Articles / Talking Junk with Chris van Tulleken

Talking Junk with Chris van Tulleken

Published August 23, 2023

Plus: The perfect August salad, me and some luminaries, and ridiculously beautiful food

This Week’s Marksisms

Food with Mark Bittman: Chris van Tulleken

Our guest on Food today is the fascinating Chris van Tulleken, who has written a book called Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food — the non-food that was formerly known as junk, and now is correctly called ultra-processed food (UPF), something Kate and I talk about with Chris.

Chris is part of a new, younger generation of scientists, researchers, journalists, doctors, and academics who are talking about UPF as a plague and an epidemic, and who are doing the research necessary to demonstrate that that’s true. Chris is great, wise, entertaining, and fun in talking about this tragic circumstance we’re all confronted with; he talks articulately about the effects UPF have on us all.

This isn’t a new topic for us, but this is definitely a new and enlightened approach to it—very, very laser focused and really interesting; this is a fast-moving, wonderful conversation that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.

Follow Food with Mark Bittman on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Overcast | Pocket Casts | Amazon Music

Remember, Oreos and Coca-Cola Are Also Vegan

There’s little to disagree with in this interesting piece about fast food in the Washington Post, but I am repeatedly upset that somehow “vegan” always translates as “healthy.”

It. Does. Not.

Oreos, French fries, and Coke are all vegan; so is all of the stuff in the above photo, taken from the site of one of the operations mentioned in the piece (not to single anyone out) and included under the broad band of “healthier” options.

Big Food will co-opt every word you throw at it; this began with “natural” (it actually began with “safe,” which was before our time—there’s an interesting section in Animal, Vegetable, Junk about how Heinz became the dominant ketchup by claiming other brands were tainted, while theirs was not), continued with “organic,” and now moves along with “vegan.”

Healthy food, whether fast or slow, is relatively unprocessed food, and most fast food is the opposite – ultra-processed. (Listen to our podcast this week!) That makes it unhealthy, basically. You can probably eat it occasionally without much harm (“the dose makes the poison”) but vegan burgers, etc., are still to be considered junk food from every perspective except animal welfare.

“Beyond Delicious” Conference

Please join me at Omega Institute this weekend (Aug. 25-27) for the Beyond Delicious Conference, where I’ll be exploring food policy, activism, and global impact with Karen Washington, Tunde Wey, Zoe Adjonyoh, Ruth Reichl, Kathleen Finlay, and many others. More info here.

Two Newsletters to Love

My favorite newsletter has become The Browser, which I think would’ve been called a news aggregator some number of years ago. Basically, they send you a few links a day on a wide variety of stuff, like this piece – which I found irresistible – about water and Jordan, not exactly your everyday reading. I can’t mention it, though, without also plugging Arts and Letters Daily, to which I’ve been devoted for umpteen years; it posts three (often too academic, IMHO) pieces a day, at least one of which is worth being distracted for.

Better Food Reporting

This smart piece from Columbia Journalism Review points out the missed opportunities in food (and real estate) reporting. Aspiring food journalists, take note.

The Perfect August Salad

Not much cooking on my part this week (we did a little travel). But we did host a party at which our friend, the great Evan Hanczor, cooked. Among other wonders, he created this perfect August salad. (I augmented the leftovers with cornbread croutons; see below.)

The content below was originally paywalled.

Evan’s Late Summer Salad of Corn, Peaches, and Tomato


  • 1 quart corn kernels, cut from the cob

  • 1 large or 2 small yellow or white peaches, ripe but with integrity, halved, stone removed, and cut into a medium dice

  • 1 cup sungold tomatoes, halved

  • 1 shallot, or a small Tropea or other red onion, or a few scallions, thinly sliced

  • 1 chili, thinly sliced (optional, could be Thai chili or cherry bomb or aji dulce or even jalapeno or serrano depending on the heat you want)

  • 2 tablespoons peach vinegar, or red or white wine vinegar

  • 3-4 tablespoons tasty olive oil

  • A big pinch or two of salt and a small one of fresh ground black pepper; maybe some flaky salt for finishing

  • 1/3 cup torn or chopped basil (purple, Thai, Genovese)


Toss all the veggies and fruit together in a bowl with the vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper. Add most of the torn basil and toss together. Plate in a large shallow bowl, topping with more torn basil and a sprinkle of flaky salt/splash of extra oil if desired.

— Recipe courtesy Evan Hanczor

Eating with Your Eyes

Finally … a couple of friends were celebrating last week, so we brought them to Nougatine (at Jean-Georges) for lunch last week. The wonderful chef, Joe Rhee, sent out this drop-dead gorgeous melon salad, which you could enjoy for five minutes before even eating. (Now that is vegan “cooking.”)