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Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipesby Mark Bittman
Synopses & Reviews
From the award-winning champion of culinary simplicity who gave us the bestselling How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian comes Food Matters, a plan for responsible eating that's as good for the planet as it is for your weight and your health.
We are finally starting to acknowledge the threat carbon emissions pose to our ozone layer, but few people have focused on the extent to which our consumption of meat contributes to global warming. Think about it this way: In terms of energy consumption, serving a typical family-of-four steak dinner is the rough equivalent of driving around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home.
Bittman offers a no-nonsense rundown on how government policy, big business marketing, and global economics influence what we choose to put on the table each evening. He demystifies buzzwords like "organic," "sustainable," and "local" and offers straightforward, budget-conscious advice that will help you make small changes that will shrink your carbon footprint — and your waistline.
Flexible, simple, and non-doctrinaire, the plan is based on hard science but gives you plenty of leeway to tailor your food choices to your lifestyle, schedule, and level of commitment. Bittman, a food writer who loves to eat and eats out frequently, lost thirty-five pounds and saw marked improvement in his blood levels by simply cutting meat and processed foods out of two of his three daily meals. But the simple truth, as he points out, is that as long as you eat more vegetables and whole grains, the result will be better health for you and for the world in which we live.
Unlike most things that are virtuous and healthful, Bittman's plan doesn't involve sacrifice. From Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing to Breakfast Bread Pudding, the recipes in Food Matters are flavorful and sophisticated. A month's worth of meal plans shows you how Bittman chooses to eat and offers proof of how satisfying a mindful and responsible diet can be. Cheaper, healthier, and socially sound, Food Matters represents the future of American eating.
"Cookbook author Bittman (How to Cook Everything) offers this no-nonsense volume loaded with compelling information about how the food we eat is doing damage to the environment, what changes to make and why. Authors have covered this topic before (Michael Pollan, for example, in The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food), but Bittman takes a practical turn by concluding with 77 recipes that make earth-friendly eating doable and appealing. His collection of reliable recipes even includes such meat dishes as Thai beef salad, which isn't meat-heavy, but rather has 'just the right balance of meat to greens.' There are also such staples as super-simple mixed rice; 'chicken not pie'; and modern bouillabaisse. Bittman decries consumption of 'over-refined carbohydrates,' but doesn't leave off without some sweets, including chocolate semolina pudding and nutty oatmeal cookies — suggesting, as the whole book does, that a diet in synch with the needs of the earth doesn't result in a sense of utter deprivation." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The world is fat, proclaims the title of Barry Popkin's book — something we all know by now, and all recognize as a disaster. But what are we going to do about it? This is the question addressed, in different ways, by him and two other authors. Popkin, a distinguished nutritionist with more than 30 years' experience in international research, offers a concise, lucid overview of... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) how the human diet has gone awry in the last half-century. The cause of the global obesity crisis, according to Popkin, is a toxic collision of evolutionary, economic and social factors. We seem to be programmed biologically to enjoy eating sugar and fatty foods; misguided agricultural subsidies and a clever food industry conspire to make us eat lots of refined carbohydrates and calorific soft drinks; and we, as individuals, sit around too much and eat too many snacks. Popkin is frank about the overriding commercial motivations of companies selling processed foods, their often-biased approach to scientific research and their powerful lobbying ("Big Sugar" and "Big Beverage," he suggests, now behave as "Big Tobacco" once did, trying to suppress information damaging to their interests). Although some companies, he says, are attempting to change their ways — for example, by cutting calories from their products — they are unlikely to make real progress without government regulation. Meanwhile, agricultural subsidies make it more profitable for farmers to grow the ingredients of junk food than fruits and vegetables. And when individuals want to improve their diets, they are faced with a "cacophony of confusing, even ominous messages." In the end, Popkin advocates a multi-pronged attack on obesity that involves government, industry, communities, personal lifestyle choices and, in severe individual cases, gastric bypass surgery. Governments, he argues, need to start changing behavior through taxation, just as they did with tobacco — starting, perhaps, with a levy on sugar added to beverages. Mark Bittman, a TV cook and New York Times columnist, is concerned with the effects of overconsumption not only on the human body, but also on the environment. Our rapacious appetite for meat, he reminds us, is responsible for a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions (with modern farming, for example, it takes nearly 20 times as much fossil fuel to produce a calorie of beef as it does to produce a calorie of corn). Junk food is not just unhealthy, but also environmentally destructive (think of all the energy that goes into processing, packaging and transportation). In Bittman's book, "Food Matters," Big Oil and Big Food are the enemies, in cahoots with complacent government, and it's up to individuals to switch to patterns of eating that are healthier in every sense. Like Michael Pollan in "In Defense of Food," Bittman takes a common-sense approach, telling readers that it's simple to eat well: Just "eat less meat and junk food, eat more vegetables and whole grains." Indeed, "Food Matters" reads like a practical companion to Pollan's book. Bittman says he originally adjusted his diet for reasons of conscience. He minimized consumption of junk food, over-refined carbohydrates such as white flour and white rice, and animal products — and found not only that it was easy and enjoyable, but also that he lost weight and became healthier. If more people followed his example, he wonders, wouldn't they eventually have an impact on Big Food? The second part of his book is devoted to practical nutritional and culinary advice, with recipes that he hopes will support a shift toward what he calls "sane eating." Hank Cardello is a former executive at Coca-Cola and General Mills who spent most of his career in the food industry hatching plans to get you to eat more junk food. After a personal cancer scare, he had a crisis of conscience and decided to try to "re-envision how the food industry dealt with health." The "insider" revelations he offers are not particularly surprising: Couldn't we have guessed that the food industry is more concerned with our dollars than our waistlines? Cardello is less optimistic than Popkin and Bittman about the ability of individuals to change their eating habits: In his eyes, most people are weak-willed and unable to resist temptation. He rails against government regulation and sees the food industry as our only potential savior, though he is frank about its financial motivations. His hope is that Big Food eventually will realize that killing its customers is not in its economic interest, and that there is money to be made in selling healthier products. But the improvements he advocates would make Bittman choke. Cardello reckons that encouraging people to eat healthy food deliberately is a lost cause: He describes one doctor's attempts to persuade schoolchildren to eat fruits and vegetables as "rowing against the tide." Since most people prefer the taste of junk food, he argues, the best solution is simply for food companies to "sneak" nutrients into their best-selling products "without letting anyone know." The future, for Cardello, lies in a world of hamburgers doctored with omega-3 fatty acids and other "nutraceutically" enhanced processed foods. Unfortunately, he undermines his own arguments by admitting, earlier in the book, that nutritional science is often inconclusive and that vested interests sway scientific debate. We all know what happened when trans-fats were introduced as a healthier alternative to saturated natural fats: People ate margarine laden with trans-fats because they thought it was better for them than butter, only to discover a few years later that trans-fats cause heart disease. Can anyone really trust the food industry to know what it's doing when it re-engineers familiar foods in the laboratory? Reading all three books with their contrasting takes on the obesity crisis, it's hard to avoid agreeing with Bittman that processed food, no matter how souped-up with nutritious additives, just can't beat the real stuff, while the interests of the food industry will always lie in adding value by processing, packaging and extending shelf-life. Unfortunately, reverting to the "saner, more traditional, and less manufactured" diet prescribed by Bittman is not as simple as it sounds. For a start, what, in our polyglot cities, divorced as most of us are from the land, is a "traditional" diet? How many of us are willing to spend time cooking from scratch (Popkin reminds us that, until the 1970s, American women spent an average of two hours a day preparing food). And how do we begin to restore the lost culinary knowledge of a generation or two reared on junk? One suspects that Bittman is preaching to the semi-converted. The real challenge, surely, lies in persuading people who don't read such books to invest time in preparing food for their families and reminding them how to do it (an immense task, as the British TV chef Jamie Oliver showed in his recent "Ministry of Food" series). Bittman is over-optimistic and Cardello unduly pessimistic about the ability of human beings to change their eating habits. Popkin, however, offers the most balanced view, recognizing the damage wrought by the forces of industrialization while accepting that the very same forces have liberated us from punishing physical labor and made our lives more interesting. The quandary, according to him, is not how to stop development and modernization, but how to adjust our lifestyles so that we are helped rather than destroyed by them. Fuchsia Dunlop is the author, most recently, of "'Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China." Reviewed by Fuchsia Dunlop, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Like Michael Pollan in In Defense of Food, Bittman takes a commonsense approach, telling readers that it's simple to eat well: Just 'eat less meat and junk food, eat more vegetables and whole grains.' Indeed, Food Matters reads like a practical companion to Pollan's book." Fuchsia Dunlop, The Washington Post
From the award-winning guru of culinary simplicity and author of the bestselling How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian comes a plan for responsible eating that's as good for the planet as it is for the waistline.
About the Author
Mark Bittman is the author of Food Matters, How to Cook Everything and other cookbooks, and of the weekly New York Times column, The Minimalist. His work has appeared in countless newspapers and magazines, and he is a regular on the Today show. Mr. Bittman has hosted two public television series and has appeared in a third.
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