Early this week, longtime New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman announced in his farewell column that he would be leaving journalism to pursue a central role with an as-yet-unnamed young, Bay Area food start-up. The announcement prompted a flurry of speculation around Bay Area food media about which start-up would get Bittman who would, presumably, function as a high-visibility, grumpy magnet for venture capital. Recent guesses include large good food manufacturer Hampton Creek, the non-burger burger inventor Impossible Foods, homegrown mushroom phenomenon, Back to the Roots, and vegan delivery service, Purple Carrot.
In his farewell column, Bittman identified himself as “an activist and an advocate as well as a journalist,” and said he’d be taking the new role to “help make it easier for people to eat more plants.” He moved to Berkeley earlier this year to teach at the Berkeley Food Institute.
This morning, we scored an exclusive interview with Bittman in his Berkeley home, and he quickly laid to rest any speculation that he would indeed be joining any of the start-ups we had in mind. Instead, Bittman confided that the year-old start-up is in fact a company he has been working on from his living room for the past year.
“It’s a really exciting project,” said Bittman. “Essentially, I’m removing any of those soulless middlemen who make it harder for people to eat plants.”
When we asked who the “soulless middlemen” were, Bittman was succinct.
“The bad people, with money and trucks and bags of meat,” he said, inhaling for a few seconds from a rather large joint and closing his eyes. “I’m bringing us back to the way things used to be.”
Prodded for details, the former NYT columnist was decidedly vague. “Imagine, if you can, a world where you can click on your neighbor and have beautiful, organic, produce delivered right to your door for just a few bitcoin servers.”
The muddled language suggests that while Bittman is settling into Berkeley quite nicely, he still hasn’t quite acclimated to the technology industry and its vocabulary, although his enthusiasm for it is at an all-time high.
The new start-up will be called Blue Orange, and the headquarters—just outside of Bittman’s kitchen—seem to be little more than a rotting pile of greens and computer parts in a Radio Flyer Wagon. “This is the future of food and technology,” said Bittman, gesturing to the wagon. “It’s disruption, and it’s solar-powered. And we’re going to get a ping pong table too.”
Bittman said the new startup “is a collaborative network that makes cooking fun and easy in realtime by delivering farm fresh ingredients right to your phone and manages your inbox so that you never have to step foot in the post office again.”
Bittman reports that the mission of Blue Orange is fivefold: to make school lunches healthier “through upping children’s Klout scores,” bringing consumers closer to farmers through a “a relationship incubator,” and to make organic food more affordable by “asking Uber for ideas.”
Currently, Bittman is the only member of the company, which just raised $120 million in its first funding round from Y Combinator, Fuel Capital, and Kate Winslet.
Pressed for his plans to expand, Bittman reported that he will be hiring “farmers from Google” as soon as the funds roll in.