Feature : Books : 1.8.09


All That You Can Eat
Practical food for real people
by Molly Templeton

FOOD MATTERS: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes by Mark Bittman. Simon & Schuster, 2008. Hardcover, $25.

Salon.com pretty much hit the nail on the head by calling Food Matters “applied Pollan.” Early last year, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food served as a highly readable exploration of the thesis “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” With Food Matters, Mark Bittman takes a page from Pollan and builds, ever so practically, on it.

Bittman is already a familiar name in the food world; he’s the author of the endlessly useful, go-to cookbook How to Cook Everything and writes “The Minimalist” column in The New York Times, where his best offerings are often the simplest recipes, endlessly and deliciously variable. His approach here is the same: simple, straightforward and flexible. The book’s first third is background, the story of how and why Bittman came to eat the way he does, and how meat production, global warming, food lobbyists, government recommendations and more relate to his diet (at times he gets a bit repetitive, but not unbearably so). The latter two-thirds provide practical information, from meal plans to recipes, for eating the way Bittman recommends. And what he recommends is pretty much what Michael Pollan recommended — with a bit of elaboration. The Food Matters diet involves eating less meat, fewer refined carbohydrates, less junk food and “far more vegetables, legumes, fruits, and whole grains — as much as you can.”

Whether or not that’s as easy as it sounds, particularly for harried, overworked, infrequent cooks who tend to fall back on, say, endless bean and cheese quesadillas, is of course debatable. But to Bittman’s credit, his easygoing, explanatory presentation of facts sprinkled with philosophy makes following his suggestions sound both manageable and logical. He’s not obsessing over organic items, though he does approve of eating locally; his appealing, versatile recipes don’t call for anything you won’t find at Market of Choice; he’s forthcoming about how he found his way into “sane eating,” as he calls it, and how it’s not about strictness or depriving yourself. He’s not writing mindblowing prose, and Pollan fans will find the first few chapters familiar going. But the steadfast, mellow but enthusiastic tone in which Bittman presents his arguments makes Food Matters a likable and pragmatic handbook for a certain kind of thoughtful consumption.

Mark Bittman discusses Food Matters at 7:30 pm Thursday, Jan. 15, at Powell’s on Burnside, Portland.