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Mark Bittman Book Review: The Food Matters Cookbook

For some time it has occurred to me that a connection existed between healthy eating and environmental concerns like global warming that leads to warmer ocean temperatures and super storms like Hurricane Sandy. But I couldn’t find a cookbook that tied these issues together in a non-strident fashion that didn’t make me feel guilty. Award-winning New York Times food writer/ Op Ed columnist Mark Bittman meets this need in The Food Matters Cookbook, the follow-up to his books How Food Matters and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

 

Initially, Bittman’s approach to food confused me. Sometimes I thought he was merely a clever fellow who had moved over to become an ardent proponent of plant food to the exclusion of all else when he published his encyclopedic tome on vegetarian eating and cooking. But when I read his articles in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, which often featured meat and fish dishes that made my mouth water, I just didn’t get it. Who is this guy? Are there two Mark

Bittmans? In fact, he has given us permission to have both and a road map that explains how we can do it. In this book, Bittman explains how and why it’s good for us to try to eat healthier and why it’s also good for the planet. He includes over 500 healthy recipes to put some meat, so to speak, on his evenhanded approach. 

 

He refreshingly suggests—and it’s always a suggestion not an imperative mantra—to shift our emphasis from eating animal products and Pop Tarts to plant foods—and making plant-based food the centerpiece. Rather than exclusively eating animal products, he proposes tastier ways to prepare vegetables or grains or beans with smaller sized pieces of meat, poultry, fish and dairy. In short we can eat as though food really matters –a phrase he calls sane eating. 

 

He tells us that ignoring these suggestions is very expensive for people and the planet. His examples are exhaustive but necessary. These costs include childhood and adult obesity, dietary maladies like heart disease and diabetes, and huge negative environmental impacts. The fact that animals emit more methane than virtually any other source, including vehicles that use fossil fuels, is evidence enough for me that alternative solutions to a meat-based diet must be considered. 

 

But dietary change is not easy. It is difficult in the face of Pepsi Cola-sponsored events like the Super Bowl to maintain a shift in what we consume over time even if we are sympathetic to the need for it. This is what is particularly appealing to me about Bittman’s book. He proposes small changes such as eating one less meat-based meal a week or going meatless one day a week. Another suggestion would be to swap an afternoon of Pringles and diet soda for peanuts and raisins or dried cranberries flavored with spices and seltzer. In short, he tells us, “Sane eating can be flexible.”  I find his approach to be intoxicating. He urges moderation not deprivation, eating smaller more flavorful portions and not giving up our sugar or meat habits overnight. He suggests that these small changes will lead to larger ones, one step at a time. 

 

As your eating habits change so too will your cooking. Here’s one of Bittman’s seasonable cold weather meat recipe that includes apples and onions. The size of this dish (12 oz.) combined with plant food reflects the author’s sane approach.

 

Roasted Pork Shoulder With Potatoes, Apples And Onions Serves 4 

1 12-ounce boneless pork shoulder roast

 

5 or 6 garlic cloves- cut in half the long way

 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage or 1 teaspoon dried

salt and black pepper-season to taste

 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

 

1 pound waxy or Yukon gold potatoes cut into 1 inch chunks—with skin on 1 pound apples, peeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

 

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish.

 

Heat oven to 325 Fahrenheit. Make slits all over the meat and insert the garlic and sage. Rub with one tablespoon of oil. Spread remaining sage over the roast. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place pork in large roasting pan. Roast undisturbed until a lot of the fat is rendered – about 45 minutes.

 

Remove pan from oven and increase heat to 425 Fahrenheit. Turn the roast over and scatter potatoes, apples, and onions. Drizzle with the remaining one tablespoon oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and stir to coat vegetables with pan drippings. Return pan to oven and cook undisturbed until potatoes begin to brown around the edges—15 to 20 minutes.

 

Stir the vegetables and continue roasting for another 15 to 20 minutes until the roast is fork tender. Transfer the meat to a cutting board and apples and onions to a serving platter. Roast should read between 140 to155 Fahrenheit depending on how well done you like the pork. Slice thinly and garnish with pan drippings and parsley.