the kitchen reader: food matters

by Stacy

The June selection for The Kitchen Reader was Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman, chosen by Elizabeth from Spike Bakes.
Mark Bittman is probably best known as the author of the New York Times Minimalist column and his How to Cook Everything cookbooks. My preference is which features his articles and guest posts on food politics and news. He also recently started writing a column for the revamped Cooking Light magazine (it makes more sense after reading this book). Love him or hate him (sorry Kimberly), Bittman is all over the place.

In Food Matters Bittman describes a personal journey that began at the intersection of personal health, rising food prices, global climate change, and animal cruelty. He claims that the health of the population and the planet can be improved through food choices. This is not an earth-shaking assertion — which he acknowledges, even providing page numbers so readers can skip over his reasoning if they already agree and just want the recipes.

Forging on, however, the author lays out his case for shifting his own consumption paradigm. Industrial livestock production is bad for the animals and bad for the planet. Eating too many calories is bad for people’s health. People should eat less meat and fewer calories by increasing intake of plant-based foods. He calls this approach “sane eating,” not a diet of restriction, but a lifestyle change that’s healthier for your body and the world. He advises us to “eat as though food matters,” because it does.

“If you embrace moderation, eat whole foods instead of junk, live within your physical, monetary, and environmental budget rather than constantly exceeding it, as so many of us do, you will lose weight, tread more lightly on the planet, and gain satisfaction from these things.”

It took me a while to get into this book and at first I didn’t understand why. I absolutely agree with the ideas set up in the book, it’s not a huge departure from how I eat myself, it justifies some of my own choices with research… and it’s exactly the information that I’ve been reading on my own and now for my health coaching program. It’s not Bittman’s fault that he wrote about the topics I’m currently studying and I didn’t read his book first. Also, he gave me ample opportunity to flip past his arguments, but he didn’t know he had to persuade someone who couldn’t even bear to read Choose Your Own Adventure books out of chronological order for fear of missing something.

What I like about this book is that it’s pragmatic. It offers good reasons to shift away from the Standard American Diet and cites Michael Pollan, Dr. Marion Nestle, and Peter Singer, among others. It’s not about willpower or judgment or “good” and “bad” foods, it’s about eating more nutritious foods which have less negative impact on the world. It addresses the challenges of navigating nutrition studies (many sponsored by food companies) and misleading marketing which are definite obstacles to many people’s health.

A few snippets that stuck out to me:

  • Cutting back on animal protein is among the most important environmental contributions you can make.
  • The meat industry has tried so hard to make “protein” synonymous with “meat.”
  • It takes 40 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of beef protein.
  • More than 50% of the corn grown in the U.S. the fed to animals. Soy and corn account for over 50% of the total U.S. harvest.
  • The U.S. does not actually grow enough fruits and vegetables to provide the government-recommended servings per day to each person.
  • As a nation we get 7% of our total calories from soft drinks.
  • Eating every time you feel hunger is like like sleeping every time you feel tired.

Bittman doesn’t just leave it there. After providing the reasons behind his dietary shift, he also outlines the framework for “sane eating.” He walks through stocking a pantry, cooking basics, and a month of meal plans. Over half the book is recipes, many of which look pretty good. Though he advocates substantially reducing meat consumption, many of the recipes are not vegetarian.

Once I actually got into it (again, my fault, not his), I liked the book because it logically offers up a truly reasonable way of eating. I’m actually trying to convince my husband to read it because I’m interested in his perspective as someone who hasn’t been studying the topic — if Bittman is “preaching to the choir” in me, my darling spouse is more of a grudging choir concert attendee.

Have you read Food Matters? Go see what the other Kitchen Readers thought of the book.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Jennifer June 30, 2010 at 7:36 am

LOVE your review. I truly enjoyed this book-I feel that I make better choices because of the information it provided.


sarah June 30, 2010 at 10:11 am

Hi Stacy, I really enjoyed this book, too. I found Bittman’s writing to be very easy to read. The sentence that still stands out to me the most is, “Gorge yourself on plants.” This is great advice that is now one of my mantras. Did you try any recipes yet?


Stacy July 1, 2010 at 11:57 am

Not yet, but we just got our CSA share yesterday so now I want to see what works. I try not to buy veggies when we already have so many at home.


Jill June 30, 2010 at 11:05 am

It is shocking that the US doesn’t grow enough food and vegetables to provide everyone with their government-recommended servings! I agree that Bittman has a sane and reasonable approach to eating, and I like that he’s practicing what he preaches. I tried two recipes so far and was very happy with them!


Kimberly June 30, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Aww, you remembered!


Stacy July 1, 2010 at 11:57 am

Of course! ;-p


Spike July 1, 2010 at 7:38 am

Sorry to pick something so repetitive with what you are already reading! I love Bittman’s website as well- and have never been disappointed with a recipe. thanks for reading it with me


Stacy July 1, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Nooooo, it was a great choice! And I signed up for the Kitchen Reader group before I signed up for my health coaching program. You chose first, June just rolled along later. 😉


Meryl July 1, 2010 at 8:13 am

I’m disappointed to have missed this month, but the book looks awesome–I’m very interested in those meal plans, so glad you mentioned them!


branny July 4, 2010 at 10:19 am

Eye opening!


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