Thursday, September 3, 2009

What I'm Reading: Food Matters


I recently loaded up on some "sustainable food" titles at the local library, one of them being "Food Matters" by Mark Bittman.
Now, from what I can gather, Bittman is an important voice in the group of journalists talking about sustainable food, and he's totally from-the-gut honest. If you're a morning TV watcher, you might have seen him on the Today Show teaching Meredith Viera how to cook without a recipe. In the honest vein of Mark Bittman, I'll admit. I didn't research the guy heavily. I don't know that much about him, and I don't have a huge amount to say about his book. This is not a promotion of his book, nor is it a critique. I will say, he seems to have coined the term "lessmeatarian", which, essentially is his message in the book: eat less animal products. He does craft his words well, pointing out obvious-to-some, glaringly important questions such as his little rant about the organic food industry:

Organic food, of course, has become big business; with Big Food companies continually snapping up organic companies and creating new organic products, this is among the fastest-growing sectors of the food industry. That raises questions about mass production, mass pollution, and mass distribution – the same issues that are raised about conventionally produced food. To me (and to a lot of other people), all this defeats the purpose, which is to produce food in a way that sustains us and the planet. Can a head of lettuce that travels 3,000 miles by truck, or a piece of fish that’s been flown halfway across the world, still qualify as “organic”?

Paragraphs like this in the book were, excuse the pun, definitely food for thought. However, Food Matters didn't hit me over the head like Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, but it still had some valid points, and will probably get through to a lot of people because of Bittmans' honest tone, and no-nonsense, "non-sacrificing" plan. Let's face it, we North Americans don't want to deprive ourselves of any culinary indulgences, but sometimes for the good of the earth or our health, we really should. Bittman makes it easier for those people who haven't jumped on the Locavore-train or planted their own organic garden to make simple changes in their diet. If people follow his plan, it could be like one pebble in a pond, it could ripple out and create change in the food industry, but we'll see what happens. I'm sure there's no way of measuring which one of these authors really inspires people to change and be more conscious eaters, the important part is that the change occurs.
One quote that stood out for me at the beginning of the book and caught my attention was:

...global livestock production is responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gases – more than transportation.” (from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – a report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow”; pg. 1, Food Matters.

If this catches your attention, check out the book. Half the book is recipes, but I'm sure some of them are tasty, I just haven't tried them yet. The most persuasive argument in the book is probably Bittman's own personal health story, and how eating this way in his planned/unplanned style allowed him to improve his own health in leaps and bounds. If you're up for an honest read that doesn't require you to actually change your life, pick up Food Matters.

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