Champion of sustainable food production speaks in Philly

Mark Bittman, a New York Times food writer and advocate of sustainable food production, will speak at a Philadelphia synagogue Wednesday at the invitation of a local Jewish food blog., created by Temple University professor Bryant Simon in collaboration with the Gershman Y, the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Congregation Rodeph Shalom, does not claim to answer its eponymous question, only complicate it.

“Do we value price? Do we value sustainability? Do we value social justice? Do we value healthiness?” says Simon. “If you say yes to any of those, it complicates the question immediately.”

The blog examines food mostly through a Jewish lens, but not exclusively. Although Bittman will be speaking at the sold-out event at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, on North Broad Street, he will not address Judaism at all.

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In the last several years, Bittman has become a popular speaker on issues related to food: obesity, sustainability and economics. The online video of his 2007 TED talk has been seen more than 1.3 million times.

“The talk is increasingly solution-oriented,” said Bittman during a telephone interview. “I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people saying, ‘Look, a lot of people kvetch about this stuff. What are we supposed to do about it?'”

In books, speaking engagements, and the pages of the New York Times, Bittman has been advocating changes in the way food is produced in America. In recent years, the growing popularity of urban agriculture and boutique farming has been experiencing a backlash.

“Locavorism has been pitched in a silly, idealistic manner. I believe there are advantages to producing food on a big scale,” said Bittman. “But there are not advantages to monoculture, there are not advantages to industrial agriculture. There is a middle ground. Increasingly, people believe that.”

Bittman will be encouraging his audience to examine their own eating habits, and to act politically to change food-production practices.

“What’s not part of the solution is 2,000 acres of corn multiplied by the population of Iowa, and a billion pigs,” said Bittman. “We have to move away from that.”

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