Mark Bittman published a book back in May called A Bone to Pick. Since then, he’s published another book and left the New York Times to work with a new venture, a vegan food delivery service called Purple Carrot. If you didn’t catch his book when it first came out, it’s definitely worth another look.
If you read the New York Times regularly, or at least before his departure in September, you’ll know that over the past 5 years, Mark Bittman has become a spokesperson for a more thoughtful way of eating. Over the past century, the large industrial complex of agribusiness has created a food system in this country that in many ways is broken and unhealthy for our population, our food supply, and our environment. Bittman is a proponent for ways that individuals can work to change this system and set it on a healthier course. Though all the pieces in this book have been previously published in the New York Times over the past 5 years, the essays are still timely and relevant.
I’ll give you the heads up that this book is not objective reporting. Though research is often cited, Mark Bittman’s essays appeared on the Op-Ed pages of the paper and reflect his strong opinions. I happen to agree with his point-of-view. As a not-so-regular reader of the New York Times who does follow the news about the American and global food system, I appreciated this collection, learned some new things, and found it refreshing to hear the arguments from his voice and perspective.
This book covers a wide range of topics related to both the good and bad aspects of our food system. Here are some of the key takeaways that stuck with me after reading this book:
- A century ago, most American farms were small family farms growing a variety of crops sustainably and organically. “Big Ag”, including both large-scale agriculture growing monocultures with heavy reliance on pesticides and synthetic fertilizers and factory farms that are frankly inhumane to animals, is relatively new to our world. It’s not too late to (re)introduce more sustainable practices to the largest players in this industry.
- Given access to fresh real food, each of us can make small changes towards a better food system simply by cooking for ourselves, giving us control over what we eat.
- In addition to cooking, two more easy steps to improve our own health and the health of our food system are: (1) to eliminate hyper-processed foods, which contain an overabundance of sugar, often in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, from our diets. Regardless of what the marketing tells us, hyper-processed foods are seldom healthy. Eating real food, ingredients that are what they are or can be cooked into what you eat, is much better for you; and (2) to eat more plants. Eating more plants also typically means reducing the animal products, including both meat and dairy, that we eat.
- Government involvement in publishing objective dietary guidelines that are not influenced by the special interests of Big Ag would go a long way towards improving the health of our population. Frequently changing dietary recommendations have resulted in misconceptions and confusion as well as growing rates in the occurrence of obesity and Type-2 diabetes. Home cooking and eating fresh ingredients can counter these epidemics.
- Our food system may be broken, but it’s not hopeless. Thought leaders and other organizations are working for change.
Those who found reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma to be a life-changing experience might find this book is preaching to a choir they are already part of. Whether you consider yourself in this camp or not, we are all eaters, and I urge you to become a more thoughtful eater. If you’ll pardon the pun, Mark Bittman’s A Bone to Pick provides real Food for Thought to get you started.
A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 4 plates (out of 5)
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.
For an armchair traveler like me, Mimi Thorisson’s A Kitchen in France: A Year of Cooking in My Farmhouse transported me to another place. The book as a whole, Mimi’s recipes together with the photographs taken by the author’s husband Oddur Thorisson, offers a glimpse into their world of family, friends, dogs, food, home, and the French countryside in Médoc.
Médoc is a wine-producing district in the Bordeaux region in Southwestern France on a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gironde estuary, just north of the city of Bordeaux. Thorisson describes it as the “anti-Provence”, considered off the beaten track even from the French.
For those not familiar with Mimi Thorisson, she writes the blog Manger, where she shares her version of French home cooking and her family’s life in rural France. No country bumpkin, she and her family chose to relocate to this region from Paris. In April 2013, Saveur magazine named this gem the Best Regional Food Blog.
Mimi Thorisson’s approach to cooking is to savor what’s in season and to transform the best ingredients in simple ways. The book is organized by season, starting from the rebirth associated with Spring and working its way through Summer and Autumn before reaching Winter with its instinct for comfort and nesting. Each season opens with an essay sharing thoughts about food treasures she values at that time of year, whether grown in her garden, purchased at the market, or foraged near her home. Her story continues to unfold through the headnotes accompanying each recipe, sharing the provenance of the recipes from her kitchen.
Thorisson has a deep connection to France. Though she grew up in Hong Kong, she spent summers in France with her grandmother and great-aunt where she learned to cook and appreciate seasonal local ingredients.
The recipes in this book cover a broad range of French home cooking, from everyday fare such as simple roasted potatoes to special occasion dishes such as bouillabaise. Many of the main course recipes won’t be easily accessible to the typical American home cook because they call for unfamiliar meats that will require a trip to the butcher. For those with an intrepid palate and access to specialized ingredients like poussin, guinea hen, squab, quail, snails, beef cheeks, sweetbread, and oxtail, uncomplicated recipes to prepare them are on offer. That said, this book has something for everyone. There are plenty of other recipes for starters, side dishes, and desserts that are similarly uncomplicated and use seasonal ingredients that should be readily available to any home cook.
At the end of the book, there is an unexpected group of recipes to celebrate Chinese New Year. These recipes are not out of place in this French cookbook because they reflect the author’s heritage (her father is Chinese) and just as she honors and celebrates the culinary heritage of her French mother’s family, she gives equal respect to her father’s Chinese roots as she passes down the traditions of the Chinese New Year celebration.
By season, these are the recipes I’m tempted to try first:
- My Aunt Francine’s Fava Bean Soup
- Onion Tart
- Roast Chicken with Crème Fraîche and Herbs
- Roast Lamb Shoulder with Garlic Cream Sauce
- Tomato Tart
- Tuna Rillettes
- Almond Mussels
- Peach and Cherry Papillotes
- Potatoes à la Lyonnaise
- Butternut Gratin
- Apple Tart with Orange Flower Water
- Galette Pérougienne
- Winter Vegetable Cocotte
- Garlic Soup
- Roasted Sausages with Red Wine and Fennel
- Kouign Amann
This book can be equally at home in the kitchen or on the coffee table. As a cookbook, it is a compilation of recipes, but the gorgeous photos provide a temporary visit to the Thorisson home in the Médoc without leaving your couch.
A Plateful of Happiness Rating: 4 plates (out of 5)
Disclosure: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. The opinions expressed are my own.