Food Matters, A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman (Simon & Schuster $25.00) I've loved getting the NYT on Wednesdays because I know there will always be at least one recipe I need to clip out and try. And once a week, that recipe is written by Mark Bittman in his Minimalist column. I've learned new techniques, and spice combos I would never have thought of. The joy of the Minimalist recipes is that he takes a food, and simplifies the prep work and ingredients making it very easy to create something you've never tried and be successful in it's execution.
Health problems a couple years back forced Bittman to re-examine his own diet, and those changes prompted the theories we see here. The American diet has become out of balance, too reliant on meat and processed "food", be it cheetos or white bread. Meat was once a luxury food, expensive in cost or energy spent getting it. It is quite easy in today's market to rely on cheap meat for getting our energy needs, and yet that over consumption of meat is ultimately bad for us. Bad for the health of our bodies, and our planet. The need to grow enough plants to grow enough meat for each American has resulted in industrial farming of both. In order to grow enough corn and soy to feed the animals means that we don't produce enough other fruits and vegetables to meet the "5 servings a day" rule advocated by our own USDA. And of course, farming high yield monoculture crops requires pesticides and fertilizers that create run-off problems down stream. Fuel use to get this feed to the animals and then the animals to market also contributes to our oil dependency problems.
Yet Bittman is not advocating a complete "locavore" or vegan life change. If we can all make small changes to how we balance our daily intake, it will make a big difference in the total sum of our usage of the world's resources. He uses personal experience to relate how he is very strict with himself during daylight hours. No meat or diary, breakfast and lunch and snacks can be as much whole grains or fruits and vegetables as wanted. After dark, dinner can be anything. If you've filled up all day on produce, fried chicken with a couple beers isn't a bad thing in your day's total. If you do have a "bad for you" food day, well, tomorrow is another day, and you can get it balanced better.
The first third of the book is spent giving an overview of our food production history and current state. The how and what we eat has shifted dramatically since WWII. The recommended charts from the USDA have been manipulated by industrial lobbying to the point of being meaningless. The "got milk?" "beef: it's whats for dinner" and "other white meat" folks have had more sway in the pyramid than actual nutritionist's advice.
Bittman includes 75 recipes, that are helpful, even to examine technique and ingredients and will get you thinking on how to use these lessons in your everyday cooking. And of course these are fast and easy ways to cook. I love that Food Matters is not a set of rules, but suggestions that can be incorporated slowly, and incrementally in our diets. Saner eating, Better health, and Weight loss. In easy to swallow doses.
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Food Matters is available at Jackson Street Books and fine independent bookstores everywhere.