A revolutionary new guide to eating smarter, healthier

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse | 11/23/2010, 6 a.m.
"The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living” by Mark Bittman. Simon and Schuster, 2010. $35.

This is because producing meat is extremely inefficient. While it only requires 2.2 calories of fossil fuel to grow 1 calorie of corn, he explains, 40 calories of fossil fuel are necessary to generate a calorie of meat. These excess fossil fuel calories come from land use, petroleum-based chemical fertilizers, pesticides, transportation, machinery and drugs.

Even more inefficient is the creation of junk food. “Producing a single can of calorie-free diet soda (which has no caloric or nutritional value) consumes 2,200 calories of energy,” he says.

At this rate, American levels of consumption are simply unsustainable, “It requires more land than exists and taxes the earth’s resources beyond what’s available.”

To counter this American-style diet, Bittman offers concise principles for sane eating: “eat fewer animal products than average”; “eat all the plants you can manage”; “make legumes and whole grains part of your life”; “avoid processed foods”; and “everything else is a treat — and you can have treats daily.”

The recipes that follow exemplify this description of “sane eating.” It is not a vegan cookbook — Bittman does not advocate veganism or vegetarianism — but reduces meat and dairy to sides and garnishes, and elevates plants to the centerpiece of meals.

The recipes range from decadent desserts — spicy carrot cake and cherry truffles — to hearty dinners — grilled vegetable and fresh tomato lasagna and chickpea tagine with bulgar and chicken — and flavorful sides — Mexican street corn, spicy-sweet green beans and vegetable-lentil soup.

 And to assist the novice cook, the recipes are marked by preparation time and complexity, so even those without much kitchen experience can find hundreds of quick and easy recipes.

 But Bittman is sure to stress that sane eating, unlike veganism and vegetarianism, is about “flexibility and forgiveness.”

“We do what we can, knowing that adjusting our food choices as individuals will have a cumulative effect on all the plants, animals, and humans that share our planet,” he says. “It’s the aggregate of all our small changes that will bring about bigger ones.”