Massive Food Problem. Mark Bittman recommends patience.

I recommend LEADERSHIP!

Mark Bittman, New York Times

Mark Bittman, New York Times

Once again, let me say it up front—when it comes to our food system, Mark Bittman is the most knowledgeable journalist on the planet. He totally “gets it” about the health, environmental and sustainability issues. But like all other journalists, he doesn’t take a stand; he provides no leadership, he is not a role model himself and he is inconsistent.

In his New Years Day article, Fixing Our Food Problem (see link below), he does a magnificent job of describing the problem but comes up way short when describing a viable solution. Here’s what he had to say about the problem:

Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.

And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.

One of the smartest animals, pigs get a bad rap -- most live their complete lives in horrid conditions until they reach their ultimate destiny as part of your breakfast, your pizza topping or your barbecue sandwich.

Mark covers ALL of the food issues—including the needless suffering of billions of animals.

We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. The point is that “sustainability” is not only possible but essential: only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.

How about that? He covers everything in those three paragraphs. He begins with the millions of lives lost due to food driven diseases, then he covers poisoned land and water, wasted energy, suffering animals—he even covers the longterm sustainability of the human race. (Maybe he’s been reading my stuff). But when it comes to his proposed solution, his recommendations are laughable. His two-point program for saving the world—word for word:Sugary drinks

  1. Reducing the consumption of sugar-laden beverages.
  2. Improving the living conditions of livestock

Are you kidding me? When I first read his article on January 2, I was thinking of the movie HOME, when the scientists reported that the human race has inflicted more damage on the fragile harmony of nature—in just the last fifty years—than all previous generations of humans combined for the past 200,000 years. AND, they projected in 2009, that we had better dramatically change that trend by 2019—or it may very well be too late—as we may have passed the tipping point of no return.

Important? Yes. But shrinks to insignificance when compared to sustainability of the human race.

Important? Yes. But shrinks to insignificance when compared to sustainability of the human race.

Mr. Bittman, on the other hand, talks about the abolition movement beginning 200 years before the civil rights movement—making it sound like we’ve got a few centuries to work on our food problem. So why not start with a few easy issues first?

The problem is that we’re talking about the sustainability of the human race—a problem that our very own great grandchildren may experience. All other human issues of our entire existence as a species—shrink to insignificance in comparison.

Sorry, Mark, but we don’t have a couple of hundred years to get serious about this world-wide problem of epic proportions. What we have is a perfect storm kind of emergency—regarding our health, our environment and the sustainability of the human race. What could be more important than that? And that perfect storm requires decisive leadership. My first leadership choice would be the dynamic duo of…

Obama and Clinton. The combination of these two U.S. presidents who never have to be elected again—working together to simply educate the world about our perfect storm would be incredibly formidable. They both already have the knowledge (See links below) about what our food is doing to our health and they have a pretty good idea what it is doing to our environment.

Presidents Obama and Clinton at the 2012 Democratic Convention

“The Barry and Bill Show” explaining what we should be eating—would yield millions of converts every week.

They wouldn’t have to worry about getting a single law passed. Even if they did nothing but GET REAL CLEAR about what we should be eating and why—millions of people would follow their lead.

Clinton has already chosen to ignore the conventional dietary wisdom of our USDA, and I am sure that Obama would do the same if he really spent some quality time thinking about the longterm repercussions about the way we’re eating.

But let’s be real. The Barry and Bill Show is not likely to happen—even though it makes perfect sense—and they’re the right people, with the right knowledge, at the right time—with a level of rarified global recognition that has never been enjoyed by two humans at the same time.

Boehner's reaction to the defeat of his "Plan B."

Boehner’s reaction to the defeat of his “Plan B.”

But I do have a Plan B. Let’s hope it works out better than John Boehner’s did last week. My Plan B is for corporate CEOs in some of the world’s largest companies to get serious about reducing the cost of health care in their organizations. They’re the only prominent leaders in the world who have a huge financial incentive for us to be healthy.

How huge? The average Fortune 100 company pays well over one million dollars a day for healthcare. GM and Ford pay more for healthcare than they do for steel. With serious leadership from the CEO, the average Fortune 100 company could trim their annual cost of healthcare by over $100 million. Wal-Mart could probably lower theirs by more than one billion dollars.

To be sure, my Plan B is not just a philosophical exercise—it is my #1 Priority for 2013 and beyond. I am prepared to leverage my own consulting, general management and “big picture” food knowledge to help those CEOs out there who might be receptive to my message.

My entire approach is documented extensively in this blog post: Slashing the cost of health care in businesses. And I am now paying referral fees for introductions that lead to consulting work. Reaching the leaders who save $$ when we get healthy

William Clay (Bill) Ford, Jr. -- Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company

William Clay (Bill) Ford, Jr. — Executive Chairman of the Ford Motor Company. I sent him a letter (and a copy of our book) last month, but have not received a reply.

Meanwhile, what do you think Mark Bittman would say about my Plan B? Probably something like the way he ended his own article:

The point is that no major food issue will be resolved in the next 10 years. As pioneers, we must build upon incremental progress and not be disheartened, because often there isn’t quick resolution for complex issues.

Pardon me, Mark. But I strenuously disagree with your pessimistic projection. Maybe if you exhibited some real leadership yourself and started “being the change you want to see,” the global process of fixing our food problem might move along much more expeditiously.

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

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. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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7 Responses to Massive Food Problem. Mark Bittman recommends patience.

  1. Joanne Irwin says:

    Another, great, insightful article, Jim. You’ve been taking the ‘road less travelled’ since you started your journey ten years ago. Courage is what you’ve exemplified in NAMING the truth about both individuals’ health and the health of our planet. Not too many truth tellers floating around. Folks walk a certain, safe distance, and then shut down. My guess is that they’re ‘fear based’; afraid of stepping on too many toes, afraid of being labeled, afraid, perhaps, of being disenfranchised by those who put money in their pockets! We need truth tellers. We need people who follow their passion and beliefs, name it, and use their gifts to make a difference. Sadly, Bittman walked only baby steps.
    As for Fracus’ comment, all I can say is, “How sad; how ignorant, how uninformed.” You, a hypocrite? Hardly. Hypocrites are those who sing the song, but walk a different path. You’ve been congruent from day one.
    So, Fracus, read “the China Study”, read from the real scientific research, and then ponder your words.

  2. My post just now on the Bittman article, awaiting approval there:

    “OK – I read all 338 comments to here.

    J. Morris Hicks, author of “Healthy Eating — Healthy Planet” featured this article today in his daily Blog at You can read his blog items to get healthier, too.

    For the last ten years, I have been studying, applying and teaching “A Healthy Lifestyle” and do point you mainly to Dr. John McDougall, who has been at this, very effectively — his patients get well! — for the last 40 years! Learn for free from his great website and newsletters. My family of four took his “TOTAL HEALTH SOLUTION” 10-day clinic 10 years ago and have been on “Plant-Strong, Whole-Foods Nutrition” since then. I am 77 and have no known maladies and work out at the “Y” ~ 3 times a week. Your health benefits come ~ 80% from better foods, 20% from better exercise, so focus on the foods! Also, very important, try to avoid the medical industries!!

    Do not get seduced by the Atkins/Paleo nutrition purveyors. They do not have the long-term science to back them. You do not need any animal food products to be healthier!

    I have posted some health ed items at ENJOY!

    The plant-strong diet, as John Robbins and Dr. Michael Klaper educated us in the late 1980’s, is “THE DIET FOR ALL REASONS!” “

  3. fracus says:

    Congratulations on another insignificant article.

    Bittman preaches patience and is deemed clueless.

    You dump the task on ex (and soon to be ex)-presidents and nameless CEOs of large corporations — CEOs of corporations your cult has, until now, bashed unmercifully for being, well, for being evil large corporations.

    If Bittman is clueless, what does your lazy dodging prescription make you? Hypocrite, maybe?

  4. Jon Epstein says:

    Thanks Mr Hicks for another insightful post. I’m learning that journalism can be a big obstacle to change. After all, a professional journalist is, by nature, educated and a good writer. They can make a persuasive case on any subject until it happens to be a subject you know and understand. For example, I was looking forward to reading ‘In Defense of Food’ by Michael Pollen because I loved the subtext. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Mr Pollen is a gifted writer but I was disappointed with his confusing and unclear advice to readers. Mr Pollen visited Seattle on a book tour in the last year and a friend attended and asked Michael why he had written about the work of Weston Price but had failed to discuss the work of Colin Campbell, Joel Fuhrman, John McDougall, Dean Ornish, and others. Pollen replied to the audience that he had never heard of Colin Campbell and the others. He indicated a vague knowledge of Dean Ornish but displayed his ignorance for all to see. Are you kidding me? Pollen writes all these food books and goes around pretending to be an authority on this subject and he has never even read The China Study! He is also an NYT journalist and The China Study was a NYT bestseller. Are you kidding me? As a nice Jewish boy originally from the Big Apple you made me laugh when you used this expression in your post. Thanks again.

  5. Jean Myers says:

    I, too, was astounded when I read BIttman’s article recommending patience! We do not have the luxury of centuries to solve the issues facing our planet. No one knows the future so I recommend doing all one can to change the current scenario while remaining positive. I appreciate your strategy of working with CEO’s to reduce healthcare costs and wish you fabulous success.

  6. Linda says:

    It’s hard to understand how Mark Bittman can continue to be so obtuse. Or, maybe something (someone) is preventing him from telling the WHOLE truth and giving actual solutions. Side note: It’s unfortunate that Hillary Clinton is suffering from a blood clot but maybe there’s a silver lining. I’m hoping her husband’s doctors will have some influence over her, too, and she’ll go plant-based (or mostly), lose some weight, get healthier, and not have to take blood thinners every day for the foreseeable future.

  7. Sal Liggieri says:

    Insightful article: Mark Bittman, what do you think he eats? Maybe the same as most Americans.

    I thought about you while walking through the food court at the Queens Mall in New York City. Crowded with shoppers munching away at their glorious fat laden foods, reveling how good it all tastes.

    How will change ever come. Are all these fast food franchises just going to give in to plant based foods? I doubt it.

    Jim, It’s a difficult road and to remain optimistic is a testament to your remarkable vision.

    My vision is that of the pessimist: Doom and gloom. The animals are still howling in agony.


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