‘Sane eating’ can be fun, says visiting author

Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating


In his new book, “The Food Matters Cook Book,” Mark Bittman transforms not only the way we think about food but also the way we prepare it.  The book promotes conscious, sustainable eating, offers tips on cooking and stocking a pantry, and provides 500 recipes that support his belief that healthy food can be exciting and taste great. Bittman suggests that a diet rich in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, with meat and dairy as embellishments rather than the focus, doesn’t require sacrifice or deprivation. 

Moreover, he doesn’t advocate foregoing sweets or other processed goodies. Rather, he suggests we enjoy them as special treats. To eat like food matters, as the title suggests, relates to our health and the health of our planet.

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In a section of his book entitled, “An Introduction to Sane Eating,” Bittman breaks down our current eating habits.

“Think of a seesaw, the heavy side loaded down with animal products and junk, the light side with food that’s actually good for us.  Sane eating–eating like food matters–means that we flip this seesaw in the other direction, loading the heavy side with plant foods while minimizing meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and processed foods.”

The inventive recipes in the book aim to right that balance. Reading through them will make your mouth water and propel you into the kitchen, pronto. Recipes such as “Puffed Rice Salad with Chickpeas and Coconut” combine canned chickpeas with carrots, cucumbers, red bell pepper, and scallions in a sauce of coconut milk, lime juice, and curry powder. Toasted coconut, puffed rice, tomato, and cilantro are tossed into the salad before serving.

His recipe for Spinach- and- Noodle “Meatballs” contains no meat at all. To make these “meatballs,” you combine cooked pasta noodles that have been broken into 1-inch pieces with fresh blanched spinach, Asian spices, eggs, and a bit of flour to bind the mixture.  The “meatballs” are fried in just a small amount of oil until they are crisp and brown.  These are simply amazing! You will never miss the meat.

There are recipes for meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans with optional ingredients to satisfy even the pickiest eaters. And in classic Mark Bittman style, all the recipes are easy to follow and don’t require hours of attended preparation.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mark Bittman last week:

What inspired your exciting career?

I have been writing about food for 30 years. I am not sure I know what inspired me. I started cooking largely out of self-defense. The food that was available to me when I went away to college was so bad.

Was there a turning point for you?

When I was ready to start my writing career, the typical American diet had become worse with regard to our planet, to our air, water and land. Later on, just before I turned 57, my health-indicator numbers and my weight were going in the wrong direction.  It was surprising because I thought I was healthy. I knew then that it was time to change my diet.


I decided to eat as a strict vegan- no processed foods and no animal prod ucts. I just ate legumes, fruit and vegetables. I needed the rigidity of that kind of diet to be successful. I would eat consciously for breakfast and lunch. For dinner, I had a restrained, normal old- fashioned meal. As a result, I lost 30 pounds and all my health numbers improved.

What inspired your prior book, ‘Food Matters’?

I wrote that book from a very personal perspective. I wanted to write a book that explored this new approach to food, one that emphasized the importance of plants in our diets.

And your new book?

I realized that becoming vegan isn’t necessarily the answer. It’s not a matter of eliminating meat and dairy; rather of learning to balance them everyday with fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains.  My new book does just that.

What, if any, impact did growing up in a Jewish home have on you, particularly on celebrations that include food?

The celebrations I recall most were on Thanksgiving with my grandparents. My grandmothers were both very good cooks. On Passover, though, the food in our house was notoriously bad. We would have latkes at Hanukkah. Traditional Jewish food, or at least the Eastern European food I grew up with, wasn’t great. Perhaps If I came from a Sephardic background, I wouldn’t be saying that.

Does anyone else in your family enjoy cooking as much as you do?

Not really. One of my daughters works in a restaurant.  My wife doesn’t cook that much.  Of course, if I were married to me, I probably wouldn’t cook that much, either.

I admire your recipes for their straight-forward/ no nonsense approach. Has this always been the way you have cooked?

I cook the way home cooks cook. Fifty percent of our nation’s meals are eaten outside of the home. People have not learned how to cook at home. Sure, people watch chefs on television, but those chefs are often doing things that are complicated.  I cook like a mother or grandmother cooks – simply and in moderation.

You promote the notion of eating foods that benefit our health and our planet. In a nation of people with a “super-size mentality” and experiencing economic hardship, how do we go about bringing these sensible changes to our diets?

Start by talking and writing about it. Meat doesn’t have to dominate our diets. We will be eating less meat in the future. A plant-based diet is the only sustainable way to go.  We should do everything we can to promote that campaign.

Margi Lenga Kahn is the mother of five and grandmother of three.  A cooking instructor at the Kitchen Conservatory, she is currently working on a project to preserve the stories and recipes of heritage cooks. She welcomes your comments and suggestions at [email protected].

Mark Bittman

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7

WHERE: St. Louis County Library Auditorium,1640 S. Lindbergh Boulevard


MORE INFO: 314- 994-3300.