by Eileen Weber
On Sunday at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts at Sacred Heart Univerity. Mark Bittman, cookbook author and weekly columnist for the Dining section of The New York Times, spoke for a little over an hour about his new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes, and the state of food in America.
Bittman, echoing some of the recent sentiments of Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley, discussed the way we manufacture food in this country affects our health and our environment. As noted in an earlier article on this web site, Pollan told NPR that the food system was responsible for about a third of the greenhouse gas emissions. During the lecture, Bittman repeated that same statement adding the fact that livestock production tops even transportation in how it affects the environment.
Besides those emissions, Bittman recalled some of the other scary statistics about the food industry. Each year, nine billion chickens, 100 million pigs, 250 million turkeys, and 36 millions cows are killed for food in the U.S.; the typical American diet consists of a ½ pound of meat her day plus another 1 ½ pounds of other meat products like dairy and eggs; in one egg, there are as many hormones as 10 pounds of meat.
But Bittman doesn’t stop there. He continued by saying Americans eat approximately 180 to 200 pounds of meat per year. On a daily basis, we only eat a ½ pound of fruits and vegetables. And unfortunately, some of the foods we eat that are called “organic” aren’t all that organic. Some of those farms that have the organic label still function like an industrial farm and their treatment of the animals is not exactly humane.
But, the food industry doesn’t just affect our environment; it affects our health. “[The food industry],” Pollan also said in his interview with NPR, “is responsible for the catastrophic American diet that is leading 50 percent of us to suffer from chronic disease, and that drives up health care costs.”
Bittman’s own health issues lead him to rethink his own diet. Toting around 50 extra pounds, suffering from high blood sugar, high cholesterol and sleep apnea, he made some incremental changes to his eating habits. Rather than becoming vegetarian, which he adamantly denies that he is, Bittman has become what he terms “less-meatarian”. He eats less red meat, poultry, pork and fish and more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. He’s lost 35 pounds, no longer has sleep apnea due to that weight loss, and feels great.
While the points Bittman makes are nothing we haven’t already heard from Michael Pollan, his new book gives a no-nonsense approach to eating a healthier lifestyle while addressing global issues at the same time. He portends that just eating a few less cheeseburgers than usual can make a difference. The bottom line: A healthier approach to eating can have a domino effect on how healthy our planet is.