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2014 JBF Leadership Award Honoree Mark Bittman

Emily Carrus

October 21, 2014

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2014 JBF Leadership Award honoree Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman
Author and Journalist,
The New York Times

Talk about mileage: once a New York City cabdriver and a Boston truck driver, Mark Bittman is now one of the most prominent and influential voices steering Americans toward healthier, more sustainable eating. The best-selling cookbook author, renowned food writer, and prolific recipe developer has paved a path all his own.

While running a small newspaper as a community organizer in the 1970s, Bittman was introduced to the craft of journalism and the art of communication. That know-how would serve him well: in the decade that followed, Bittman contributed to many different print outlets, including the New Haven Register, of which he became food editor. “I really liked food and knew about food, but I was trying many different things,” he says. “When it became clear that what I was passionate about would actually work for me, I pretty much pursued it to the exclusion of everything else.”

Work it did. In the later 1980s, Bittman was named editor of Cook’s Magazine by Christopher Kimball and helped Kimball establish Cook’s Illustrated; began contributing to the New York Times; and published the first of many cookbooks, Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking. The success of that book and those that followed—Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef and, of course, the best-selling and multi-award- winning (including a James Beard Award) How to Cook Everything—led to what would become a 13-year stint writing “The Minimalist” column for the New York Times.

“Mark manages to throw in a fresh voice and approach that keeps one interested in recipe after recipe,” admires Kimball. “He comes at it with a light, not-too-serious approach that makes home cooks comfortable.”

In the years following the new millennium, Bittman began to shift gears. “I recognized that the American system of agriculture and our way of eating was damaging both to the environment and our health,” says Bittman. “How we choose food and what we choose to grow determines what we eat, and what we eat determines our health and to some extent the health of the rest of the planet. I think it’s fine to see food as this enjoyable thing, and to talk about cooking is really important. But it is a mistake to see that in isolation.”

In the form of op-ed columns for the New York Times and the New York Times Magazine, Bittman now addresses a wide range of topics related to the food we grow, cook, and eat—from the problems of monocultural agriculture, to personal health, to proposed sugar and soda taxes. Recent cookbooks, such as The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living and Vegan Before 6 P.M. (VB6), also reflect his change of course.

“I think that Mark’s shift to the op-ed page of the New York Times is remarkable,” says Kimball. “I don’t think that any other food writer has made that jump, and it is a difficult and perilous road. But, as usual, Mark has pulled it off with aplomb and wit. Before Mark, a travel writer, wine writer, recipe developer, and journalist were all separate. He has combined them all into one voice and one persona which has left an indelible mark on the world of food and food writing.”