This month the Kitchen Reader book club has been reading Mark Bittman's treatise on "sane eating". I have used Bittman's recipes and ideas in the past because I love his simple style. In recent years he has become more interested in health and the environment and it has really impacted what and how he cooks. I've been inspired, so I was thrilled to read his book, Food Matters. Thanks to Elizabeth of Spike Bakes for choosing it.
He writes compellingly about the kinds of food that we can enjoy that also minimise environmental damage, expense to our health, and reduce costs for us. The first half of the book contains the evidence he provides for each of these three areas; it's hard hitting.
First, in regard to the environment, our decisions to eat meat produces more damage to climate change than any other. Livestock raised for consumption produce more greenhouse gases than emissions caused by transportation. Switching to a diet based on plants (and avoiding animal products and junk food) would be a huge boon to the earth. "One could easily argue," Bittman writes, "that it makes more sense to cut down on eating meat than it does to cut down on driving."
Secondly, the way we eat affects our health, and there's a link between our health and the health of the animals we eat and the soil used to raise them. Industrial farming ruins the soil, meaning more fertilisers and pesticides need to be used. These chemicals can get passed to us through our eating patterns. Also, animals raised for food and food products are fed corn and soy, which they were never meant to eat, so they are also fed vast quantities of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick. These are also passed to us. So the humane issues and our health issues both point to eating more plants.
Westerners are serial over-eaters. We consume vast quantities more protein than our bodies require. And protein cannot be stored, so overeating is just waste. Bittman even makes a case for embracing hunger occasionally, "the delicious anticipation.... Your hunger will, after all, be satisfied; why not wait an hour?... And if you eat it slowly, taking your time, you'll give the food time to reach your stomach and give you a sense of satisfaction before you have seconds or thirds." Junk food like refined flour and sugar are nutritionally empty: they are "at best useless calories and at worst damaging". So Bittman advocates eating a diet that avoids junk food, including refined flours and sugars.
Thirdly, eating more plant products reduces the cost of our shopping bill. Lentils, beans, and vegetables are much cheaper than steak. Vegetables are cheaper foods that are not calorie dense, so they have more volume per calorie. Bittman advises keeping some calorie dense foods in our diet (like a bit of meat to flavour a meal, or some cheese sprinkled on top) since then we can avoid feeling deprived, but to go easy on these. Then we'll save money; which can be investing in better quality and more humane animal options, for instance.
The second half of the book is a collection of recipes and food ideas. Bittman makes "sane eating" easy with sample meal plans as suggestions and more than 75 recipes. A lot of these recipes are really guides for how to cook and use certain foods easily. He outlines what to keep in the pantry and how to plan and make cooking easy--a beginner could easily use his ideas. I didn't need any more motivation than all this; I dove in and started using his ideas. The sweet potato spread that I served with my Turkish pide was an idea of his. "Vegetable spread" is a recipe that's really a list of notes for how to use any vegetable to make a spread like this.
Sweet Potato Spread
adapted from Food Matters by Mark Bittman
makes about 4 servings
about 1 kg sweet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped (or any other vegetable)
Roast the sweet potatoes in the oven, about 20 minutes. Let cool. (For other vegetables, cook by any method until the veg is very soft.)
Place in a food processor or blender with about 3 T of olive oil and some salt. Process until a spreadable paste emerges. Add more oil if necessary.
Taste and add salt and pepper if necessary, or any other seasonings, such as herbs, citrus juice, ginger, garlic, or spices.
I was thoroughly impressed by this book. It's easily readable, funny, compelling, down-to-earth, and very logical. The recipes are delicious and healthy (my two favourite words!) and there are sticky notes marking numerous ones I am keen to try. This was a fantastic read; my habits are continuing to change as a result. You can read more from the other Kitchen Reader members by visiting the group's blog.