Mark Bittman writes some of my favorite cookbooks (just ask my Mom, who lugged his five-pound kitchen bible, How to Cook Everything, all the way from Seattle to Prague so that I could make his mac n’ cheese, muffins, and fish in my tiny, foreign apartment), and he writes some of my favorite pieces in The New York Times. But he’s not just a recipe-machine: He’s a conscious cook.
Bittman’s eating philosophy – which he outlines in his book, Food Matters, and on his blog at markbittman.com – involves eating a lot less meat than the average American, something he calls the “Lessmeatarian” diet. His regimen is simple: Less dairy, less meat. Period. (He’ll even send you a seven-day meal plan to help you get started.)
I wanted to learn a little more about his not-quite-vegetarian ways, so I sent him a rapid-fire Q&A – just four questions to explain why he thinks you should eat less meat:
Lots of celebrities, chefs, and authors – yourself included – are encouraging us to eat less meat, but the U.N. recently published a report suggesting that we should stop consuming animal products completely. Why just less meat, and not vegetarian or vegan?
Vegetarianism is meaningless; reducing meat consumption while increasing your intake of dairy (and often fish, since many so-called vegetarians do eat some animals) doesn’t do either you, the animal kingdom, or the planet any good: you’re still eating too many animal products, the animals still suffer and die, and the greenhouse gases aren’t reduced, at least by much.
Veganism is probably the ultimate goal, but in my opinion you can’t even get a small percentage of our population to believe that, any more than you can get them to give up their cars. Reduced consumption of animal products and processed food, and an increased intake of plants is a move in the right direction, and one everyone can live with.
Your reasons for reducing meat consumption are outlined in your book, Food Matters, but what’s your most compelling three-sentence argument for eating less meat?
- Industrially raised meat is bad for your health.
- Industrially raised meat is responsible for somewhere around 20% of all greenhouse gases.
- Industrially raised meat tortures animals and harms the environment in countless ways.
There’s a stereotype that lots of city-dwellers are hip to healthier, more environmentally-friendly eating habits than people living in middle America. Do you think that’s true? In your experience, who are the hardest people to convert to a Lessmeatarian diet?
Yes, that’s a stereotype. It seems to me that there’s a not-defined percentage of Americans who want real change; the Obama election indicated that that percent is bigger than we might have thought, and that progressive-minded people are everywhere.
Everyone seems easy to convert when I meet them; the question is, “What happens when they get home?” And I don’t know the answer to that.
You often say that losing weight is one of the big perks of reducing meat consumption. Is that based on personal experience, or is there scientific data to back this up?
It’s both. Plants are less calorie-dense than animal products and processed food. Show me an overweight person who eats mostly plants and steers clear of junk food and I’ll show you the exception that proves the rule. Lots of people say they’re “picky” about their meat: They’ll only eat beef that’s raised the right way, on the right farm, bought from the right distributor. On the scale of relative meat-evil, what do you think is the best meat you can eat, and the worst?
The best is meat raised by you, or a neighbor, in a conscientious fashion. The worst – that’s easy – the stuff we buy in the supermarket every day.
photo: Andrew Brusso