Food, writing and social change are all interconnected, according to Mark Bittman, a New York Times opinion columnist and the lead food writer for The New York Times Magazine.
Bittman, whose acclaimed “The Minimalist” column ran in the Times for over 13 years, spoke before a crowd of nearly 50 students during a Wednesday afternoon Master’s Tea in Berkeley College. While Bittman focused on changes in culinary style, he emphasized that his experiences with a variety of political movements, including women’s rights, environmental protection and anti-war protest, have made him better appreciate the importance of cooking.
“Fast forward forty years, and I finally recognize that you could address any issue you wanted to by addressing food,” he said.
Bittman added that while living in New York City in the 1970s, he remembered being the only man in the supermarket, surrounded by women who were expected to cook at home. Now, he said, many more men are cooking at home, indicating that gender roles have shifted.
General labor market conditions also directly impact the food industry, Bittman said.
Still, Bittman focused the majority of his discussion on how ordinary people approach cooking.
He explained that his latest book, “How to Cook Everything Fast: A Better Way to Cook Great Food,” addresses the need to reduce cooking times to accommodate busy schedules.
Modern-day cooks — usually ordinary people at home — need to prepare food faster than cooks in the past, Bittman said. He added that an hour-long recipe, which was considered fast a few decades ago, can no longer compare to the twenty- or thirty-minute recipes people demand today.
“I think fast is the demand,” he said. “Fast is what most people want.”
Bittman, who first started cooking while attending Clark University, now covers a wide range of issues as a columnist for the New York Times.
In his role as writer, Bittman said he uses simple, frank language that resembles the way he speaks. He said he worries less about being grammatically correct than about sounding pretentious.
Attendees interviewed agreed with Bittman’s connection between political movements and food, adding that they have enjoyed Bittman’s writing in the past as well.
Professor of East Asian Languages and Literatures Edward Kamens said he was interested in Bittman’s discussion of how cooking and food have been influenced by social change. He added that Bittman, in particular, had a prominent role to play in bringing about social awareness for gender roles.
Art Hunt, a resident of Hamden, Conn. who attended the talk, agreed with Kamens, adding that food is tied to broader social issues, including labor economics and environmental sustainability. Mary Hunt, his wife, said she enjoyed reading Bittman’s engaging pieces and using his recipes.
Alex Simon ’17 said she was most interested to learn that people are demanding shorter, more efficient recipes.
Bittman, who is the author of 14 books including the bestselling “How to Cook Everything” series and “VB6: Eat Vegan before 6:00,” has received multiple awards, including the International Association of Culinary Professionals, Julia Child and James Beard awards for writing.
The Wednesday Master’s Tea was catered with pastries from Bittman’s cookbook.