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Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, Mark Bittman

2011/02/08

It has been a while since I last wrote a book review, but starting a new job, graduating, and moving does throw things off a bit. This particular book I picked up after reading an article about the ending of Mark Bittman’s weekly column for the New York Times. Subtitled “A Guide to Conscious Eating,” it does not jump on the organic bandwagon, but instead examines what it would look like if Americans were more conscious about their food choices. Bittman begins by focusing on the environmental effects of industrialized farming and meat production. He examines the eating of meat and its evolution from being a luxury to becoming a staple of daily meals. He argues the inefficiency of converting plants into meat, and compares the greenhouse gas emissions of meat production to automobile pollution. After discussing factory farming and industrialization, Bittman takes a look at the effects of marketing and advertising on the food industry, as well as the role of the USDA in the misinformation of Americans.

In addition to the history, science, and statistics, Bittman advocates what he calls the “Food Matters” diet. It sounds similar to Pollan’s “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” since he advocates eating plants in bulk and small amounts of meat, but he also suggests balance, saying “As long as your diet is not based on junk food, almost any diet that supplies you with enough calories will also supply you with adequate nutrition” (82). He also provides practical tools, such as sample meal plans, a list of pantry staples, instructions on how to prepare whole grains and beans, and recipes which utilizes plenty of vegetables and non-meat options.

Like a textbook, important statements are pulled out of the text and highlighted in the margins, which is great for skimming. One major fault of this book is that, although a list of sources is included in back, there are no annotations or references listed for most of the numbers and statistics quoted in the text. Many of the tables and charts have sources listed, but others do not, leaving the reader to wonder where the numbers came from, and how they were calculated. Overall, this is a highly readable approach to the nutrition and food issues which are prevalent today, but readers wanting solid evidence and citations may find this particular work lacking.

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