Friday, April 9, 2010

Book Review: Food Matters - A Guide to Conscious Eating

Continuing with my trend of reading books about food and eating (beginning with Michael Pollan’s most recent trilogy of books), I dove into Mark Bittman’s latest book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. If you’re not familiar with Mark Bittman, he is best known as a cookbook author, food columnist for the New York Times, regular on The Today Show, and public television show host.

Food Matters is one part food theory and one part cookbook. This is partly what drew me to the book in the first place, learning another way to approach food and eating and having a collection of recipes to try out that follow those guidelines. Being relatively new to cooking more than salads and sandwiches, I am always looking for new ideas and recipes that are easy enough for a novice to try without burning down the building or ruining perfectly good ingredients. Now, not all of the recipes in this book fall into that category, but I have already tried a few of them to good results and Bittman also provides basic techniques which I’ve found very helpful (how to prepare a variety of grains, vegetables in multiple ways, storage techniques, etc.).

Bittman’s theory for eating rests on the idea of conscious eating (as referred to in the book title). Not only does he advocate eating whole foods that are good for human health, but also foods that are good for our environment. His journey to create a healthy, sensible and conscious diet was spurred by four factors: a report by the UN that stated global livestock production was responsible for about 1/5th of all greenhouse gases, “some personal health issues, an overall gloomy global outlook, and an increasing concern with animal products in general.” Seeing a direct link between personal food consumption habits and global warming, Bittman realized that small dietary changes made by many people, could have quite an impact on our environment. I’ll skip a lot of the details, because I suggest you read the book (Part 1 is only 108 pages, so it’s a pretty fast read) but Bittman does dig deep into the effect food production has on the environment. He cites Michael Pollan a few times, building off a few of his ‘Food Rules.’ He also explores the wild entanglement between the US Government and food producers, food marketing and the misguided and ultra-confusing USDA Food Pyramid, which was actually designed by Porter Novelli, a global public relations firm. He explains how there is not enough space on Earth to keep up with the increasing demand for meat (most people in developing countries, including the US eat approximately a half pound of meat per day, when 3oz per day is a more appropriate amount for a healthy diet). And of course, he also discusses the rise in obesity rates across the country over the last 4 decades.

The idea behind eating like Food Matters is that people should take a look at how and what they eat, focusing on fresh, wholesome ingredients, and minimizing animal products (meat and dairy) in order to eat healthier and lessen their impact on the environment. If you’re wondering, he does encourage consciously grown or raised local products over organic (how organic is an apple if it is flown 1,000 miles to the grocery store?). Bittman is encouraging people to follow a new diet, but not ‘diet’ as a four-letter word. Diet as in a way of eating. For life. A diet that can be sustained and works with your lifestyle. I think we all know by now, that if it doesn’t fit with someone’s lifestyle, it’s not going to work. Eating like food matters puts produce at the forefront and includes only a small bit of meat, if at any at all (your choice). If you like categorization, it’s a Flexitarian diet. From the slipcover of the book:

“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 results will be better health for you and for the world in which we live.”
Food Matters is an interesting and quick read that I highly recommend. While Bittman’s argument is quite similar to Michael Pollan’s, he comes from a slightly different angle and brings a few new facts and ideas to the table. I do want to clarify one thing though, this isn’t a ‘diet book.’ It’s not meant to guide someone on their weight loss journey; rather it is meant to improve the health of both people and the earth. Bittman’s weight loss (as mentioned in the quote above) was a pleasant side-effect of the eating like food matters, but was not the solitary goal he set out to accomplish. It just so happens that the body has a tendency to lose a few pounds as one begins eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer processed foods and animal products.

I checked this book out from the NY Public Library, but it is one I’d like to have in my permanent (and ever growing) collection.

One last quote to leave you with: “The aggregate of even the smallest changes equal big change.”

For more info on Mark Bittman and Food Matters, go here.

If you haven't heard yet, April is Earth Month. Why wait until April 22nd to celebrate the Earth and pay attention to the environment and what we can do to help preserve the Earth for generations to come? Celebrate all month long!
  • If you're in NYC this weekend, you can recycle your e-waste at Tekserve (119 W23rd St) on Saturday from 10a-4p. They're taking computers, cell phonees, TV's and other electrical items to recycle in safe and appropriate ways. In return, Tekserve will give you $25 towards a Mac or iPod (excluding shuffles) thru May 10th.
  • Instead of throwing away all those clothes and other textiles you don't want anymore while you're Spring cleaning, take them to an NYC Greenmarket for recycling! Check HERE for participating markets and times.
  • Do you have old pairs of running shoes piling up in your closet like I did until last month? Take them to your nearest NIKE store to donate to their Reuse A Shoe program. Just drop them off in the bin and they'll be turned into materials for running tracks.
  • We all know CFL lightbulbs are better than incandescent, but which one brand is best for additional front end investment? According to Consumer Reports, choose 'soft' or 'warm' white CFLs if you want something close to the incandescent and use a 13-15 watt CFL to replace a 60 watt incandescent. EcoSmart (423-599 EDXO-14) tops the spiral category (found at Home Depot), EcoSmart (BR40 Soft white) is best for indoor flood lights, and Philips Energy Saver EL/A rates #1 for outdoor flood lights. If you haven't switched yet, keep in mind that CFLs will save about $56 in energy costs over the life of the bulb. Not bad!! That's a few race entries, and two will get you a new pair of running shoes!!
On another topic, I'm flying to Michigan quite early tomorrow morning for a quick trip to attend the 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration of my Great Aunt & Uncle! I'm incredibly excited that I'm able to go. They are two of the most wonderful people I know and their love and admiration for each other is evident after seeing them together for mere seconds. Needless to say, with my travels I'll be out of blogging range but back on Monday! Have a great weekend!

Workout stats -
19mi bike
3x10ea front straight arm raises, overhead extension, tricep kickbacks


Barbara said...

So happy to see you this weekend , even for a super short visit.
Amazing you and Stephanie and her family are coming the same week , just days apart.

Staci Dombroski said...

Have a great trip! That sounds like a lot of fun. Great review of the book :)

Garden Runner said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garden Runner said...

Safe travels and I hope you have a spectacular time! I already planted 6 shrubs in the garden yesterday- hooray for Earth Month!!

Kate B. said...

Thanks for the book review - it does sound like a great read! Hope you had a great trip to MI!

Thomas said...

Thanks for the book review and recommendation. I definitely will check it out at my next bookstore stop. Have a great time at your great Uncle & Aunt 50th Wedding Anniversary. Now, that's special, congrats to them!

Sarah said...

I really enjoyed reading your book review. The book has been added to my reading list! In celebration of earth month, this past weekend I began my mini-veggie garden. I'm using a Jiffy Greenhouse seed garden starter. It's small, but something. At the very least, I hope to grow enough to make a salad for my husband and myself along with a nice bowl of salsa. :)

Anonymous said...

I finally had a chance to read this myself recently--I'm tempted to mail my parents a copy. ;-) What do you think about his assertions about cutting back dairy consumption? I'm not a sports nutritionist, but cutting out that much calcium makes me nervous and I feel like it's better to get it in regular milk or yogurt (where it occurs naturally) than soy milk (where, I believe, it's added).