mark-bittman-hog-lgAfter weeks of procrastinating, I finally finished Food Matters: A Guide to Conscientious Eating, the new diet/lifestyle/food politics book by Mark Bittman. Bittman, whom you may know from his popular cookbooks How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian as well as his weekly columns and blog posts in the New York Times. Some of you may even follow him on Twitter now! Bittman is best known for his bare-bones approach to cooking, with a emphasis on simple food and minimal preparation – resulting in delicious, ridiculously easy dishes.

In his new lifestyle book, after a brief overview of the evils of Big Food, the failures of the American agricultural system, and bashing the typical American diet, Bittman tells us what we should eat: less meat and dairy, less processed foods, and more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Wait a minute, didn’t Michael Pollan say that in In Defense of Food? “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pollan defines food as whole foods, ideally things with less than 5 ingredients. Bittman does essentially the same thing. So, what’s the difference?

Well, Pollan takes 400 pages to describe the politics of food and the evils of the American food system; Bittman takes just 64, in simpler terms and with less statistics to decipher. Pollan advocates eliminating all processed food from your diet, shopping for exclusively organic and local foods; Bittman takes a less militant approach, saying, yes, eating organic and local is important, but eating fresh food and less meat is more important, no matter what your sources are. Next, Pollan goes hunting and gathering for boars and wild mushrooms, creating an elaborate local feast with the help of his chef buddies; Bittman tells you what you should eat while giving you advice and nearly 200 pages of recipes to jumpstart your lifestyle change. Bittman: 3, Pollan: 0.

In short, Bittman’s approach to lifestyle change is practical and easy, not only on your conscience but on your wallet too. If your current diet resembles one of the typical American – heavy on the junk food and meat, low on fresh fruits and veggies – following Bittman’s advice could help you lose weight while saving the environment, one fewer hamburger at a time. He follows a “vegan until 6” rule – keep meals before 6pm vegetarian, with limited dairy, and anything after that is up to you – see, you’re not missing out on anything.The best part of Bittman’s plan is that, yes, you can still have the occassional ice cream, fries, steak, whatever – in moderation. Simple recipes, often with endless variations, like Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing and Not Your Usual Ratatouille make this plan an appealing, and tasty, change you could stick to – and one that you can feel good about, knowing that your choices are good for both your health and the environment.

Check out a few of Bittman’s recipes on his website.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Green.