Food Matters – A Book Review

As I sit here and watch Super Size Me as part of CBC News Network’s documentary series, it seems only fitting that I finally get around to talking about one of my recent food reads – Food Matters: A Guide To Conscious Eating by Mark Bittman.

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Not that the two are directly related…well, they sort of are. Anyways…

I actually picked up the Food Matters book after stumbling upon the Food Matters Cookbook while at Costco one day. How I had never heard of the original book is beyond me, but I knew the name Mark Bittman from the series of cookbooks on “How To Cook Everything”. After thumbing through the cookbook, I knew it was coming home with me, and I knew I would need to take a trip to the library to read the book the recipes were based on.

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An easy read, I can’t say the book is exactly revolutionary in it’s premise – eat more plant based foods and make animal products supplementary to them. Nothing we haven’t heard before from other authors and sources, that’s for sure. But I still think Food Matters is a worthwhile read, and it did have some points that I found thought provoking and motivating.

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One of the most interesting things he talked about was how the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA’s) for all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients we need to survive might just in fact be a cause for overeating. Knowing how the RDA’s are set, this really stuck with me. RDA’s are set so that they meet 97 – 98% of the populations’ needs. This means that they are exceeding many people’s actual requirements. So if you are trying to meet your RDA of say, Vitamin D, solely through food, this could in fact be causing you to consume more than your body needs, and in turn you could be consuming extra calories at the same time. That being said, I’m not going to sit here and say the RDA’s are a complete joke either. But it’s definitely something to think about.

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I really like that Bittman doesn’t take a “Holier Than Thou” approach to eating a more plant based diet. He doesn’t think it’s practical, or even necessary to avoid any foods. You may just want to limit them to occasional indulgences, savouring them for what they are – be it freshly baked white flour bread, a greasy burger and fries at your favourite burger bar, or an ice cream sundae on a perfect summer’s evening. It recognizes that although food is what fuels us, and eating quality nutrients will help us thrive, that food is also a culinary and social experience, and that physical health doesn’t have to be the first and foremost thing to consider when answering the age old question “What’s for dinner?”

He mentions that what works for him is to be virtually vegan until 6 pm, then have whatever he wants for dinner, be it a steak and potatoes or a salad with chickpeas. But he also knows that won’t work for everyone, and offers a meal plan that balances out fruits, veggies, grains, fats, meat, and dairy throughout the day.

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One thing I was a little disappointed with was the fact that more than half the book was devoted to the meal plan and recipes. Now don’t get me wrong, I love me a cookbook, but knowing that there is a whole cookbook based from this book, I guess I naively assumed this was more of a “why you should eat like food matters”, and not “what to eat”. I found I got through the first part quickly, and wanted more in depth information about all of the topics covered. Knowing that there are many other books that do cover many of the same topics though, I guess if the reader wants more, they can flip to the Sources section and look into those.

There was a little bit of talk about how this way of eating could also help you improve various measures of your health, including lose weight. Not unexpected, but again, I wasn’t looking for a diet plan book, and a few places I felt like there was a bit of a push in that direction here.

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As for the recipes, I thought they were great. I enjoyed how many of the ingredients were listed with amounts, followed by “more or less”, because unless you are baking, you really don’t need to measure accurately in cooking. If you have extra carrots, throw them in. Like it spicier? Add more cayenne. You get the idea. He offered countless variations and modifications on his recipes, and showed how many of them were really a base for a more complex dish. None of them seemed overly complicated or requiring hard to find ingredients. Some of them look like they are in the Food Matters Cookbook, but many of them are not. Incentive to own both books right there, eh?

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Overall, I found Food Matters to be a very accessible, practical, and realistic look at why changing eating habits to a more plant based one is not only good for our own health, but for the planet’s health as well. It’s an easy read that at times left me wanting more in depth information, but would most likely be perfect for the “Average Joe” who may give it a read. I also found it motivational, and has made me want to incorporate some of the ideas in the book into my own way of eating. Perhaps a New Year’s Goal in the making? I might just have to cook my way through that cookbook, and will definitely look at picking up my own copy of Food Matters soon.

Have you read Food Matters? What did you think? Good, bad, or somewhere in between?

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Categories: Books/Cookbooks, Review

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3 Comments on “Food Matters – A Book Review”

  1. December 20, 2010 at 8:49 am #

    I haven’t read Food Matters, but I have heard of it. As long as his tone of voice isn’t like Michael Pollan’s I’d probably like it (I find pollan comes off as slightly “holier then though, look what I know”). I don’t know though, the fact that half the book is a meal plan makes it sound more like a diet book then anything. The recipes look good though, hmmmm, noodles and mushrooms. 🙂

    • December 23, 2010 at 11:07 pm #

      I would say the meal plan part isn’t too big – it’s mostly dominated by recipes, which I don’t mind. I just had wished the book had more “book” to it. I’d still recommend it, because it’s a quick read, and I like Bittman’s style.

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