Mark Bittman is one of the simplest food writers anywhere. His Minimalist column, as the title suggests, was as much common sense as culinary skills. If Hemingway wrote a cookbook, it would read like Bittman’s “How To Cook Everything.” And him and Claudia Bassols were the only watchable parts of the somehow unwatchable “Spain: On The Road Again.”
Bittman’s style, especially compared to the rest of the NYT Wednesday food page, was refreshingly approachable, preaching simplicity with a smile. This, ironically, gives him permission to get serious; as of last week, he has dropped his Minimalist column for a new Opinionator column, starting a new mission focused on food safety and sustainability. His first column was nothing less than a Manifesto, identifying several areas where government, the food industry and even consumers need to focus. This is not news. From Alice Waters to Slow Food to Michael Pollan to Jamie Oliver’s crusade to introduce something as radical as a fresh vegetable into American public schools, these issues have been bubbling for decades, but they can always use another voice, and if that voice has the reach of the Times, the better. (One of the most memorable pieces I’ve ever read that illustrates the interconnectivity of food production, economics, politics, overproduction and overconsumption is Pollan’s “We Are What We Eat” column. Check it out and tell me you aren’t made of corn.)
For those of us who enjoy the smells, flavors and community of home cooking—nothing beats the reaction of friends who walk into an apartment filled with the scent of Pernil that’s been slow cooking for six hours—I will follow Bittman’s new adventure and see where he ends up. He seems unsure himself of exactly where he’s heading, which is the way most people I know approach cooking anyway. You start with an idea, a few ingredients, but it could go anywhere.