Articles / Al Roker is a Total Ray of Sunshine

Al Roker is a Total Ray of Sunshine

Published July 5, 2023

Plus: Blame the food industry, don’t guilt-trip eaters; why we can’t give up; and entertainment I enjoyed

This Week’s Marksisms

Food with Mark Bittman: Al Roker

It’s starting to really feel like summer, and, for me at least, it happened very quickly. Do you ever think about people as seasons? I’m asking this because today’s guest is absolutely an embodiment of summer. Warm and delightful, universally lovable — or at least as much as a human or a season can be. It’s Al Roker, and this is an episode from more than a year ago, but, for aforementioned reasons, it feels seasonally appropriate. I’ve known Al for a long time through my appearances on TODAY, where he’s worked now for almost 30 years, and we talked about that, and cooking, and his family, and his undying positivity. And fun fact: Al became a grandpa this week. Congratulations to him and his family!

The recipe featured on today’s episode, Al’s Rub, can be found here.

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We Can’t Just Give Up

In response to my saying that I didn’t know precisely when we’d make a transition to regenerative agriculture, a reader wrote and said, simply, “Never. The chemical input companies will never let it happen.”

This kind of thinking leads to despair and inaction. You might simply say “Fossil fuel companies will never allow renewables to supply the majority of our energy,” and on the face of it that may well appear to be true. Globally, we see the visible and tangible effects of climate change every day – most recently the smoke in many of our homes – and our “leaders” do next to nothing about it. Similarly, our health is being destroyed as a direct result of monoculture and ultra-processed foods, but one might think that there is barely a person in power for whom this is a concern.

It’s obvious that most corporations whose reigning principle is to simply become ever-bigger and more profitable will continue to try to make money however they can. Failing to stop them will likely lead to global catastrophe in the form of millions or hundreds of millions of deaths, widespread suffering, forced migration, war, and any other horrors you can imagine.

Certainly that scenario is possible; but maintaining that it’s unavoidable may produce a self-fulfilling prophecy. Better, I believe, to point out the egregious problems with the current “system” (which is in fact quite anarchic, but a good system for making money at the cost of health and justice and the environment) and to suggest solutions (like renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, and so on) and to make every attempt to organize like-minded people to struggle (and support the struggles of others) to produce food (and energy) in ways that provide land for people who want to farm it well and good, healthy food that is universally available.

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I’ll just point out that there was a time no one thought we could do away with the Divine Right of Kings, or slavery, or the near-universal oppression of women.

Eating Predigested Food?

Speaking of UPFs, or ultra-processed foods (the new, fancy, and appropriate name for junk foods), which supply something around 60 percent of the calories consumed by people living in the United States, there is this is a very good analysis of the whole situation by the Washington Post’s Anahad O’Connor (who’s generally doing great work and whose voice is increasingly important) and Aaron Steckelberg.

Good Stats, Strange Conclusion

Just two days later, the Post also ran this piece by Tamar Haspel, which is titled “Whose Fault Is Obesity? Most of the Blame Rests with One Culprit.” The answer – she says – is that “The lion’s share — I’ll go with 61 percent (and, yes, of course I’m totally making this up to give some sense of how I think responsibility gets divvied up) — goes to the food industry, which developed product after product that was deliberately designed to be overeaten.”

Which makes is all the more bizarre that the ultimate line of the story (after assigning ten percent of the blame to “eaters”) is “If you want to change our flan-everywhere environment, tackle the demand, not the supply.”

In fact, the lion’s share of the problem does lie with “the food industry” – which includes, of course, industrial agriculture – and therefore the correct conclusion is “Tackling the supply is the highest priority.” As long as we’re subsidizing the growth of crops designed to produce poison (UPFs), rather than food that supports nourishment, we are going to get sick. We can demand better food, of course, but that better food starts with government support of growing better crops rather than corn and soy destined for ethanol, junk food, and food for industrially-raised animals. If they keep producing those things, eaters have no choice but to consume them.

Goodreads Goes Bad

And in the completely irrelevant “What do you do about this?” department, there is the Goodreads-led author-bombing situation, which is another of those social-media-gone-wrong stories. (Personally, I knew Goodreads was useless, but I did not know that it was ALSO owned by Amazon.)

Just So You Know

By the way, I don’t sit around reading the Washington Post. I sit around alternately clicking the Post, The Guardian, and The Times (oh, and The Athletic, and sometimes ESPN). Then I try to get back to work.

Two Good Books, One Good Series

I read two good books and watched one good series this week. (I might’ve watched another series that I’ve already forgotten but you know how that goes.)

The Midnight News, Jo Baker. A sympathetic young woman navigates the London Blitz and her (shall we say) fucked up family. She talks to dead people, too, but it’s not that kind of book. Really great. Highly recommended.

The Guest, Emma Cline. This is getting enough publicity so you’ve probably already heard about it, but it’s a not-especially meaningful but gripping enough page-turner about a lost, failing, flailing sex worker. I read it in a day but will probably forget it by next week. We’ll see what others say.

Shrinking. A modern-day sitcom. Funny, heartbreaking, and sometimes just dumb. Many scenes feel forced, much of the comedy is actually at others’ expense, and the characters are a tad one-dimensional. I say all of this, but I loved it because it’s different and those one-dimensional characters are likable, and because I’m a sap, and because its off-the-cuff approach to sex and race is still novel and refreshing. (This may be especially true if you grew up with Burns and Allen and Amos and Andy!)

See you next week.