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Local Eating, Organic Eating, and a Last Meal from Jean-Georges Vongerichten

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Question: How important are organic foods, and\r\nhow truthful is the labeling?

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Mark\r\nBittman: One has to\r\nhope that things that are certified organic are organic.  But what does organic mean?  It's a term that’s defined by the\r\nUnited States Department of Agriculture. \r\nIt doesn’t mean anything or it doesn’t mean much about how the animals are\r\ntreated.  It doesn’t really mean\r\nmuch about what kind or what breed of the animals there are.  It doesn't mean anything in terms of\r\nhow the workers who are raising these animals or farming these crops are\r\ntreated.  Doesn’t mean anything\r\nabout where the food is from. 

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So does organic\r\nhave some meaning?  Yes, I think\r\nthe term organic has some meaning. \r\nBut I think that it's not the most important thing.  I won't go so far as to say it’s a red\r\nherring because I think there are some important things about it but I will say\r\nthis.  The most important division\r\nin our style of eating right now is not organic versus non-organic and it's not\r\nlocal versus non-local.  It's plants\r\nversus anything else and I don’t mean to be repetitive but the message is very,\r\nvery clear. 

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The way that\r\npeople can eat best is to eat less crap to put it bluntly.  And crap is processed food and junk\r\nfood and you can have organic processed food and you have organic junk food and\r\nthat food is maybe a little better than non-organic processed and junk food but\r\nit's not good food and that's the most important lesson we could learn, I\r\nthink.

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Question: Is it important to eat locally grown,\r\nseasonal foods?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  Well, again, I think the clear answer\r\nis that, as far as your body is concerned, a grape from Chile is better than a\r\ncheeseburger from around the corner. If you're willing to eat turnips, carrots,\r\nbread you bake yourself, frozen meat, a very limited diet, you can eat locally\r\nalmost anywhere, at least in this country, all year round and that's great but\r\nit's expensive, it's inconvenient, and it takes dedication.

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I think it's a\r\nswell idea and I think that ultimately for food to make sense in this country I\r\nthink we're going to see more regionalism and less food coming out of California.  But I don’t think we'll ever be at a\r\nplace where we see no food coming out of California, unless it falls into the\r\nsea, of course.  And I think that\r\nif you want to be truly a local eater, you're not going to be drinking it.  If you live in the northeast, as I do,\r\nyou're not going to be drinking any coffee.  You're not going to be drinking any caffeinated tea.  You're not going to be using any olive\r\noil.  There are a lot of things\r\nyou're just going to be missing out on. \r\nThat's fine if you think that that's the highest priority.  There are other priorities, I\r\nthink. 

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I'm a fan of\r\nlocal food.  I really like local\r\nfood, but to go back to the discussion of trendiness in food.  Everything need not be taken to an\r\nextreme and this is another thing that has been taken to an extreme.

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Question: What foods are your guilty pleasures?

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Mark\r\nBittman: If I'm driving\r\nsay six hours and I decided to stop at Wendy's or whatever I guess there's a\r\ntwinge of guilt.  But there's also\r\nan excuse because you're away and, you know, you're busy and blah, blah, blah\r\nand I don’t exercise that excuse very often.  So I don’t really feel guilty about it.  I think what would make me feel guiltiest,\r\nand I don’t do it, is going to a supermarket and buying a huge bag of potato\r\nchips and coming home and eating it but I don’t do it, so.

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Question: What would you choose as a last\r\nmeal?

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Mark\r\nBittman:  Why do they choose -- because they want\r\nsomething comfortable, they want something they're familiar with.  They all want bacon and eggs,\r\nright?  I mean I don’t -- that's my\r\nguess.  Everybody wants four fried\r\neggs in butter with unlimited supply of bacon and really, really great toast.  I would – am I being executed?  I have to get the scenario.  So assuming I'm being executed and I\r\nhave the – its not a last meal, like I don’t want to think about cancer last\r\nmeals, I want to think about execution last meals.  I would call – I'm privileged I can do this -- I would call\r\nmy friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten and tell him I want to cook for me until I\r\ntell him to stop.  That would be my\r\nlast meal.  But I do like the four\r\nor six eggs cooked in a lot of butter with bacon and really good toast.  I like that, too.

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The writer talks about the virtues of eating locally grown food and what foods he considers guilty pleasures.

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