Bittman’s “Junk Food” Article: Confusion or Clarity?


Mark Bittman -- New York Times

Did you see the Mark Bittman article about junk food in the SundayReview section of the New York Times? (link below) His motives were good and his piece may convince a few people to prepare more of their food at home, but (like most items in the news) the overall message lacked clarity. Entitled “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper,” he began with:

The “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.” This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food.

Mark Bittman's Three Meals, including two cheaper alternatives to the "junk food" on top

He then goes on to explain how a typical meal for a family of four at the NYC-based McDonald’s near his home will cost $28 — much more than two meals that he prepared at his home. This is where the lack of clarity comes in.

Roasted Chicken – $14: “You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people.”

Rice & Beans – $9:  “Canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people.”

Bacon, Chicken, Milk? Didn’t Bill Clinton quit eating that stuff to enable his body to heal itself?

Hey Mark. Here’s what I’ve got to say to you, “Just because you prepare the meal at home doesn’t necessarily mean that it is healthy. Are you really telling people that you think chicken, bacon and dairy products are what they should be eating? I am sure that your readers are confused.

Notice that both of the alternative meals contain meat and/or oil — and both have cow’s milk as the beverage of choice. So, is he saying that these two meals are just cheaper? Or are they also healthier? As a reader, I am thinking that he must mean both.

But as a Mark Bittman fan of sorts, I read just about everything he writes these days, and it disturbs me when he fails to be real clear with the public about what they should be eating. Mark Bittman probably has a better understanding of what we should be eating than over 95% of all media professionals. The problem is that even though he has the knowledge, he oftentimes comes up way short when it comes to embracing CLARITY over confusion in his articles.

In the 20-minute video below, he describes the “big picture” about food in much the same way that we do in our book. He describes our typical western diet as the harmful, grossly inefficient and unsustainable monster that it is — but yet he continues to include all sorts of animal foods in his cookbooks like “How to Cook Everything.”

Affordable Poison for your children -- and always available

The article went on to describe other problems with fast food, “The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch.” He also cites the ubiquitous locations of fast food, their attractive pricing, and the $4.2 billion that the industry spent — JUST on advertising – in 2009. He also touched on another dark secret:

The engineering behind hyperprocessed food makes it virtually addictive. A 2009 study by the Scripps Research Institute indicates that overconsumption of fast food “triggers addiction-like neuroaddictive responses” in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. In other words the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity.

This addiction to processed food is the result of decades of vision and hard work by the industry….They created a food carnival, and that’s where we live. And if you’re used to self-stimulation every 15 minutes, well, you can’t run into the kitchen to satisfy that urge.”

Still no clarity. After describing an incredibly complicated mess known as fast food in this country, Mr. Bittman comes up way short in his final call to action — urging people ot eat grilled cheese, chickens and eggs — at home. See for yourself:

Real cultural changes are needed to turn this around. Somehow, no-nonsense cooking and eating — roasting a chicken, making a grilled cheese sandwich, scrambling an egg, tossing a salad — must become popular again, and valued not just by hipsters in Brooklyn or locavores in Berkeley. The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.

What about the children? As Mark says, “As with any addictive behavior, this one is most easily countered by educating children about the better way. Children, after all, are born without bad habits. And yet it’s adults who must begin to tear down the food carnival.”

The first step in tearing down that carnival is for the media to get real clear and real consistent about EXACTLY what we should be eating in order to maximize our health. Even with clear and consistent information, it would tell take decades for the masses to move in the direction of a whole foods, plant-based diet. But, clear information coupled with rapidly rising energy prices will eventually get the job done. After all, as Mr. Bittman and I have said many times, “What we have today is grossly unsustainable.”

Below my signature, you can read Mark’s entire “Junk Food” article. Or you can watch this 20-minute video. Personally, I like the straight-shooting Mark Bittman in the video better than the one that wrote the article in the SundayReview. Below the video, I have also provided links to some of my earlier posts featuring Mr. Bittman.

Mark Bittman on what’s wrong with what we eat | Video on TED.com.

NY Times Columnist Mark Bittman “gets it” about food

NY Times…getting it right when it comes to the cost of “disease care”

“Good News” about food from Mark Bittman…may breed complacency

J. Morris Hicks, author and activist. Working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

The Bottom Line. Confusion over clarity is preferred by the powerful members of our our food supply chain. As long as you’re sufficiently confused, you’ll eat almost anything. A few more blog posts on that topic:

“Men’s Health,” A champion in the game of confusion

Oz takes “confusion over clarity” to a new level – TIME

If you like what you see here, you may wish to join our periodic mailing list. Also, for help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4-Leaf page. From the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

If you’d like to order our book on Amazon,  visit our BookStore now.

—J. Morris Hicks…blogging daily at HealthyEatingHealthyWorld.com

Bittman’s article: Is Junk Food Really Cheaper? – NYTimes.com

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About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. Leveraging his expertise in making complex things simple, he is now seeking corporate clients who are interested in slashing their cost of health care. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation, where he also sits on the board of directors.
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