Mark Bittman is leaving the food policy beat after 5 years at The New York Times in part because "this column has run its course." Bittman is leaving The New York Times "to take a central role in a year-old food company."
If Mark Bittman feels that way, imagine how I feel after 10 years of covering the beat without the money, fame, and influence he has had.
A journalist friend of mine who covers the food beat still has a job, but her workload got cut back recently. She would do well in the NYT role as would I because we are still committed to food policy journalism.
"I've raised the topics I thought I should; I made the best arguments around those subjects where I was capable; I threw my heart and energy into it; and to a large extent have said what I had to say."
Though I have been doing this blog for 10 years, I can relate to this sentiment. You have seen fewer stories recently at BalanceofFood.com because to some extent, I have spoken what needs to be said on a number of issues. But I still think strong, good voices should be heard on food and nutrition.
The fact that Bittman went after Tamar Haspel's "ridiculous stance" on "expressing disdain for salads" is all the more reason for him to stay around.
A year or two ago, I would have ripped into Haspel over her take on salads. Maybe I understand Bittman more than I care to admit.
"I've been surprised by the lack of progress in other areas. I would have bet that we'd have gotten antibiotics out of the food supply by now, because the downside of their abuse is so clear. That hasn't happened, largely through a lack of conviction on the part of the Obama administration (no industry is going to voluntarily stop using an ingredient if it believes it benefits its business)."
As someone who has covered food and politics, I have not been surprised at a lack of progress. Criticizing the Obama administration is perfectly fine, but understand that every single positive change from government has happened while Obama has been in office. Also, the Dems have controlled the House, Senate, and White House at the same time for only 4 years since 1981. As slow as the U.S. political system moves even when people are on the same page, glaciers are literally moving faster, even without climate change.
Even with a presidential election in 2016, the political landscape won't change terribly much. A Democratic administration might extend what the Obamas have done, but Bernie Sanders might be the only Dem running for president who would address significant change in this area. Thanks to redrawing congressional boundaries in a heavily partisan fashion, the House is likely to remain under GOP control until at least 2022, no matter how little they do. Without the House, the Senate can't generate a lot of momentum on the topic.
"But it's time to hang 'em up. Just after I started this column, I promised my editors that I wouldn't overstay my welcome, that five years represented a sensible amount of time to rail against the injustices and praise the advances I was seeing in the world of food and things linked to it."
I'm not quite sure what direction this blog will take. We certainly have stories to write about food and its impact. But we don't want to keep writing about the same points with the same level of outrage. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are still alive but aren't in the business of attacking what passes for food marketing and policy. We don't see Larry Wilmore or Trevor Noah or even John Oliver spending too much time on food policy.
A lot of journalists have been forced to sell out because journalism jobs keep disappearing. Bittman's job at The New York Times is disappearing, though voluntarily. We need more good food writers in positions of power to wage influence over the American food scene. If The New York Times were to call or e-mail, we would be glad to discuss a future in food policy journalism. Hopefully, more people will take up the task to try and make a difference.
Mark Bittman may be quitting the fight, but the fight needs to go on for a long time.