Mark Bittman is a beautiful combination of New Yorker bluntness and green living consciousness. He speaks about cooking healthy food with minimal impact on the planet and has written 14 books, including his best-selling cookbook series “How to Cook Everything.”
He spoke this week at the Chef Culinary Conference at UMass/Amherst and shared a confession.
This is the first time I’ve ever said this publicly,” he began. “Not everybody is going to cook. I’ve spent 35 years encouraging people to cook. There are people who really don’t want to cook, and there’s nothing that can be done about that,” he said to audience laughter. “People are afraid to cook and some people say they don’t have time.”
Addressing the audience of over 300 chefs he asked, “how are people going to eat well if they’re not cooking for themselves?”
The conversation with Bittman, led by Arlin Wasserman, founder and principal of Changing Tastes, ranged from chef-specific topics to broader areas of interest. Below are some nuggets from the stage. All are direct quotes, yes, even when he talks in lists (which was impressive).
Focus on Plants
“Of these things that are called food, I’m going to concentrate on plants. I’m not advocating veganism, I think we should be eating more plants. Chefs can be educators and chefs can set an example for what’s being served, that’s the beginning of changing the environment. Those of us that cook can set food standards that are appropriately healthy.”
“What should we be eating for lunch? The standard is going to be something like a bowl. We see a bowl in everyone’s future, and I don’t think too many people are going to be satisfied if they just see raw leafy greens. For me, a good lunch is cooked vegetables, good grains, some kind of protein and some kind of sauce.”
Fast Food and Lip Service
“The No No lists are welcome, it’s long overdue, the question is when are they doing this, are they doing it for real? McDonald’s does not become healthy because it pledges to remove chickens with antibiotics, but they haven’t talked about phasing out antibiotics in cattle. We can’t rely on voluntary moves from industry to cover ourselves. The easiest way to not eat the poison that fast food people put in their food is to not go to fast food restaurants, pretty simple.”
How much good are antibiotics doing in the avian flu epidemic? Not much. We need to treat the animals well enough so they can survive. I know it’s not as simple as that, but it’s a starting place, don’t keep animals in a way that is considered torturous.
Develop Regional Agricultural Hubs
We need to look at regional agriculture. It’s becoming increasingly clear that that’s the way to do things. If you think of the US as six regions each of those regions has the potential to be more self-sufficient than it is now. We’re always going to be buying vegetables from California, but maybe we can do more locally now.
On the Paleo Diet
I think it’s a fad Paleo people live to be 18. They die young [jokingly]. I don’t it’s a terrible diet from a health point of view. But I don’t think that it’s a good diet from a sustainable point of view.
On the Coming USDA Dietary Guidelines
For the first time they are taking environmental qualities into consideration, they are proposed to recommend eating less meat because too much is unsustainable. I wish the dietary guidelines addressed sugar in a more head-on fashion because added sugar is probably our biggest dietary problem right now. They’re hidden; they’re insidious, and they’re damaging.
How Food Service Can Be Part of the Solution
I think food service, from colleges to jails can do the following:
- Food should be sourced as locally as possible
- There should be relationships between the institution and the actual growers of the food
- I think there should be a blanket rule that we’re not buying animals that have been raised using the prophylactic use of antibiotics. If Chipotle can do it, if Panera can do it then institutions can too
- Universities often have land. There should be gardens, even farms, they could provide actual food and there should be compost to whatever extent is possible and given to those farmers that they’ve now developed relationships with
Is It Worth Eating?
The quickest way to determine if a food is worth eating is to see how many ingredients are in it. That’s the fastest thing. If people cook honestly, you make a good dish with five or seven ingredients you don’t make a good dish with 30 ingredients (complicated spice mixtures aside.) If you look at a box of Cocoa Puffs, the ingredient list is going to be scarily long. If you look at the ingredients in the stir-fry in the dining hall, there is going to be seven or so ingredients.
I had the chance to talk to Bittman briefly after his talk, and I find him to be genuine and passionate about getting people to cook more, and make “real” food choices. You can learn more about his point of view by checking out one of his books [Amazon link].
What do you think about veg-focused eating? Could you pare back to small doses of meat proteins to eat in a sustainable way? How do you think large institutions can contribute to sustainable food production, even institutions as large as UMass/Amherst which serve about 5.5 million meals per year?
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