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Katherine Gustafson

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Mark Bittman Brings Cooking Back and Pushes Publishing Forward

Posted: 09/29/11 01:17 PM ET

Food writer Mark Bittman doesn't see himself as part of a vanguard in publishing, even though his newest work, Cooking Solves Everything, will be reserved for e-readers and iPads only.

"I thought I'd see what happens," he told me over the phone, a shrug in his voice, when I inquired about his method of publishing the 43-page manifesto on the need for us all to get back in the kitchen. "It's something that I wanted to write at about this length and this seemed like the best place to publish it... you know, it doesn't even seem like that big a deal to me."

The book's publisher, Byliner Originals, recruits well-known authors to write e-books that can be read in a single sitting. The format is popularizing, if not altogether creating, a new niche in mid-length nonfiction, sandwiched between magazine articles and full-length books.

While using the latest publishing technology to appeal for the reinstatement of some of the most age-old wisdom of humankind might seem to some of us like a testament to the ironies of modern life deserving in-depth explication, Bittman was eager to get on with talking about food.

"I don't have a lot of philosophy about this," he said at last, of the e-book question. But what he does have philosophy about -- and plenty of it -- is the subject of cooking and why we should all do it.

In Cooking Solves Everything, he asserts that while most of us have it within our means to feast on healthy, tasty, homemade fare at a communal table, we too often choose to gulp down fast food and slurp gallons of soda in our cars.

So we can all be well fed, Bittman told me, cooking "should be a personal and a national priority." He sees time in the kitchen as the only way we're going to reclaim our own health and the health of the planet from the damaging effects of the industrial food system that fills our gullets with snack foods and our soil with acres and acres of corn. "A nation of cooks would not adequately support a nation of monoculture," he writes in the new book.

He's quick to point out that the problem is as much about public policy as it is about personal responsibility. "We don't have a society that really respects and supports family life," he told me. "If we did we'd looking at maybe a shorter workweek, we'd be looking at fuller employment, we'd be looking at support for childcare, and as far as I'm concerned, we'd be looking at support for cooking, which would mean cooking classes and even something like a civilian cooking corps that would enable people who don't have time, to get help."

While such public policy initiatives might be rather a long shot, Bittman believes a discussion about where our priorities lie can inspire real change in our country's eating life. His goal is to be an ambassador for cooking, an instigator of a shift in public thinking about the importance of kitchens. He wants to resurrect the lost mindset of a bygone era in which it was accepted without question that, as he put it, "Cooking is the right thing to do."

Meanwhile, of course, he'll be ushering in a new era of publishing, but don't tell him that. Just go pre-heat the oven.

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Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC, area. She frequently covers topics of social responsibility, women's rights, food, and travel for a range of publications. Her first book, on sustainable food, will be published by Macmillan next May.

 

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