Thursday, April 16, 2009

Mark Bittman: Food Matters

Living, as I do, in the middle of nowhere, libraries are not thick on the ground. I'm a lifetime fan of libraries, so this is a sadness. The two bright spots in my library-poor existence are my once-every-two-weeks bookmobile visits (one of the stops is just a mile away -- it's miraculous!) and the fact that Las Vegas libraries are incredibly generous and allow non-Nevada residents (strictly limited) borrowing rights.

Two weeks ago, Mark Bittman's Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating* was sitting on the shelf in our bookmobile that is for special-order books, either on their way to patrons or recently returned. I very eagerly asked if it was coming in or going out, and my luck held: it had been returned at the previous stop and was all mine!

I had to return it yesterday without managing to actually try a recipe, although I read through them all. Ok, I skimmed the ones focused on meat, but those were a minority in this manifesto for limiting meat consumption.

Let me just say that I like Mark Bittman. I like his New York Times articles and blog. I like many, many of his recipes.

Apparently, I am not so fond of his prose in larger helpings. The first part of the book is a nutritional call-to-arms, arguing that eating less meat, more plants, and many fewer process foods altogether is a recipe not only for personal health, but planetary health as well. Eating a diet with few (or no) animal products is much easier on the environment and your body.

Among the recent books advocating this basic stance (Michael Pollan's works, among many others), I found this one a little lackluster. The recipes put the opinion into action very nicely, but the presentation of the opinion itself lacks soul. Don't get me wrong -- I don't argue with the premise. I haven't eaten red meat or poultry since 1985. I eat fish or other sea creatures a few times a month. This is a bandwagon I'm already on. I sing in this choir.

And maybe that's part of the problem: very little of the information was news to me. Another part was the format, which bordered on textbook-like. The excerpted quotes in the side margins just just served to distract me from the main text like so many buzzing mosquitoes at an outdoor concert picnic. The headings and sub-headings made the text choppy. I never felt that a rhythm built up at all.

I'll probably get the book again sometime to try a few recipes. Or I'll get Bittman's vegetarian cookbook, which I assume will have a similar, but larger selection. As a short, focused cookbook, Food Matters holds up. As a rousing call to action? Not so much.


  1. I leafed through this book the other day, and it felt like an uninspired In Defense of Food. Thanks--I thought I might be the only one!! Love your blog!

  2. You're not alone, I promise! Thanks for visiting!