In Mark Bittman’s latest book, he claims he has discovered a method of eating that can help you lose weight, improve your health, save money and stop global warming. It sounds too good to be true, but his commonsense approach to food — as if it “matters,” hence the title — can do all of those things. It did for him.
Here is his solution: Eat a lot less meat and dairy. Drastically reduce how much junk food you eat. Cut back on refined flour. Three simple rules, easy to remember and follow. And you don’t have to sacrifice anything, just cut back a lot. Think of meat, flour and sugar as “treats,” and treat yourself daily. But mostly eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The way Bittman does it is by eating mostly vegan during the day (I think he allows himself some yogurt and cheese), and then have whatever he wants for dinner. By making this simple change, he has lost weight and lowered his cholesterol. Plus, he just plain feels better.
In the first few chapters, Bittman explains how the meat industry and big agriculture impact the environment and our waistlines with a myriad of negative results. He describes how advertising and government have colluded with these industries to create an unsustainable demand for meat, produce monocultures of corn and soy, and convince us all that we need to eat these things to be healthy. The hypocrisy of a government that tells us we’re all too fat on the one hand but subsidizes the production of high-fructose corn syrup on the other is staggering when you think about it. I’ve certainly heard these arguments before — in fact, Bittman authoritatively quotes one of my favorite authors, Michael Pollan, frequently — but Bittman’s style is straightforward, commonsensical and convincing. So much so that not only do I want to follow his advice (which, truthfully, won’t be much of a lifestyle change for me), but I want everyone I love to read this book and become convinced as well.
The biggest sacrifice for me would not be reducing my consumption of meat and dairy, which I eat in very small quantities anyway, but cutting back on junk food and refined flour. I do like my bread, and “junk food” is defined as any processed foods with more than five recognizable ingredients. That’s an easy enough rule to remember, but take a look in your pantry and you’ll see how difficult it is to put in practice. Still, treats are allowed, and Bittman emphasizes making slow, gradual changes.
He provides a lot of useful advice that will help. For instance, he advocates cooking more than you need whenever you cook vegetables, beans or grains, and tells you how to store and reuse the extras. This is a technique I’ve already put into practice, so that I’ll have plenty of healthy choices for lunch and snacks when I don’t have time to cook.
The last half of the book is taken up by recipes. I haven’t tried any of them yet, but leafing through them, I see an assortment of useful “master recipes,” emphasizing vegetables, fruits and grains, that can be endlessly varied to suit what you have on hand and what you like to eat. These are my favorite kinds of recipes, the kinds that after you make them once or twice, you don’t really need the recipe anymore.
As someone who loves to cook and eat, I do think that “food matters.” And I would love it if everyone would read this book and implement at least some of Bittman’s advice.
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