Image obtained from markbittman.com
I recently had the chance to do a Q and A with Mark Bittman, currently on a book tour with his latest, The Food Matters Cookbook.
Bittman is also a columnist and creator of the New York Times “The Minimalist” column, as well as the bestselling author of Food Matters, How to Cook Everything, and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. He also appears regularly on the Today show, was previously involved with several public television shows, and is expected to begin a new show with The Cooking Channel this coming fall.
In short could you tell me how you first got into cooking and developed a real passion for food?
Bittman: I started, as so many people do, at home, cooking for myself and later my family. I liked it more the more I did it; I talked my way into reviewing restaurants, and from there was able to make it a career.
Since making the dietary changes outlined in Food Matters, what comes to mind as the number one effect on your life that this change has ensued?
Bittman: Well,encouraging this way of eating has become my main professional focus. I’ve spent decades trying to show how easy and enjoyable home cooking is–now I want to convince people that their lives and their children’s lives and the health of the planet depend on it. I truly believe that we, as a nation and as a planet, are facing disaster if we don’t change the way we eat.
When do you think this kind of notion to eat less dairy, meat, and processed foods will really take on in America?
Bittman: Unfortunately, not until the prices of meat, dairy, and processed foods begin to reflect the actual cost of these foods, which won’t happen until the government stops subsidizing crap and starts taxing processed foods and subsidizing fresh fruits and vegetables. But even in the absence of government intervention, I think more and more people will see the writing on the wall–it’s irrefutable that there’s a strong link between our diet, global warming, and our poor national health.
Do you think our food industry has shown, or at least shown enough, signs of significant improvement towards a healthier way of eating over recent years?
Bittman: No. Big Food claims to want to help fix the problem by creating products with less sugar and fat, and reducing portion sizes, and creating campaigns to encourage people to eat moderately and exercise–but they still pour hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising campaigns to convince us and our children to buy more and eat more. Can you blame them? They profit from the current system; they have absolutely no incentive to change it. That’s why we need governmental intervention and a stronger “eat real food” message.
When’d you decide you wanted to expand Food Matters and create a cookbook using its philosophy?
Bittman: Well, I’ve been eating and cooking this way for four years now; it was inevitable that I’d turn into a cookbook since that is, after all, what I do. Also, I can’t very well encourage people to eat less meat and more plants without giving them practical ways to do it.
You note that it was a relatively easy adjustment for you to scale back on meat. What would you tell the people who find it just too difficult to give up their 3-times-per-day meat consumption? Any particular recipes you’d recommend for these kind of people from the new cookbook?
Bittman: My advice is to start small. If you currently eat meat three times a day, try eating a single vegetarian meal without changing the other two meals. Or–if you really want to eat meat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner–just eat less of it. The Food Matters Cookbook contains literally hundreds of recipes that contain meat, just in smaller quantities. I’m not promoting a vegan diet here. I’m promoting less-meatarianism.
What’s your favorite recipe from the Food Matters Cookbook?
Bittman: I can’t pick favorites. There are too many. But I have a soft spot for the ones that take familiar dishes and turn them upside down, like “Vegetables au Vin with Coq” and “Mushroom Stew with Beef Chunks.” I think they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you don’t need a ton of meat to create a flavorful dish.
Fav. Vegetarian recipe?
Bittman: Again, not to pick favorites, but some of the vegetarian pasta recipes, like “Pasta with Puréed Red Beans and Shiitakes,” for instance are awesome.
What led your passion for food towards food writing?
Bittman: I had some editorial experience as a young man, and I felt like I had a little bit of a knack for writing. I also didn’t see very many voices in food writing saying what I wanted to say–which is that anyone can cook, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating.
What would signify as your proudest moment of your career?
Bittman: It’s hard to choose one, but publishing both How to Cook Everything and The Food Matters Cookbook means the world to me.
Any advice for other food bloggers like me?
Bittman: Develop a voice and a beat. With all due respect, most people aren’t really interested in what the average food blogger made for dinner last night. But if you have some expertise in one topic or another, you’re more likely to gain a real readership.
Where do you get your produce?
Bittman: I get my produce sometimes at the Greenmarket, sometimes in grocery stores. I used to garden when I was living in Connecticut, but it’s unlikely that I’ll get back into gardening anytime soon. I don’t have the space. But here’s the thing: where you buy your produce is far less important than making an attempt to buy MORE produce, in place of anything else.
You tell your readers that you do enjoy the occasional piece of good white bread or a plate of white pasta…I mean, who doesn’t? But what would you say is your favorite indulgence?
Bittman: I have many indulgences. Wine. Good cheese. Pizza. Potato chips. It’s just a question of enjoying them in moderation.
So after you’re done with your current book tour, what do you have in store next? I know you did the PBS Spain on the Road Again series….Any more TV shows in the plans?
Bittman: I’m pleased to say that The Cooking Channel will be airing episodes of The Minimalist starting this fall.