Saturday, May 15, 2010

Weekend Cooking: Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating, by Mark Bittman

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Mark Bittman's book Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating is an insightful look at how the way many of us eat is having a detrimental impact on many critical aspects of our lives - from our personal health, of course, to the well-being of animals and the global environment. By making a few changes and different choices in our eating habits, Bittman claims that we can play a part in reducing the severity of some of these issues.

Food Matters is divided into two sections.  In the first portion of the book, Bittman provides some eye-opening statistics (conveniently highlighted in the margins of the pages) about food production, especially factory farming.  (While there are some unsettling numbers in this book, this isn't Upton Sinclair's The Jungle.)  Some of these are ones we've heard before, but others were new to me.  Consider the following:
  • 60 billion animals are raised each year for food. That's 10 animals for every human on earth.
  • In the United States alone, 9 billion chickens, 100 million pigs, 250 million turkeys, and 36 million cows are killed each year for food.  
  • 50% of the antibiotics in the United States go to animals.
  • 1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry.
  • 1 billion are overweight.
Clearly, something is wrong with this scenario and something needs to change. Bittman presents a compelling case for that change starting with the choices we make. "By simply changing  what we eat," he writes, "we can have an immediate impact on our own health and a very real effect on global warming - and the environment, and animal cruelty, and food prices. That's the guiding principle behind Food Matters, and it's really very simple: eat less meat and junk food, eat more vegetables and whole grains." (pg. 4).

This isn't a diet book, nor a call to become vegetarian or eat only organic vegetables.  It's about making healthier choices more often while not completely depriving ourselves of the foods we love.

Food Matters includes 77 recipes and a suggested food plan that follows these general principles.  Again, Bittman emphasizes that these are merely suggestions and ideas.  They're sensible ones, though, and the recipes are ones that look tasty, fairly economical, and healthy.

The other evening, I had a craving for carrot soup. Now, I normally don't care for carrot soup - but maybe reading Food Matters made me think differently, even on a subconscious level.  So I turned to the recipe section of the book and lo and behold, Bittman has a recipe for Creamy Carrot Soup on page 202, which I made for dinner along with open-faced melted cheese sandwiches. (I toasted bread slices and placed a slice of cheese on top, then put them in the oven to melt.)  I was making fries for the kids, so decided to make this variation of grilled cheese that way instead of the traditional version with butter.

Creamy Carrot Soup
makes 4 servings

Notes from Food Matters: This soup is as cold as it is hot, and its creaminess comes from vegetables, not dairy items, though you can certainly enrich this soup by stirring in a pat of butter or a splash of coconut milk after pureeing.

In place of the carrots you might try fennel or celery; root vegetables like parsnips, celery root, or turnips; spinach, sorrel or watercress; sweet potatoes or winter squash; any potatoes; peas (alone of with some romaine lettuce). If you want to add spices - either curry powder or ground cumin seeds are good with carrots - stir them in just before adding the stock in Step 1.

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion or a 2-inch piece of ginger, chopped (my note: I chose the onion)
about 1.5 pounds carrots, roughly choppped
1 large starchy potato, peeled and roughly chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cups vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup chopped parsley leaves for garnish

1. Put the oil in a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the carrots soften a bit. Add the stock and cook until the vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pan. Or cool the mixture slightly (hot soup is dangerous), and pass it through a food mill or pour it into a blender. Puree until smooth, working in batches if necessary. (You can make the soup ahead to this point. Cover, refrigerate for up to 2 days, and reheat before proceeding.)

3. If you're serving the soup hot, gently reheat it, stirring frequently. If you're serving it cold, refrigerate, covered, for at least 2 hours. Either way, taste and adjust the seasoning and garnish before serving.

This was a little bit weaker than I anticipated, but that could have been because I used canned potatoes (all I had on hand) and baby carrots, not the kind pictured here.  I think if I made this again, I would use larger carrots and a russet potato.

Food Matters is an informative book for anyone who is concerned about our planet and issues related to our food supply (factory farming, antibiotic use, etc.) and who is interested in trying some new, simple and healthy recipes.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Beth F said...

I am a fan of Mark Bittman and read his blog on the New York Times site regularly (and I follow his tweets!). I have been curious about this book and so I was really pleased to see your review.

I agree with Bittman that even small changes can have a large effect on our own health and can send a signal to producers.

I love carrots and ginger, and this sounds delicious. I agree, the canned potatoes and baby carrots were probably not starchy enough to thicken the soup. I'm definitely going to give this a try when carrots are in abundance at the farmers market this summer.

I'm adding this to my foodie wish list.

caite said...

I would pick the onion and the ginger! and what the heck, a clove of garlic too!

I know books like this have a point...we eat too much meat, too few veggies and whole grains, too much processed food...but on the other hand I hate seeing food as another 'political' issue.

But the soup sounds great!

Margot at Joyfully Retired said...

This sounds like a book I should read. Actually, I saw it at the bookstore but didn't buy it. Thanks for the good review.

Diann @ The Thrifty Groove said...

The book sounds interesting. And tking a closer look at what we eat sounds like a something we all should be doing.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I haven't had carrot soup in years....and had forgotten how good it could be until I read this post! I've seen Bittman's book on bookstore shelves and you piqued my interest. Think I'll have to pick up a copy.

Pam said...

I wish I had something smart to say but really I am giggling at the bent carrot. I never claimed to be intellectual. Funny yes, brilliant alas I was skipped over :P

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I LOVE carrot soup! I make mine with a clove of garlic and a dash of orange juice.

My weekend cooking post is here:

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Beth F - I'm going to give it another try at some point, too.

caite - all good suggestions of tasty additions.

Margot, Diann, and Michele - it really is an interesting book. I'll be interested to see what each of you think.

Pam - it IS a pretty funny picture, isn't it? (And from my perspective and in my world, we need a few less intellectuals.)

leeswammes - thanks so much for stopping by. Enjoy the soup!