by Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman asks an essential question in his new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More than 75 Recipes: "Could improved health for people and planet be as simple as eating fewer animals, less junk food, and super-refined carbohydrates?"
The answer is an emphatic yes, says Bittman, New York Times columnist and best-selling author of How to Cook Everything. This lifestyle choice "could help you lose weight, reduce your risk of many long-term or chronic diseases, save you real money, and help stop global warming."
Food Matters advances the simple idea of rethinking consumption, a concept that is manageable, not onerous, and doesn't advocate a boring or puritanical diet—let alone a vegetarian one. In fact, Bittman says, the change can be gradual, and eminently adaptable to individual tastes and lifestyles—and he offers 75 recipes and a month's worth of menu ideas to illustrate the point.
While much in the typical American diet is wrong, there is no need to give up life's basic pleasures, or completely eliminate anything, says Bittman. But by eating less meat and fewer animal products, refined carbohydrates, and junk food, and far more vegetables, legumes, fruit and whole grains, both people and the earth will benefit. "The easiest, surest way to improve the overall health of Americans is for us to adjust our eating habits," Bittman says. "This isn't a diet in the conventional sense but a change in focus, away from the twentieth-century style of gorging and back to something saner, more traditional, and less manufactured."
That twentieth-century style resulted in global livestock production becoming responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases; it's cruel to animals and unhealthy for the humans who consume their chemical-laden meat. The typical American diet is also staggeringly expensive: It requires 40 calories of energy to produce 1 calorie of beef protein, and the average American meat-eater is responsible for one and half tons more CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases than someone who eats no meat. (If we each ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we'd cancel out the effects of all the country's SUVs.)
And meat isn't the only problem: Industrial farming of corn and soy accounts for over fifty percent of crops in the United States, and these are turned into animal feed as well as obesity-causing cheap food additives. In what Bittman calls "the force feeding of America"—subsidized by business-friendly government—overproduction and marketing drive excessive consumption, while nutrition standards are heavily influenced by
the Big Food lobbies, and labeling laws remain woefully unclear. Each new magic bullet—olive oil, omega-3 oat bran-leads to a marketing blitz that often misrepresents food products to consumers.
Bittman's own struggle with weight gain and health problems—high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar levels, a hernia, bad knees, and sleep apnea—forced him to take a hard look at his diet. He didn't want to give up the meals he loved and wrote about, yet merely by reducing—not eliminating—animal products in his diet, virtually cutting out junk food and simple carbohydrates, and eating more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, he lost weight and watched his health improve.
Still, Food Matters is not a "diet book." Bittman does not advocate that everyone follow his exact regimen, suggesting instead that each person find his or her own balance. Saner eating is about moderation and consciousness-by simply eating less of certain foods and more of others this approach will improve human health and contribute to slowing global warming.
With easy tips on sane shopping, stocking the pantry, and navigating restaurant menus, Bittman shows exactly how. He lays out a month's worth of meal plans, and supplies more than 75 recipes their flexibility. From basics like steamed vegetables, beans, and tomato sauce to healthy salads, hearty soups and snacks to meat entrees and even delicious desserts, this master cook shows how easy it can be to adopt a healthful, socially conscious diet.
The message of Food Matters is at once simple, revolutionary, and timely. And Mark Bittman, whom The Chicago Tribune calls "funny, irreverent and deeply knowledgeable about food" is the perfect guide to provide this roadmap to saner eating and living.
Mark Bittman is the bestselling author of How to Cook Everything and other successful books. He is the creator and writer of the popular New York Times column, "The Minimalist," a host and star of three public television series, and a regular guest on the Today show.
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This page created May 2009
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