Spend less money, eat healthier, and save the environment. Sounds pretty good, right? Mark Bittman’s Food Matters is a must read.
A good friend once said to me, “Moderation in all things . . . including moderation.” Good advice that fits Bittman’s cooking style (see his award winning cookbooks How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian). He provides simple recipes with several easy variations to make cooking great meals easy. In my household we are devoted followers of the Bittman school of cooking, so much so that our copy of How to Cook Everything is that tattered, dog-eared, food-stained, broken-backed cookbook your mom may have had in her kitchen (my mom’s was the Joy of Cooking). We like food, and Bittman has taught us how to make it for ourselves, simply, easily, and with tasty results. So when Bittman published Food Matters, part industrial food production exposé, part cookbook, I had to give it a try.
Food Matters appeals to the moderate’s sensibility. Bittman doesn’t tell you to be a vegetarian (he says he couldn’t do it). He doesn’t tell you you need to shop at your local farmer’s market (though it’s not a bad idea) or Whole Foods. And he doesn’t push any eating fads. Instead he suggests moderate changes to our diet. Cut back on dairy, poultry, pork and beef. Cut way back on junk food (question any food with more than 5 ingredients). Eat more grains (brown rice, oats, barley, etc.), legumes (he really likes beans, though I find, outside of hummus, I have a hard time getting on board), fruits and vegetables.
I was talking with a friend about this the other day (a vegetarian, at that). She finds it easy to eat the right number of fruit servings per day, hard to get there with veggies. Sound familiar? When I came back from Costco (I’m not a locavore, but the strawberries were direct from Watsonville, less than 100 miles away) my wife was more than a little skeptical at the volume of vegetables I brought with me. I threw together (and that’s about accurate, slice, stir, season, put in the oven) one of Bittman’s staple vegetable suggestions on Sunday to bring for lunch for the week. Mi espasa tried a little and was blown away at how good it was. I’ve been loving my Food Matters inspired lunches, and having no trouble getting enough veggies in my diet. My point? Bittman makes these foods accessible and yummy . . . and I’ll use all those veggies I bought.
The benefit of eating these great-tasting plant-based meals? More nutrition, fewer calories, lower weight and cholesterol, and, as Bittman makes a big point of, it’s much better for the environment. He doesn’t claim to write a treatise on everything wrong with industrial food production, but he does a nice job of presenting some compelling facts about its ills, including the brutal conditions factory farms subject animals to, the energy the industry uses, and it’s impact on the earth, including global warming. As he puts it, if Americans ate, on average, three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we could drive our SUVs guilt free. Bittman includes a blistering critique of the government’s complicity in the destruction of both the environment and our health. The bottom line is that industrial food production, primarily surrounding animal products, is out of control, damaging to our environment, and damaging to us.
Bittman’s remedy is moderate, simple, and tasty. Following his advice we become better stewards for ourselves, our families, and the environment. In short, food matters.