VB6, On Sale April 30th

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I’ve spent the better part of my adult life thinking about food, but it wasn’t until six years ago when my doctor suggested I become a vegan — or face dire health consequences — that I began to seriously confront my diet.

Yes, I liked vegetables and grains, but as a food writer it was unrealistic to give up meat and dairy for good. VB6 was my compromise. I’d become a part-time vegan. From the time I woke up until 6 p.m. I’d eat a strict vegan diet: no animal products, no processed foods —not even white bread. For dinner I’d eat whatever I wanted.

A month later I’d lost 15 lbs. My cholesterol and blood sugar levels were down. My sleep apnea was gone. I felt good. So I kept it up. Then I wrote a book about it.

VB6 outlines the philosophy and principles of this diet, and digs deep into the science behind why it works. Eating this way will not only improve your own health, but the health of the planet as well, and VB6 includes more than 60 recipes to get you started on the right track. I hope you’ll give it a try. And if it works for you like it did for me, let me know. Tell your friends about it. Feel great and help others do the same.

You can pre-order VB6 at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Indie Bound.

Posted in Mark Bittman Books

Dietary Seat Belts

Here’s some good news: Seat belts save lives[1] . So do vaccinations. The world’s population is living longer. The childhood obesity rate has declined[2] in parts of the United States.

That’s miraculous, because the policies for food, energy, climate change and health care are, effectively, “let’s help big producers make as much money as they can regardless of the consequences.”

Except for just after the most visible tragedies, public health and welfare are barely part of the daily conversation. When New York is flooded, climate change dominates TV news — for a week. When innocents are slaughtered with weapons designed for combat, gun control is a critical topic — for a week. When 33 people die violent, painful deaths from eating cantaloupe, food safety is in the headlines — for a week. When nearly 70,000 people die a year, from mostly preventable diabetes, most media ignore it.

Forget the fiscal cliff: we’ve long since fallen off the public health cliff. We need consistent policies that benefit a majority of our citizens, even if it costs corporations money.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

My Dream Food Label

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What would an ideal food label look like? By “ideal,” I mean from the perspective of consumers, not marketers.

Right now, the labels required on food give us loads of information, much of it useful. What they don’t do is tell us whether something is really beneficial, in every sense of the word. With a different set of criteria and some clear graphics, food packages could tell us much more.

Even the simplest information — a red, yellow or green “traffic light,” for example — would encourage consumers to make healthier choices. That might help counter obesity, a problem all but the most cynical agree is closely related to the consumption of junk food.

Of course, labeling changes like this would bring cries of hysteria from the food producers who argue that all foods are fine, although some should be eaten in moderation. To them, a red traffic-light symbol on chips and soda might as well be a skull and crossbones. But traffic lights could work: indeed, in one study, sales of red-lighted soda fell by 16.5 percent in three months.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

That Flawed Stanford Study

I tried to ignore the month-old “Stanford study.” I really did. It made so little sense that I thought it would have little impact.

That was dumb of me, and I’m sorry.

The study, which suggested — incredibly — that there is no “strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods,” caused as great an uproar as anything that has happened, food-wise, this year. (By comparison, the Alzheimer’s/diabetes link I wrote about last week was ignored.)

That’s because headlines (and, of course, tweets) matter. The Stanford study was not only an exercise in misdirection, it was a headline generator. By providing “useful” and “counterintuitive” information about organic food, it played right into the hands of the news hungry while conveniently obscuring important features of organic agriculture.

If I may play with metaphor for a moment, the study was like declaring guns no more dangerous than baseball bats when it comes to blunt-object head injuries. It was the equivalent of comparing milk and Elmer’s glue on the basis of whiteness. It did, in short, miss the point. Even Crystal Smith-Spangler, a Stanford co-author, perfectly captured the narrowness of the study when she said: “some believe that organic food is always healthier and more nutritious. We were a little surprised that we didn’t find that.” That’s because they didn’t look — or even worse, they ignored.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Got Milk? You Don’t Need It?

Drinking milk is as American as Mom and apple pie. Until not long ago, Americans were encouraged not only by the lobbying group called the American Dairy Association but by parents, doctors and teachers to drink four 8-ounce glasses of milk, “nature’s perfect food,” every day. That’s two pounds! We don’t consume two pounds a day of anything else; even our per capita soda consumption is “only” a pound a day.

Today the Department of Agriculture’s recommendation for dairy is a mere three cups daily — still 1½ pounds by weight — for every man, woman and child over age 9. This in a country where as many as 50 million people are lactose intolerant, including 90 percent of all Asian-Americans and 75 percent of all African-Americans, Mexican-Americans and Jews. The myplate.gov site helpfully suggests that those people drink lactose-free beverages. (To its credit, it now counts soy milk as “dairy.”)

There’s no mention of water, which is truly nature’s perfect beverage; the site simply encourages us to switch to low-fat milk. But, says Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “Sugar — in the form of lactose — contributes about 55 percent of skim milk’s calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda.”

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Vegan

All Calories Are Not Created Equal

One of the challenges of arguing that hyperprocessed carbohydrates are largely responsible for the obesity pandemic (“epidemic” is no longer a strong enough word, say many experts) is the notion that “a calorie is a calorie.”

Accept that, and you buy into the contention that consuming 100 calories’ worth of sugar water (like Coke or Gatorade), white bread or French fries is the same as eating 100 calories of broccoli or beans. And Big Food — which has little interest in selling broccoli or beans — would have you believe that if you expend enough energy to work off those 100 calories, it simply doesn’t matter.

There’s an increasing body of evidence, however, that calories from highly processed carbohydrates like white flour (and of course sugar) provide calories that the body treats differently, spiking both blood sugar and insulin and causing us to retain fat instead of burning it off.

In other words, all calories are not alike.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Eat Less Meat. Save the World.

A few weeks ago, in “The Ethicist,” Ariel Kaminer asked readers of this paper’s Magazine to explain why it’s ethical to eat meat. The contest generated around 3,000 submissions, and as a judge I read about 30 of them. (Here are the responses from the winner and the finalists.)

A fascinating discussion. But you need not have a philosophy about meat-eating to understand that we — Americans, that is — need to do less of it. In fact, only if meat were produced at no or little expense to the environment, public health or animal welfare (as, arguably, some of it is), would our decisions about whether to raise and kill animals for food come down to ethics.

The purely pragmatic reasons to eat less meat (and animal products in general) are abundant. And while I’ve addressed them before, I’ll continue until the floods come to Manhattan.

Read the rest of this colum here.

Posted in Vegan

The Right to Sell Kids Junk

The First Amendment to the Constitution, which tops our Bill of Rights, guarantees — theoretically, at least — things we all care about. So much is here: freedom of religion, of the press, of speech, the right to assemble and more. Yet it’s stealthily and  incredibly being invoked to safeguard the nearly unimpeded “right” of a handful of powerful corporations to market junk food to children.

It’s been reported that kids see an average of 5,500 food ads on television every year (sounds low, when you think about it), nearly all peddling junk. (They may also see Apple commercials, but not of the fruit kind.) Worse are the online “advergames” that distract kids with entertainment while immersing them in a product-driven environment. (For example: create your own Froot Loops adventure!)

And beyond worse: collecting private data, presumably in order to target children with personalized junk food promotions, as in this Capri Sun advergame, which asks for permission to use your webcam to film you — without first verifying your age.

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

Why Are We Eating Less Meat?

Americans eat more meat than any other population in the world; about one-sixth of the total, though we’re less than one-twentieth of the population.

But that’s changing.

Until recently, almost everyone considered their dinner plate naked without a big old hunk of meat on it. (You remember “Beef: It’s What’s for Dinner,” of course. How could you forget?) And we could afford it: our production methods and the denial of their true costs have kept meat cheap beyond all credibility. (American hamburger is arguably the cheapest convenience food there is.) This, in part, is why we spend a smaller percentage of our money on food than any other country, and much of that goes toward the roughly half-pound of meat each of us eats, on average, every day.

But that’s changing, and considering the fairly steady climb in meat consumption over the last half-century, you might say the numbers are plummeting. The department of agriculture projects that our meat and poultry consumption will fall again this year, to about 12.2 percent less in 2012 than it was in 2007. Beef consumption has been in decline for about 20 years; the drop in chicken is even more dramatic, over the last five years or so; pork also has been steadily slipping for about five years.

Holy cow. What’s up?

Read the rest of this column here.

Posted in Food Politics

No Meat, No Dairy, No Problem

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Among your other resolutions — do more good? make more money? — you’ve probably made the annual pledge to eat better, although this concept may be more often reduced simply to “lose some weight.” The weight-loss obsession is both a national need and a neurotic urge (those last five pounds really don’t matter, either cosmetically or medically). But most of us do need to eat “better.”

If defining this betterness has become increasingly more difficult (half the diet books that spilled over my desk in December focused on going gluten-free), the core of the answer is known to everyone: eat more plants. And if the diet that most starkly represents this — veganism — is no longer considered bizarre or unreasonably spartan, neither is it exactly mainstream. (For the record, vegans don’t simply avoid meat; they eschew all animal products, including dairy, eggs and even honey.)

Many vegan dishes, however, are already beloved: we eat fruit salad, peanut butter and jelly, beans and rice, eggplant in garlic sauce. The problem faced by many of us — brought up as we were with plates whose center was filled with a piece of an animal — is in imagining less-traditional vegan dishes that are creative, filling, interesting and not especially challenging to either put together or enjoy.

My point here is to make semi-veganism work for you. Once a week, let bean burgers stand in for hamburgers, leave the meat out of your pasta sauce, make a risotto the likes of which you’ve probably never had — and you may just find yourself eating “better.”

These recipes serve about four, and in all, the addition of salt and pepper is taken for granted. This is not a gimmick or even a diet. It’s a path, and the smart resolution might be to get on it.

Get the recipes here.

Posted in Recipes, Vegan