Thursday, October 7, 2010

Review: Mark Bittman at 6th & I, Tue, Oct 5, 2010

Guest Blogger, Sarah Charnes and me
One of the many benefits of living in DC is having access to a variety of lectures at a nominal fee. Thanks to Capital Cooking, my friend Katie and I received free tickets to attend Mark Bittman's lecture at the historic Sixth & I Synagogue on October 5. Bittman was in town to promote one of his books, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, and its just-released companion cookbook, The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living.

Mark Bittman is a household name to many, having written about food professionally since 1980. He penned my personal favorite cookbooks, How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and writes "The Minimalist" column every week for The New York Times. Over time, Bittman became interested in the overproduction and overconsumption of meat and junk food, and has become an advocate for what he refers to as "less-meatarianism."

Bittman's lecture was chock-full of facts supporting what those of us who follow food and food policy already know: meat production is wreaking havoc on our environment and our health. One-fifth of all greenhouse gases come from livestock production, thanks in large part to the production method known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Livestock also produce methane, which traps 20 percent more heat than carbon dioxide per unit. On top of meat's contribution to climate change, consider that it takes an astronomical amount of water to produce a calorie of meat than a calorie of plant. On the health side, we've become malnourished by processed junk and grain-fed, antibiotic-infused meat. By encouraging the overproduction and overconsumption of these foods, deceptive marketing tactics and large agricultural subsidies have contributed to a slew of medical conditions, including heart problems, obesity, cancer, and diabetes.

Mark Bittman advocates veganism for the sake of sustainability, living his own life as a part-time vegan, or a "Vegan Until 6:00" - abstaining from meat and dairy (which, he pointed out, is more akin to meat than plants in terms of how it is produced) most of the day, but eating whatever he wants after 6:00 p.m. Knowing that many people in this country aren't likely to follow a completely vegetarian diet (having grown up in the Midwest, I can fully attest to this), let alone a vegan diet, he simply advocates eating less meat. We should be thinking of meat, dairy, and processed foods as treats to be enjoyed on an infrequent basis.

As he spoke, I thought, This is great, but he's preaching to the choir. I'm essentially a flexitarian who has dabbled in vegetarianism and veganism, and I'm sure many people in the audience had a similar story. Yet his final message ultimately resonated with me: we can't rely on lawmakers and policymakers to solve any of these problems for us, at least in the short-term, but we can take responsibility for our own health and take steps to cut our own meat and junk food consumption in half, benefiting the environment at the same time.

For more information, please see Mark Bittman's website at

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