Friday, November 6, 2009

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

When a friend mentioned that Mark Bittman's new book had made it to our local library stacks, I immediately added my name to the queue. Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating is an easy-to-read, well-written guide to eating for the benefit of our health AND the environment; far from mutually exclusive, he argues.

Bittman's writing style reminds me of what would happen if food advocates Michael Pollan and Marion Nestle got together to write a book. Food Matters presents eating in a way we can all understand: more plants, fewer animals, and as little highly processed food as possible, combined with advice on navigating your market in spite of confusing health claims on food packaging. Sounds easy, so what's the catch?

Absolutely nothing! Bittman explains this "diet" is meant to be long-term; one that relies on common sense, not confusing (and often conflicting) scientific studies or national food guide pyramids designed to make "Big Food" industries fat and happy. Best of all, Bittman gives you his own story, only to tell you to do what works for you. There's no one, single way about it.

The key is to exercise what he calls "Sane Eating." Eat lots of plant-based foods - LOTS. But most importantly, enjoy food! Don't eliminate anything entirely. For instance, have some cake - just limit it to rare occasions or have a much smaller piece.
This is not about deprevation or ironclad rules, but about being sensible.
In the end, not only is this better for our health, but it's better for our pocketbooks and the environment too! In other words, eat as though "food matters" - because we have an amazing amount of power as individuals over our health and even global warming. In fact, studies show our food choices make more of an impact than our driving choices.
[E]ach time you make a decision to support an alternative to the industrial meat complex, you're rejecting that type of agriculture in favor of something far better for the planet, and for you.
After explaining the whys and hows of "eating as though food matters," Bittman offers us Part II, which includes tips on saving time in the kitchen, tips on eating out, a list of items to keep stocked in your pantry, examples of dynamic meal plans, and recipes that range from simple dishes and snacks to more elaborate (though easy to fix) meals.

And to further whet your appetite, here are a couple of the recipes I'll be trying:
Nut-Wich: Lightly mash something delicious, smear it on toasted bread, then sprinkle chopped nuts on it. Some excellent combos: banana, honey, and almonds; avocado and peanuts... (page 198)

Vegetable Spread: Baba ghanoush, the classic middle-eastern eggplant dip, is the model for this dish. However, I've turned the procedure into a master recipe that applies to nearly any vegetable... (page 222)
Convinced? Check out Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating today and discover the ease of eating for two: you and Mother Earth.

Rating: 5 out of 5
Recommended: for newbies to the sustainable food realm or those wanting to be re-inspired

6 comments:

JAM said...

Heather, thanks for the review - it's interesting to read another perspective. For me, the whole book seemed like a long magazine article - I wasn't too impressed and didn't think it said much new, but I guess we all take different things from books. I think he's a fun writer to read, but didn't feel like there was enough in there to warrant a book.

SusanB said...

I too read this book and agree pretty much with your review and level of recommendation. I thought of it as sort of a "how to" guide post-Michael Pollan, and a very good introduction on a lot of topics -- for instance, it would make in my humble uninformed opinion a great text for a middle-school or high schooler interested in food issues. The structure of the book is standard diet how to -- facts, program, personal experience, menu plan, recipes which may appeal strongly to a particular audience. The recipes weren't particularly helpful to me an experienced cook, and the one thing I really found interesting on the menu plan was not a recipe per se but a variation on a variation, and really hard to locate in the recipe section.
That said, I think this book fits a need, and is more accessible and uniform in level of information than Pollan's Defense of Eating. I got it from the library.

Heather @ SGF said...

JAM - most of it was stuff I already knew, but it would be GREAT, I thought, for someone just starting their food journey - easy to read and straight-forward.

SusanB - I agree that the recipes kinda seemed all over the place at the end, with text intermixed in with it. Just forced me to read it, instead of simply flipping through, though, which is what I normally do when I get to the recipe section of a book :)

Amber said...

Hi Heather,
I appreciate you sharing this... there are so many books out there talking about food and diet it seems impossible to keep up with all that is percolating. While I haven't read Bittman's book yet we (Eating for Evolution) just did an interview with thought leader John Allen Mollenhauer and he discussed eating "nutrient rich" compared to adhering to a particular "diet camp." From reading your post it sounds like Bittman is pushing into a similar perspective. It really warms my heart to see, and contribute to, bringing this more wholesome relationship with food into our culture's mainstream.
Thanks for your post!
Amber Schey
http://community.eatingforevolution.com/articles (click this link for the interview- just register for free to access it.)

Heather @ SGF said...

Amber - Thanks for the comment and the link. I'm checking it out now.

Levinson Axelrod said...

This was a very good review of the book. Great information Thanks a lot for introducing it.