As authors and publishing houses cash in on Average Joe’s New Year’s resolution to lose weight and eat healthily, cookbooks, self-help titles, and all things dietary under the sexy new subject heading “environmental responsibility” are crowding bookstores’ new release tables—and for the love of green, Mark Bittman was not about to miss out.
The author of The New York Times’ The Minimalist and Bitten blogs and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian offers the enviro-curious reader Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating (Simon & Schuster). Part counsel, part cookbook, Food Matters offers a simple Pollan-esque mantra: “Emphasize plant foods, and minimize animal products and junk foods.”
Bittman isn’t supporting veganism (womp womp), but he certainly renders reducing meat from the average American diet, or even eliminating it entirely, a reachable goal for those who haven’t caught on. Though Bittman makes note of and derides the repulsive treatment of animals-as-livestock, animal welfare isn’t his sticking point; it’s the environment and all of the damage animal and junk food consumption causes it. Generally speaking, there isn’t much not to like: he unfolds the more opaque ways in which the production of these foods damages the environment, offers a critique of the government’s role in America’s unhealthy taste for meat and junk food, and suggests how we might eat more consciously (while relentlessly invoking the maxim of his book). Finally, he offers recipes that are nearly all vegetarian and all include vegetarian versions, and many of the recipes are vegan.
Nonetheless, when I began reading Bittman’s book, I was shocked by his show of unusual awareness and consideration. Last Monday, just a little more than a week before Food Matters published today, Bittman offered a recipe for Roman veal at Bitten. “If you can find veal shoulder—not always easy—that would work nicely here,” he says. Why is a fellow who seems so sure about the damage and injustice inherent in especially veal production describe how to make the calf tasty? Besides, it doesn’t jibe with his suggestion in Food Matters that we use meat for flavoring (if at all) and not as a main dish. (He does, however, stipulate that he eats consciously during the day but eats whatever he wants for dinner.) Indeed, many—though not most—of Bittman’s recipes at Bitten and The Minimalist contain or hinge on meat.
It makes one wonder whether Bittman, like so many others, contradicts himself just to make money; I’d guess that the large majority of Times readers aren’t vegetarian. I know some Emerson-loving Bittman supporter somewhere is mumbling something about hobgoblins. But how much pandering and inconsistency can we stand in the figureheads on the popular media side of the green movement?