Recipe for a Better Food System

A video series of tasty dishes and smart policies

Abundant, healthy food that's affordable for everyone. Fair wages and working conditions for food and farm workers. Farmland and surrounding landscapes preserved for future generations.

That's the food system we need. But it's not the food system we have—and it's time to do something about it.

In this video series, food writer and activist Mark Bittman and UCS Food and Environment program director Ricardo Salvador cook up four delicious recipes with a side of conversation that will provide food for thought—and action.

Check back in the months ahead for new recipes and more conversations with Mark and Ricardo.


#1. Recipe for a Fair Food System: Pasta with Salsa Cruda

Preparing this quick, simple late summer dish sparks a conversation about the complexities—and inequities—of our food system, particularly for the workers who make it run.

Pasta with Salsa Cruda

  • Salt
  • 2 cups cored and roughly chopped ripe tomato
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly smashed
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil leaves
  • Pepper
  • 1 pound linguine or other long pasta
  • Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
  2. Put the tomato, oil, garlic, and half the basil in a broad-bottomed bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mash together well, using a fork or potato masher, but do not puree. (You can make the sauce an hour or two before you’re ready to eat and let it rest at room temperature.)
  3. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until tender but not mushy. Ladle some of the cooking water into the sauce to thin it out a bit and warm it up. Remove the garlic. Toss the hot pasta with the sauce and top with the remaining basil; pass the grated Parmesan at the table.

Behind the Scenes with Natalia Mendez

During a break from taping, Ricardo got to talk to food activist and New York City restaurant owner Natalia Mendez.


#2. Recipe for a Sustainable Food System: Skillet Apple Crisp

While a delicious dessert made from locally grown apples sizzles on the stovetop, Mark and Ricardo talk about why so much of our farmland is used for commodity crop production instead of growing real, healthy food—and about the damage industrial agriculture does to our soil, water, and climate.

Skillet Apple Crisp

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
  • 2 pounds apples, cored and chopped
  • 3/4 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Salt
  1. Put 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fruit to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. Put 5 tablespoons butter in another large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the nuts, lemon zest, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt; toss to coat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the topping is golden and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.

  3. When the fruit is soft, divide it among bowls. Scatter the topping over the fruit and serve.


#3. Recipe for an Affordable Food System: Millet Bake

Just in time for Thanksgiving, this hearty combination of whole grain, squash, and cranberries starts a conversation about how to make good food affordable for everyone. (Spoiler alert: it's not as simple as making food cheaper.)

Autumn Millet Bake

Makes: 4 main or 8 side servings
Time: About 1 1/2 hours, largely unattended

  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish
  • 3/4 cup millet*
  • 1 medium butternut or other winter squash or 1 small pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries (about 4 ounces)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds or coarsely chopped hazelnuts
  1. Preheat the oven to 375° and grease a 2-quart casserole, a large gratin dish, or a 9- x 13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
  2. Put 2 tablespoons of the oil in a small skillet over medium–high heat. When it's  hot, add the millet and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Spread the grain in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.
  3. Scatter the squash or pumpkin cubes and the cranberries on top of the millet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and the sage and drizzle with maple syrup. Carefully pour the boiling water over all. Cover tightly with foil and bake, without disturbing, for 45 minutes.
  4. Carefully uncover and turn the oven up to 400°. As discreetly as possible, sneak a taste and adjust the seasoning. If it looks too dry, add a spoonful or two of water or stock. Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top (a good way to camouflage your taste) and return the dish to the oven. Bake until the mixture bubbles and the top is browned, 8 to 12 minute. Serve hot or at room temperature.
*Other grains you can use in the same recipe without adjusting: short grain brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, cracked wheat.

#4. Recipe for a Healthy Food System: Beans & Greens Stew

For the cold winter nights ahead, Mark Bittman and Ricardo Salvador cook up a steaming pot of black-eyed peas and collard greens along with some ideas for transforming our food system so that good, healthy food like this is available and affordable for all.

Beans & Greens Stew

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 45 minutes, with pre-cooked beans

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 bone-in smoked pork chop (about 1 pound) or 8 ounces ham, chopped
  • 1 pound collard greens, thick stems removed and leaves cut into thick ribbons
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups cooked black-eyed peas, cooking liquid reserved [see recipe that follows]
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Cider vinegar to taste
  1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and pork to the pot (including the bone if there is one) and cook, stirring occasionally and turning the meat until the onion softens and starts to smell smoky, 3 to 5 minutes.
  2. Add the collards and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 3 cups bean cooking liquid (mixed with some water if you don't have enough) and the bay leaves and raise the heat to high. When the stew comes to a boil, adjust the heat so that it bubbles gently but steadily.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally until the collards become tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook, stirring once in a while, until the collards and beans are as tender as you like them, another 5 to 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and discard. Add a spoonful of cider vinegar if you'd like, taste and adjust the seasoning and serve.

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