at nytimes.com/ezra-klein-podcast, and you can find Ezra on Twitter @ezraklein.

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