Friday Reads: Why food still matters

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If I told you Mark Bittman visited Seattle Wednesday to complain to a packed auditorium about the prevalence of UFOs in America, you’d probably think the food writer had gone batty. But Bittman wasn’t bemoaning spaceships or alien invaders. He was talking about unidentifiable food objects (that’s UFOs) such as Cheetos, Doritos and other non-foods, and the fact that the food industry peddles more of them than you can shake an organic carrot at.

Mark Bittman answers audience questions, including “What’s your favorite vegetable?” A word to the wise: Bittman doesn’t pick favorites, at least when it comes to veggies, and he’d appreciate if you’d stop asking him.

It was  great to see someone articulate what needs to be said about food in this country and fascinating to watch Bittman lay out America’s multi-faceted food issues, which involve not just big food corporations, but our government, our farmers and our environment, all of us.

His stats were sobering, though many of us probably could have guessed them. We heard about the trillions of advertising dollars that go into enticing kids to eat junk food and the reality that, in the food biz, you can get a hamburger for $1 when a salad is $4. I was reminded of how even healthful real foods like pomegranates aren’t embraced by the industry unless they’re marketed in some sexy packaging like POM Wonderful.

Despite the facts, it’s not as bleak as we might think. If you want to ensure you’re eating good food, real food, the best thing you can do is cook it yourself. People know Bittman from his simple recipes in How to Cook Everything, but after his talk, I went back to read  his ebook, Cooking Solves Everything. If you know anything about my second book, you’ll understand why I agree with the arguments he makes in that title. Studies show that, in general, people who cook weigh less and have fewer health problems. Part of that is because when you cook, rather than say go through a drive-thru, you’re more likely to eat real food with less sodium, less sugar and more fiber. We also tend to eat less of the truly unhealthy stuff such as deep-fried foods. It’s easy to order french fries in a restaurant — it’s not so simple to make them at home.

Sometimes maybe you’ll have one of those $1 hamburgers or even a UFO here and there. At the end of the day, what’s important is making the best choices as often as possible.

About katflinn

Kathleen Flinn is the author of "The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry," "The Kitchen Counter Cooking School" and "Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good." All are published by Viking/Penguin.

Comments

  1. I appreciated his sentiments that one small change can lead to big differences. That future change likely won’t come from an industry overhaul orchaestraed by the government but rather by individual people returning to a more plant-based diet and encouraging others to do the same. I found his “Vegan before 6 p.m.” change interesting. I’ve put that in my brain to knock around for awhile and see how it sits. I was encouraged by his story on how that’s improved his health dramatically in the 6 weeks he’s practiced that. The evening was definitely thought provoking.

    The stats were quite sobering as they related to kids. It’s a struggle in our house every day. My girls want soda and Cheetos or other unmentionable junk food. Trying to turn that ship around feels a bit like turning the Titanic.

    • Keeping junk food out of your house is definitely a long term play, but I can tell you that when my children were young they used to beg me to buy “real food for real people…aka junk food”. Now, as adults, they applaud my fortitude. Stay tough and be the good example.

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