Mark Bittman, the New York Times food writer who knows how to cook everything, is in Minnesota this week for the Food for Thought Healthy Foods Summit at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (taking place Thursday and Friday). Tackling the complex topic of the current state of our relationship with food, Bittman will also be discussing his brand-new (this baby is about a week old) cookbook, The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living. Want your life changed? Read on.
1. You're speaking at the Healthy Food Summit on our relationship with food. How did that relationship become so complex? A hundred years ago, everyone was a locavore, every family had someone who cooked at home (usually a mom), and everyone ate real food. Then technologies and developments like railroads, interstate highways, modern irrigation techniques, and refrigeration created surpluses of food in some places and the ability to move it to and store it in others. Along came processed foods, factory farms, and so-called convenience foods. Now, home cooking and real food are nearly dead, and Americans specialize in eating the things that kill us. You couldn't invent a worse diet than ours if you tried. Many people don't have a "complex" relationship with food, they have a wrong one.
2. Your new cookbook The Food Matters Cookbook just came out. Did you always plan on releasing a cookbook related to the earlier Food Matters book, or was it the result of demand after the Food Matters release? I knew I wanted to write a Food Matters cookbook as soon as I began cooking this way; it's what I do. And I recognized that if you're going to tell people to eat less animal ingredients, you have to give them a way to do it. The Food Matters Cookbook gives people hundred of practical ways to eat less meat without going totally vegan.
3. What makes these 500 recipes "revolutionary?" Is it possible to buy this cookbook and totally overhaul the way you cook and eat? Absolutely. If you eat a lot of meat and processed foods, or if you go out to eat for most meals, this book can change the way you eat and live. Even if you're already a regular home cook, but you find it difficult to move away from meat-centered dishes, The Food Matters Cookbook can transform the way you prepare meals. Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy appear throughout the book, but there are no chapters focusing on them--that's because I'm treating animal ingredients as a garnish or flavoring or side, not as a centerpiece. I think of this style of cooking as a new American cuisine: one that's simple, healthy, good for the planet, and creative.
4. Does tying healthier eating habits to the environment have an impact on people? Undoubtedly. Americans are so used to seeing eating as a personal act that affects only the person doing the eating. I think a lot of people think that when they eat poorly, they're only hurting themselves. But we've come to see that that's absolutely not true: Eating poorly hurts animals, the environment, local economies, our health care system, and ultimately other people. People who aren't willing to take care of themselves for their own sake are often willing to take care of themselves for the sake of others. And when they do start eating consciously and sanely, it's a win-win situation.
5. You have a cookbook called How to Cook Everything. What's the most difficult thing to cook, in your opinion? i.e. what gives you the most trouble? Other cookbooks try to convince you that cooking is difficult, and some cookbook authors make cooking difficult by writing needlessly complicated recipes. But my philosophy is this: Almost everything is easy to cook well, and almost everything is difficult to cook perfectly, so as long as your goals are to provide good food for yourself and your friends and family, nothing is that difficult.
6. You're the nicest judge on the Food Network's "Chopped" show. Have you had to eat some questionable creations? I'm actually a very nice person.