Food Matters

October 3, 2010 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

By Dee Reid

I haven’t bought a cookbook in years. When I need a fresh idea for dinner, I Google a new recipe or improvise on an old one based on what’s in the fridge and the pantry. Yet one of the most important books I’ve read, and re-read, this year is Food Matters, by Mark Bittman, the New York Times Minimalist columnist.

Of course it’s not really a cookbook, but rather, as the subtitle claims, “A Guide to Conscious Eating.” The fact that it includes 75 recipes is a bonus.

Bittman’s premise is that we can change our impact on the world and our health by making a few simple but profound adjustments in the way we eat and cook for the rest of our lives.  After reading his book and following his advice, I believe he’s right.

This is not about losing weight, though if you follow Bittman, you will inevitably shed pounds. It’s also not about counting calories, because if you eat wisely, you can eat as much as you want (and even splurge on the high-cal stuff once in a while).

Bittman’s plan requires no secret  ingredients or complicated rules. And it won’t cost you more than you’re already spending on your diet, because you’ll be cooking more and spending less money on meat and junk.

He says, simply, we should eat less meat and processed foods, and more fruits, vegetables,  legumes and whole grains.  Sounds like Michael Pollan right? The only difference is that Bittman shows us how to do this with ease and flavor, and without breaking the grocery budget.

Bittman believes that food matters more than just nutritionally. Industrial agriculture depends on petroleum-based pesticides and transportation, producing more than its share of carbon emissions, thereby contributing to climate change. What’s more, factory meat farms use too many hormones and antibiotics, and also degrade the landscape.  And processed food contains too much fat and high fructose corn syrup, contributing to diabetes, obesity and other diseases.

Okay, we knew this. While Bittman acknowledges it will take wholesale policy revisions to dramatically reduce Big Ag’s impact on climate change, he shows that what we do in our own household will matter, and may influence policy change down the road. That got my attention.

“Eating a typical family-of-four steak dinner is the rough equivalent, energy-wise, of driving around in an SUV for three hours, while leaving all the lights on at home,” he writes. “If we each ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we’d cancel out the effects of all the SUVs in the country. Not bad.”

The Minimalist is not interested in tying anyone to the kitchen stove. He takes a practical approach to cooking and shopping. Stock the pantry with basic staples (flour, grains, olive oil, herbs and spices) and the fridge with fresh fruit, vegetables , eggs, cheese and if you like enough meat to enhance your meals. Do this and you should be able to whip up a great healthy dinner in no time.

He also recommends cooking up a pot of beans and a pot of grains every week, so that you’ll have the basis for many meals that can be put together quickly.

Cook up a big batch of your favorite meal and freeze some for those times when you’re too busy to plan dinner. Take the leftovers to the office for lunch.

For folks who don’t know how to do this, he includes a simple daily plan with recipes. I’ve tried his approach and he’s right: it has transformed the way I shop, cook and eat, all for the better.

Now you’ll have to excuse me while I re-heat my favorite tomato-white-bean-onion soup and grab a slice of the no-knead bread that was baking while I wrote this. I’m about to do my bit to reduce global warming  the Bittman way.

Entry filed under: Books, Commentary, Food Miles, Learning, Sustainable Food. Tags: , , , , , .

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