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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 24, 2014 Food writer Mark Bittman wants you to eat more plants. By Uriel Heilman NEW YORK (JTA)--Mark Bittman is not a religious man by any stretch of the imagina- tion, least of all his own. A longtime food writer for The New York Times who three years ago shifted from cooking to food policy col- umnist, Bittman has made a living eating the kinds of things frowned upon by Jew- ish tradition. As he told me recently, "Pork cooked in milk is an amazing dish." Though he was born and raised a Jew--going to syna- gogue, religious school and Reform youth groups at Man- hattan's East End Temple-- Bittman says he pretty much has had nothing to do with Judaism since he graduated from high school in 1967. But read his columns on food sustainability and the book he published last April, "VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health... for Good," and you might see some religious echoes in Bittman's food philosophy. Bittman enjoins consumers to steer clear of food produced by companies that mistreat animals, exploit theirworkers or degrade the earth--values also reflected in Jewish law. He rails against food waste large and small, from the inefficiency of using corn for ethanol fuel to the failure to repurpose dinner leftovers as the next day's lunch, tenden- cies that arguably also run afoul of the Jewish prohibi- tion. of "bal tashchis"--Do not waste. Then there's Bittman's VB 6 diet--basically, eating more plants and fewer animals with the goal of improving personal health and mak- ing food consumption more environmentally sustainable. Like Lent and the nine-day Jewish mourning period pre- ceding Tisha b'Av, it eschews eating meat at certain times. "VB6 is like being kosher till 6, basically," Bittman said last month in a panel discussion at the biennial conference of the Union for Reform Judaism. But talk to Bittman one on one and it's clear he finds the notion of a diet governed by religion as outlandish as a Hasidic butcher might find Bittman's predilection for bacon. "How can Jews observe these kashrut laws which, with all due respect, I don't think make any sense from a health perspective or any other perspective?" Bittman said in an interview. "They're just some cool--or not cool, whatever--tradition. I get that, but why would you do that when there's evidence that says there's a smarter way to eat?" Bittman, 63, has carved out a unique niche for him- self. Though he has no formal culinary training, he hit the big time in 1998 with the publication of his cookbook "How to Cook Everything" and the launch of his Mini- malist dining column in the Times. Now with a cooking col- umn in the Times Magazine, an Op-Ed column and his blog,, he has turned himself into the only brand-name food writer in America taking on both cooking and food policy simultaneously. "For decades, Americans believed that we had the world's healthiest and safest diet," he wrote in his inau- gural food policy column in February 2011. "We worried little about this diet's effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure--that is, its sustainability. "That didn't mean all was well. And we've come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production work- ers labor in difficult, even deplorable conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more waste- ful, damaging, unsustainable system." In subsequent columns and in his new book, Bittman has not minced words. He predicted that Pepsi may ulti- mately come to be regarded as a killer as lethal as cigarettes and faulted singer Beyonce for endorsingthe soda. He has written about the hazards of chemicals in cosmetics and how humans are treated as guinea pigs by the industry. He has called for an entire rethinking of the U.S. model of food production. The central tenet of"VB6"is eating fewer animal products because, as Bittman writes, "the industrial production of animal products and hyper- processed foods creates dev- astating byproducts, from greenhouse gas emissions to land degradation to polluted water supplies." But Bittman doesn't advo- cate strict vegetarianism, a goal he knows is unrealistic for mostAmericans, including himself. (He's not Orthodox, after all.) Rather, he advocates veganism--foregoing meat, poultry, fish, dairy or eggs-- until evening, though he read- ily acknowledges often break- ing his own rule. Bittman calls himself a "flexitarian." In the months since his book came out, Bittman told JTA, he has done some rethinking and, if he were rewriting "VB6" today, he'd make clear that the divide between processed food and unprocessed food is just as important as minimizing carnivorous eating. ........ "I don't want to,be just vilifying animal products left andright," he said. "I want to make it clear that what we're talking about is not just eating more fruits and vegetables; we're talking about eating more real food." It's been a mostly lonely crusade. While elements of what Bittman advocates are shared by the environmental, labor rights and animal rights movements, a real food move- ment hasn't quite coalesced. "Here's three questions about the food movement we should be asking ourselves: What are we asking for? How are we united? Who's rep- resenting our movement?" Bittman said. "The answers to those three questions right now are: a) we don't know; b) we're not; and c) no one." Bittman rejects any notion that Jewish values motivate him, though he credits his "Peter, Paul and Mary-ish" Jewish upbringing with in- spiring his progressive values. "I grew up right after the Holocaust, and no one through the '50s stopped talk- ing about that--with good reason," Bittman said. "My reaction to thatwas to develop a sense of justice and fairness, but it went way beyond what was right for Jews." As we wrapped up our chat at the Times office in New York, I asked Bittman if he had any favorite culinary guilty pleasures. Hot dogs, good corned beef and pizza topped the list. Then I asked if there were anything he pointedly did not eat. Bittman thought for a moment. "Not really," he said, then motioned toward the Times cafeteria. "I try not to eat there." By A. Pinsker First person NEW YORK (JTA)--Dur- ing the height of the reces- sion;I moved to Switzerland. I had already lived in France, Japan, India and Israel, and traveled much of the rest of the world. I'd gone global for work, love, spirituality and cul- tural-infatuation, but this last time was for cash: As a teacher in the recession during a hiring freeze, like thousands of other Ameri- cans, I became an economic expat. In the land of chocolate, cheese, bankers and income, my fellow New York native teachers and I were able to afford taxi rides, apart- ments on our own and meals out, living the American Dream--only abroad. We were paid a six-figure salary to teach Muslim princes, Hindu billionaires and Jew- ish corporate kids at an international middle school of students aged 11 to 14 in Zug, where the infamously pardoned Marc Rich brought Glencore, making the small former farm town fabulously wealthy. The students were "third culture kids," gone global from living in one oil-rich nation to another. They re- minded me a lot of myself-- not in financial terms but cultural: I am a half-Jewish, half-Ukrainian pan spiritual writer, teacher and yoga in- structor who identifies as Jewish. Having lived around the world, I felt for them. At one of our first staff meetings, one of the British teachers was discussing a problem student. "He has Russian boy syndrome," she said. My mouth dropped. "They're obsessed with weapons and violence!" she said to a room full of nods. Then my Indian-English co-teacher joked: "I thought this was a global school!" Everyone in the room laughed. My Park Slope liberal skin chafed. I was the only teacher in a school of thousands that celebrated Rosh Hashanah. I had to ask for special permission to take off two days. When I returned, my co-teacher asked if I had enjoyed my day off at the "Jewish celebration." Noting a snippiness, I responded that I'd rather not discuss my religion. She retorted that "I was making things difficult" and she was "just making conversation." The Family of Gratefully acknowledges the outpouring of support during the week of Shiva Ellen, Audra and Jared Hara Anita and Joseph Hara Barbara and Terry Weiss and Daughters Robert and Judith Hara and Sons Near Christmastime, I saw for the first time blackface Santa's helpers; St. Nicholas' helpers were "Moors." At the same time was a British-only celebration at school that I satirized in an article for The Huffington Post: Although I went to the Orthodox Church in Geneva to volunteer, Iwas still called anti-Christian by my supervisor. As a half-Jew who had lived previously as a "nothing" (read to most: Christian), I never had ex- perienced actual exclusion or discrimination. I was shocked. The article and my other "outbursts" landed me in the principal's office, where I was informed there were other complaints about me. Separation of church and state is just an American thing, I soon learned. By Christmas I already was afraid of what would hap- pen when I saw the baby Jesus manger set up in the parking lot. When I was in the fifth grade, I had asked a teacher where were the other decora- tions besides the "Christian" ones? She asked, "Are you Jewish?" I said, "My dad is and my friends are," and she immediately put up Kwanzaa and Hanukkah decorations. But in Switzerland, this at- titude only attracted sneers and mocking remarks. I felt like I should resign. I put my mezuzah inside my door. At a wedding in Israel---only a four-hour fiight--I felt at home among my people, the Jews. My Suspicions about Switzer- land were valid: I was being discriminated against. By living in Japan, New York, Paris and India, all Ameri- can and pro-Israel or Jewish friendly (I lived in the Marais district in Paris), I had not realized that anti-Semitism actually existed, and had never heard a discriminatory word spoken. At a staff meeting I raised my hand and said, "Exclu- sion is a form of bullying, so please note that not all the students are Christian, so please say 'Happy Holidays' to all the students instead of 'Merry Christmas.' " An American supervisor smiled and said "Happy Holidays." I was thrilled. My co-teacher made every student line up to say it to me with spite. An Irishwoman who re- ferred to me as "the Jewish girl" said, "Switzerland is a Christian country, it has tradition, and Israel might be the same." I told her maybe, but we were in an Interna- tional school and that in India, an extremely diverse country, they would never celebrate the wrong holiday or wish a Happy Ramadan to a Hindu. Majority rules, she said, simply. "Christians are the major- ity in the U.S., too," I said. I realized what a very special place America is. My comments resulted in the silent treatment in the staff room. I wasn't invited to showers and parties. My New York friend said I was behaving like a college fresh- man. In fact, in college I had been a radical feminist activist--but then it was a good thing, not something to be penalized for. My boss, a Scot, went out of his way to buy me a Hanuk- kah present and encouraged me to resign to preserve my teaching record and, more importantly, my belief that global citizenry, not nation- alism, would help bridge the international world. So I gave up the job. My rights in Switzerland were not those of an American. I've been all over the world, but only back home was I able to be a dissident, doing my patriotic duty by speak- ing up. Now, back in Brooklyn, controversial artists are a dime a dozen, and I'm probably the least neurotic person in the room. I lost a nice income, but at least I know I'm free to bewho I am. It's good to be home. A. Pinsker is working on a memoir called "Girl Gone Global," on living on three continents in a search for love and a spiritual home. She has been published in New York Magazine, the Fix, New York Press, Time Out New York, New York Post, BUST Magazine, the Forward, The Jerusalem Post, Interfaith Magazine and more.