The Food Matters philosophy is all about eating more plants and fewer animal products and processed foods — and the positive impact this has on our health and the environment.
Let me start by saying this: I like butter. I love cheese. And, I thoroughly enjoy eating meat. I’m certainly not here to tell you to stop eating any of it.
What I’m here to say is that maybe you should consider eating less of it.
And for those of you who aren’t, please allow me to elaborate. Mark Bittman is a fabulous food writer, cookbook author (How to Cook Everything has become something of a bible for many of us), and columnist for the New York Times for 20+ years. He regularly appears on The Today Show and he now has his own show on the Cooking Channel.
Mark wrote a book called Food Matters that changed the way many people think about eating. In a nutshell, it’s about eating more plants, and in turn eating fewer animal products and processed foods. Many of us know that’s the right way to go, with the plentiful studies we’ve read directly linking the American diet—heavy in processed foods—to deathly illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and many more. What was news to me was the impact that eating animal products and processed foods has to do with bigger issues—issues much bigger than you or I—like the environment.
“If you swap the basic proportions in your diet—increasing unprocessed fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains—you’ll wind up losing weight and improving your overall health while also improving more difficult-to-measure situations like global warming, the environment in general, and animal welfare.” ~Mark Bittman, The Food Matters Cookbook
I haven’t read Food Matters but I learned all of this in the summary Mark provides in his follow-up to that book, The Food Matters Cookbook. I bought this book because I heard wonderful things about it, and after peaking into a few of the recipes, I fell in love. I had recently done a three-day kale cleanse and I’d been becoming more and more interested in incorporating more vegetables into my diet, so the timing was perfect.
There are a lot of books and studies out there that might make you think twice about eating meat, but this one spoke to me in a different way. I absolutely adore Mark’s approach; he explains that you should still enjoy a burger once in a while, if that’s your thing. He does. Everything about Mark’s approach to food and cooking is unfussy and approachable—his column is called “The Minimalist,” after all—and his approach to eating this way is no different. Many of the recipes in this cookbook contain meat; they’re just not meat-based. Meat is used as a garnish, and for flavor, rather than serving as the bulk of the meal.
As for how eating animal products impacts the environment, look at it this way: Unless you’re getting your chicken fresh from a local farmer, it’s got to be processed. It’s got to be raised and slaughtered and transported and packed for consumption. This requires energy. A lot more energy than it takes for unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and grains to grow from the ground.
It’s hard to narrow down the facts and statistics Mark provides in his introduction to just a few, but here they are:
- Almost one-third of our total caloric intake comes from nutrient-poor foods like sweets, salty snacks, and fruit drinks.
- Producing a single burger gobbles up as much as 50 feet of tropical rainforest, degrades up to 2,500 gallons of water, and loses as much as 300 pounds of topsoil.
These numbers are huge, but the change you can make in your diet to make a difference doesn’t have to be. At the very least, if you get involved with this project, we’re proposing you start with one less meat-based meal a week. Or, every two weeks. Maybe even just once a month.
In conclusion, what you are eating is just as important as what you’re not. I look at this sort of like I look at positive versus negative thoughts and energy: It’s about focusing on the positive. The more positive things you focus on, the less room there is for negativity. It’s that simple.
I write a blog called 20something cupcakes. Part of the reason I felt so compelled to start “The Food Matters Project” was for this very reason: If I, lover of butter and sweets and medium-rare filet mignon, can incorporate this principle of eating into my life, then so can, well, anyone.
Kate, writer of the fantastic blog Cookie + Kate is the first person I thought to reach out to regarding this project, as I had a feeling she’d be into it. I was right.
And so, we invite you, to join us in this project. Join us in little by little, incorporating not less animal products and processed foods, but more unprocessed, whole, and natural foods into our lives and diets. The rest will work itself out.