Former New York Times Columnist Mark Bittman Joins Needham-Based Purple Carrot

The journalist and food policy advocate will develop recipes and be the face of the company, but he isn’t moving back to Boston—at this point.

Mark Bittman

Mark Bittman, photo by Eric Tanner

Purple Carrot, a Needham-based meal kit delivery service, has announced that best-selling author, prominent food policy proponent, and former lead food writer for the New York Times Mark Bittman has joined the year-old startup as chief innovation officer.

The full-time role has Bittman developing vegan recipes for the company, and he also plans to help Purple Carrot innovate in arenas such as packaging and labor, he said. The Times reported he will be the face of the company, writing for its website and leading online chats.

“The goals are everything I’ve written about over the years,” said Bittman, who published the cooking column “The Minimalist” in the Times for 13 years; has authored more than a dozen books, including How To Cook Everything and The VB6 Cookbook; and has been a leading authority on topics related to food policy as a Times columnist.

Bittman penned his final, regular column on September 12, writing “I’m leaving to take a central role in a year-old food company, to do what I’ve been writing about these many years: to make it easier for people to eat more plants … I see it as putting philosophy into action.”

Bittman is not a vegan, but for the better part of a decade, he has advocated for a “flexitarian” diet. The “vegan before 6” lifestyle advises eschewing meat, dairy, and processed foods before 6 p.m. as a long-term weight loss and health regimen. In his food policy columns, Bittman has written extensively about the effects of industrially-produced food not only on health, but also on the environment and the economy.

Purple Carrot promotes what it calls a “New American Diet,” in contrast to the Standard American Diet, which is high in red meat, refined grains, sugar, and fat.

The timing of Purple Carrot’s announcement, just one week after the World Health Organization released a report linking some processed meats and cancer, is coincidental, Bittman said. “But coincidences like that are going to keep happening. People know most meat is raised under deplorable conditions, and there’s only so much you can do to source sustainably-raised meat, because there’s not that much of it around.”

It’s common knowledge that eating more plants and less meat is a healthy practice, Bittman continued. As the country’s first plant-based meal delivery service, Purple Carrot is mission-driven to help its customers understand the connections among food, health, and the environment, and to change the way Americans cook at home.

“I’m not a vegan, the founder’s not a vegan, the lead investor’s not a vegan. Some people who work for us are, but we are not a vegan company and we are not vegan proselytizers,” Bittman said. “We’re just saying you need to eat more plant-based food, and we can help you figure out how to [do that] by putting it on your table twice a week.”

This week, Purple Carrot customers can choose from Bittman’s recipes for saag paneer, which substitutes tofu for the traditional cow’s milk cheese; whole wheat penne with Brussels sprouts and creamy cauliflower sauce; black bean burgers with spiced sweet potato fries; and roasted fall vegetables with tahini and quinoa.

“That’s a broad range of stuff. By doing that, I hope to find out what people like and what they don’t like,” the chef said. In the coming weeks, Bittman will flip through his Rolodex and invite guests to share recipes with Purple Carrot customers. Expect a Mario Batali dish soon, Bittman said.

Purple Carrot’s lead investor approached Bittman this spring about taking on an advisory role with the company. At the time, Bittman was considering a career change toward something entrepreneurial, so Purple Carrot was a perfect fit, he said. He recently relocated to the Bay Area, so the fact that his new employer is Boston-based is ironic; the Clark University graduate and former Somerville resident plans to visit Boston regularly and hasn’t ruled out moving back to Massachusetts, he said.

In addition to bringing on Bittman, Purple Carrot also announced it has opened a second distribution center in Los Angeles, broadening its availability to 35 states. It also introduced a subscription model instead of pay-as-you-go pricing, and now offers a two-person meal package along with a plan for families of four.