Monday, March 09, 2009

Notes From My Knapsack 3-12-09
Jeff Gill

Food Matters, and Some Food Matters Quite a Bit

Mark Bittman of the New York Times writes a column called “The Minimalist,” about culinary simplicity.

If that makes you think of excruciatingly tiny entrees on handcrafted pottery plates served in a restaurant with tables smaller than most of your dinner plates, think again. Mark Bittman likes to eat, and wants us to enjoy eating as well. Minimalism, Bittman style, is about offering a minimum of excess and an excess of healthy options without an extreme approach that leaves most of us thinking “that may work for some, somewhere, but I can’t live that way.”

Most of what Bittman cooks he does in a tiny kitchen with a, well, minimum of tools and gadgets. We, the readers and erstwhile home cooks, are pushed beyond some of our own minimal repertoire of staples and proteins and veggies, but not to hopelessly pine after ingredients only available two months of the year in street markets by the quays of Marseilles. Try something new, that you can find locally, and cook easily but in a new way – that’s the classic Bittman offering.

He thinks that “Food Matters,” which is the title of his new book which is as much a cookbook with an attitude as it is a polemic with recipes. Michael Pollan has trod this ground already with books like his recent “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and the mantra, which Bittman largely adopts, of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

For that “Mostly plants” part, our author proposes a clever twist that most of us can adopt without vast contortions of adaptation: “Vegan until 6.”

The growing consensus is that Americans eat too much meat, and often in too large a portion at any given time. Our health on so many levels is impacted by the ingestion of so much high fructose corn syrup and juiced up meat (which, in brief, means that the average beef cow by slaughter has consumed through corn feed a barrel of oil).

So Mark Bittman says “try this.” He tells us how to get more whole grains and fruits ‘n vegetables into our meals, and suggests we try avoiding all meat and processed foods . . . until after 6 pm. The trick here, I think, is that if you’ve really filled yourself well with the complex carbs and fiber-rich good stuff, grown as locally as you can manage (he’s got hints on how to do that, too), you won’t be jonesing for a huge hunk of protein on the middle of your plate, shoving the overcooked and unappetizing green stuff over to the edge.

This is from “The Minimalist,” not “The Puritan,” so when life calls for a steak, enjoy! Bittman’s book is filled with little ideas and suggestions that you can act on right now, and not stuff that requires throwing out your entire pantry today and buying a tofu press or high power juicer.

My only regret about buying this book is that it doesn’t have a spiral binding for laying flat next to the stove, but I think I’ll have the spine broken down soon. Watch this column for a few more borrowed points from “Food Matters” as we head into planting and growing season for our local deer ravaged, but still doable gardens.

Speaking of food, kudos to Granville Pack 3 and all those who helped with their food drive – our community supplied the Licking County Food Pantry Network with 8,152 pounds of canned and non-perishable goods, plus a raft of friendly checks and pats on the back for the Cubs who worked so hard. In an effort like that, everybody comes out ahead.

Over 4 tons!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at

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