I actually went OUT on a work night. I mean, out-out. With a girlfriend!
I know, it's crazy.
I met my friend CC for happy hour (I need to interview her, she's very knowledgeable about organophosphate pesticides / food consumption / organic vs conventional food & her upcoming doctoral dissertation work is going to kick ass) then we went to a Seattle Arts & Lectures series speaker, Mark Bittman.
CC is a big Bittman fan, formerly read his food column in the New York Times, currently reads his blog, and has his cookbooks which are all about simple, healthy home cooking (see: How to Cook Everything). To be honest, I pretty much only knew of Bittman through his PBS series on eating in Spain, that he did with Mario Batali and Gwyneth Paltrow (Spain: On the Road Again). It was an interesting talk and I thought it would be nice to give a quick summary in case anyone is interested...
His talk was about what you would expect:
- Soda makes us fat and kills more people than cigarettes kill via lung cancer. We need to villainize soda in the way we've villainized cigarettes. This is a public health issue, not a consumerism issue.
- We need to stop subsidizing monoculture (i.e., soy & corn) for animal feed and subsidize nutritious people-food instead, especially foods from small local farms.
- Our current ag practices are not sustainable, one way or another we will be forced to change our current practices.
- Call for a soda tax and limits on marketing processed foods to children.
- Promote simple home cooking. If people can't cook for themselves, figure out ways to get them help so they can get home-cooked meals.
- Buy locally sourced foods = Our veggies & dairy come from a local farm, we buy locally produced meats that aren't from giant feed lots MOST of the time. We eat a ton of fish (we buy from local salmon fishers or my husband gets the salmon himself). But, we need to start just buying a whole cow/pig with friends from local farmers and cutting out the middle-part of going through a grocery store or butcher. I know this costs $$ and right now we can afford it. It shouldn't be the case where this is out of reach for most people though. Healthy, organic foods that are grown in ways less damaging to the environment need to become more affordable.
- Eat a plant-heavy diet = My goal with meals is to have half our plates filled with veggies, 1/4 protein (usually meat), 1/4 carb or grain. I'm also trying to have weekly "meatless Mondays" but it doesn't always happen.
I think my favorite part about Bittman's talk came toward the end when he talked about how he had gotten quite overweight and his doctor told him to become a vegan. Bittman, being in the food industry, laughed because that was clearly unrealistic and not how he wanted to live.
Instead, he decided to look at it how we look at exercise. Eating "vegan," or along those lines, wasn't something that you necessarily have to do each and every day. With exercise, you have your days where you get your workout in and some workouts are heavier than others, but sometimes you just rest.
Bittman approached his diet the same way and he calls it, "Vegan Before 6:00" or VB6. He also cut out all processed foods and white foods before 6:00 p.m. As often as he can, he tries to eat vegan all day until dinnertime. Then, he eats healthfully but he will allow meat into his diet. It's not everyday but it's most days. Doing this, he lost 40 lbs. in just a few months!
I found this approach quite refreshing. It's so easy to look at things in absolutes, to force strict rules that must be obeyed for every meal, most every day. Some people are disciplined enough that it works. For me, I feel like it's just setting me up to be frustrated and feel like I've failed. It's probably common sense to other people but for me, it's helpful to be given permission to not be so extreme!
I don't necessarily want to go VB6 but I do like the moderate approach to improving my habits or showing more restraint. I think it's similar to Bob Harper's Skinny Rule about no carbs after lunch, with dinner being "lean & green." Quite practical.
So there you go. If you are interested in a thoughtful critique on U.S. food policy, politics, and advocating for change in how we define and view our food, definitely check out Bittman's personal blog or his New York Times blog, The Opinionator.