Mark Bittman at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden

Credit: Fabián Aguirre

Mark Bittman is a journalist, food writer and a prolific book author (14 books and counting). His best-selling "How to Cook Everything" is considered the definitive guide to home cooking. He is internationally known for his column “The Minimalist,” which ran for more than 13 years.

Bittman is an opinion columnist for the New York Times. Through his writing and collaborative work with others, Bittman tackles important issues in food, sustainable agriculture, health and the social/policy issues surrounding the food movement. He recently has called for a national food policy, in a widely read op-ed piece co-authored with Michael Pollan, Ricardo Salvador and Olivier de Schutter.

This semester, Bittman is in residence at UC Berkeley as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Berkeley Food Institute. He is collaborating with faculty, staff and students on a variety of projects designed to improve the food system. He’s also co-hosting the popular “Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement” course, which is being live-streamed on Monday evenings through the spring. (The lectures are archived.)

We caught up with Bittman recently at the UC Berkeley campus. On the menu? A brief but wonderful exchange.

Why did you want to be a part of this?
The opportunity to spend some extended time in California, with Berkeley as a base, looking at food from every angle possible, is a dream come true for me. I don’t feel I have much to "teach," just a lot to learn.

What is inspiring you about this experience? What are you enjoying the most?
It’s amazing how many people are into different angles of addressing sustainability, incredible how many young people have specialized in different areas of food systems — from public health to law to agroecology, how much impact that’s all having, and how much impact it will have. Nothing could be more inspiring than that.

California is a state that looms large in the imagination … we often lead change. In terms of food, what changes could we make here that might inspire global and national change?
It’s true everything happens here. So imagine better treatment of farmworkers; a saner water policy; stricter laws along the lines of the one protecting egg-laying hens; more official use of local food; better control of drugs and chemicals in farming; a statewide soda tax. One could go on, because fantasies can be made possible here. But of course it will take work.

If you haven’t tuned in, be sure to live-stream next week’s Edible Education 101. Raj Patel will join Bittman. Find out more about UC Food Observer and the UC Global Food Initiative.