Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating

Do you eat like food matters?  Seasoned journalist, food writer, and cookbook author, Mark Bittman, poses this question to his readers in his book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating.  However, he takes the question a step further by challenging readers to consider the impact of what they eat on the environment as well as their health.  He starts with a discussion about how government food and agricultural policies, particularly in regard to corn and soybeans, have led to the overproduction of food.  This overproduction, in turn, leads to overconsumption of food, especially animal foods, refined carbohydrates, and highly processed, nutrient poor foods.  Obviously, the overconsumption of these types of foods has a significant impact on health, but Bittman also discusses the variety of ways in which overproduction affects the environment.  With greater food production comes the need for more land and resources along with a rise in environmental pollution.  If you've read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma or watched Food, Inc., then some of this discussion may sound familiar.

After offering his readers the rationale for conscious eating, Bittman outlines what he calls "sane eating".  Bittman details his personal experience with "sane eating", assuring that it is not a diet and does not involve calorie counting or the need to purchase only vegetarian or organic foods.  Instead Bittman advocates for a change in mindset about eating.  Rather than avoiding or restricting less nutritious foods, he advises his readers to consume less meat and animal products, fewer refined carbohydrates, and very little processed, nutrient poor foods.  He then suggests eating more plant-based foods that are closer to their natural state, such as fresh vegetables and fruits and whole grains.  Bittman proposes that his readers will automatically become more conscious eaters as plant foods take center stage in the diet.

While much of Food Matters parallels that of some of Michael Pollan's previous work, he differs from Pollan in that he takes his recommendations to a practical level for his readers.  To round out the book, Bittman digs into details about "sane shopping" and eating out like food matters.  The latter part of the book is filled with over 75 user-friendly recipes that will be helpful for readers eager to get started on a path toward more conscious eating.

What you might like about the book:  It's an easy read, and the messages are simple.  It may also be refreshing to read a book that takes a gentler approach to healthful eating and also considers the impact of diet on the environment.  The recipes are often flexible and come with useful tips on how to customize them to your liking.  Bittman also includes a lot of practical tips, such as how to stock a "Food Matters Kitchen".

What you might not like about the book:  While Bittman sprinkles the book with stats and facts to support his conclusions, not all of them are referenced.  So if you tend to read books like this with a critical eye, you may see this as a flaw.  While the book is not bogged down with too many scientific details, a reader who likes more details may find some of them missing here.  For example, there is a discussion about the welfare of feedlot cattle and the appeal of grass-finished cattle.  However, additional info about the benefits of grass-fed over feedlot cattle is not explained.  If you're looking for a rigid diet plan or calorie counts, this book won't fit the bill. Finally, if you've read Michael Pollan's books The Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food, then you may feel like you've learned this before.

You may also want to check out these other highly rated books by Mark Bittman:


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