My interest in all things food is pretty apparent to anyone who knows me, but I'm obviously completely alone in this regard. We are a nation that is of necessity at crossroads in our relationship with food. We got a taste of it last year when unenlightened energy policy showed us the costs of putting corn in almost everything from soda cans to gas tanks. And thoughtful writing about food policy has made Michael Pollen and others bestselling authors, and it looks like Pollen is going to get some high profile company from one of my favorite cooks, Mark Bittman, who was recently profiled in the New York Observer:
“I didn’t see an opportunity for me to write about issues in the food world until recently,” he said. “I was just writing about recipes and having my cute little witty New Yorker sarcastic voice. But now I can pretty much find a platform for anything I want to say, so I’m saying what I think.”
What he thinks is that the American diet has been largely destroyed by the industrialization of food production and the massive amounts we eat as a result. “There’s a huge change going on in the way people look at food,” Mr. Bittman said. “I think it’s unavoidable, and I want to be a part of that.”
This is very exciting, but I do want to offer a piece of unsolicited opinion on this matter. Think carefully about audience, Mark, Michael, et. al. You who have those rare and magical platforms that all authors seek can afford to do things a little differently--can set the agenda--so don't miss the opportunity. Here's a modest proposal: write for children.* I think creative, thoughtful nonfiction about food is at least as essential for children as it is for adults. Children are huge targets for food advertising--it's a huge share of all the advertising they encounter on TV, and most of it is for what Pollen would call "food-like substances."
What you write can take any form--I'm not just talking about picture books about farmers and their animals. If Cory Doctorow can work cryptography and Linux into a wildly popular YA novel, then food should be easy.
Really, Michael Pollen and Mark Bittman, if you want to make a huge difference, aim young.
And, for anyone who wants a fascinating, tragic, ripped-from-the-pages-of-history, food-centric story prompt, I have one word for you: Vavilov.
* Don't think this is entirely an unintentional pun. Swift knew that kids were a good way to get people's attentions.