Food

Mark Bittman Discusses 'Real Food' at Portland's Feast Festival

OPB | Sept. 26, 2012 7:15 a.m.

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Mark Bittman didn’t set out to be a food writer. He began by just cooking for his family. Poring over cookbooks for recipe ideas, Bittman sought to make meals that looked good, faster. He would trim 90-minute meals down to 45 minutes.

“I never cooked for more than an hour,” Bittman explained to Think Out Loud host Dave Miller. His ability to make a meal still taste good, while streamlining the process, is not a hallmark of a lazy cook — but a good one. To cook a tasty dinner in less time, you need to understand the basic fundamentals of cooking. It was an early sign of a promising career.

Now, years later, Mark Bittman is one of the most prolific, and celebrated, food writers and cookbook authors in the country. His most recent cookbook, How to Cook Everything: The Basics, is a spin-off from his best-selling How to Cook Everything. His writing in the New York Times is followed by thousands. A few years ago he explained his goal:

“I have no interest in helping people become chefs. I have an interest in 50 percent of the people in America knowing how to cook. And whether they cook like chefs or not, I don’t care. It’s probably better if they don’t. It would be better if they cook like me, which is adequately.”

It would be easy to make the case that Bittman cooks better than adequately, but he does specialize in relatively simple food. Some recent examples are this recipe for “sasta” (that’s a combination of pasta and salad) or these 12 ways to grill an eggplant. Still in love with cooking, Bittman has infused his passion with politics.

Bittman links the high consumption of meat to global warming and criticizes the typical American diet regularly in his columns. He lays it all out in his TED Talk entitled “What’s wrong with what we eat”:

During his recent appearance on Think Out Loud which was taped in front of a studio audience at Literary Arts, Bittman summarized the formal definition of food as promoting good condition in plants and animals. And all food is not created equal. “Many of the things we eat do not promote good condition and they are not nourishing. Therefore they are not defined as food.”

Citing soda and “hyper-processed food products,” Bittman believes “if we could recognize [non-food] we would have a much easier time saying, ‘We’re not really regulating food, we’re regulating non-food.’ Then we could get something done in terms of de-incentivizing the consumption of stuff that’s really bad for us.”

Listen to Think Out Loud’s full conversation with Mark Bittman.

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