Mark Bittman changed my life a few years ago with his book, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The book not only expanded my horizons in the kitchen with its simple recipes, but also served as a sort of desk reference for vegetables, fruits, and grains I had heard of but had never tried. At the time of the book’s publication, Bittman was a food writer for the New York Times, and I started paying attention to his column. I liked his recipes for their attitude of, “if you don’t have this ingredient, or the time, or the inclination, just make this substitution/change to the recipe.” It’s an attitude that led me towards more flexible, adventurous cooking.
More recently, Bittman has transitioned his Times column away from recipes and towards food politics. He is currently (in my opinion) one of the most articulate advocates for sustainability, real food, and sensible policy. I was delighted to read his March 25th column, “Butter is Back”.
When I read it a couple of days ago, it was at the top of the “most emailed” list of articles on the Times website. Perhaps that’s because he says it’s ok to eat butter.
But I enjoyed his essay because of the way he spells out the differences between “real food” and what Michael Pollan famously termed “edible food-like substances.” From the article:
You might consider a dried apricot (one ingredient) versus a Fruit Roll-Up (13 ingredients, numbers 2, 3 and 4 of which are sugar or forms of added sugar). Or you might reflect that real yogurt has two or three ingredients (milk plus bacteria, with some jam or honey if you like) and that the number in Breyers YoCrunch Cookies n’ Cream Yogurt is unknowable (there are a few instances of “and/or”) but certainly at least 18.
The number one reason that I like being a farmer is that I like food. I like being around large quantities of fresh food. When I started working on farms five years ago, it was that aspect of the lifestyle that got me thinking, “Man, I could get used to this!” Added bonuses to farmwork are that I get to work outside, work hard, sleep well, and see a physical product of my labor. As a beginning farmer, it makes me glad to read an essay like Bittman’s and feel like the pendulum is swinging back to the side that I’m working on.
Happy eating, everyone! See you at the first Charlottesville market of the season next Saturday! –Ben