Thanks to Mark Bittman, I’m giving up my Wednesday night pizza habit.
For months, I’ve been doing the weekly “speed” workouts for marathon runners organized by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m. Before heading out of the house, I’d order a large veggie pizza from Papa John’s handy website and schedule delivery for later. Hey, I earned it, didn’t I?
Then I read Cooking Solves Everything, Bittman’s latest, a 10,000-word e-book published by Byliner, a new publishing venture. You know Bittman, right? He’s the longtime food columnist for The New York Times (“The Minimalist’), author of the best-selling How to Cook Everything and several other books about food, a PBS food-show host and, lately, an opinion columnist for The Times. Busy guy.
Cooking, alas, doesn’t solve everything–peace will not break out in the Middle East if you roast a chicken, nor will drivers stop chatting on their cell phones if you whip up a creme brulee– but as Bittman writes, cooking solves a lot:
When people make food a priority in the their lives, they actively contribute to society. Cooking can change our collective lives for the better. It can even change the planet for the better. And this is not hyperbole.
Cooking, he writes, puts you in charge of what you eat. Cooking saves you money, even when compared to fast food. Home-cooked food tends to be better for your health than whatever you buy in restaurants. Cooking relieves stress. Cooking is good for family life. If you buy ingredients, instead of bringing home frozen or processed food, you’ll pay more attention to what’s in season, which means you’ll eat food that’s fresher, better for the environment and good for the regional economy. “A nation of cooks would not adequately support a nation of monoculture,” he writes. True enough.
And yet it’s stunning how little cooking goes on in this great nation of ours. “Americans, I’m sad to report, spend less time cooking than anyone,” Bittman writes. Almost a third of the calories we eat come from restaurants, almost double the percentage of 30 years ago. Seven percent of Americans say they never cook. Thirty percent say they cook three or four times a week. Microwaving, by the way, isn’t cooking.
I won’t say more about the book. Buy it. It can be read in one sitting and costs just $2.51 from Amazon, where it’s featured as a Kindle Single. (You don’t need a Kindle to read it, though. Kindle software can be downloaded to a laptop, phone or iPad.) It even tells you how to stock your pantry and includes a week’s worth of easy recipes.
Bittman practices what he preaches, he told me by phone last week from Copenhagen, where he was on a reporting trip for The Times. “I do love restaurants, but I’m much happier cooking at home,” he said. “If I’m eating by myself or with my wife, 90% of the time, I’m eating at home.”
The trick, he said, is persuading more people to try cooking. “Once you start, you never go back,” he said. “The parallel to exercise is very real.” But changing habits is hard.
Policy policy can play a part. Bittman wrote the other day about Denmark’s modest new “fat tax.” (See How About a Little Danish?“) “They’re the first western country to institute one,” he said. “Symbolically, to me, it’s enormous.”
He’d also like to see laws to protect factory-farmed animals. “If you outlawed restrictive confinement, then meat protection would be far less efficient,” he said. Higher meat prices will drive people to eat more plants, a good idea for many reasons. Bittman wrote a memorable and influential story for The Times called Rethinking the Meat Guzzler back in 2008. Eating less meat, as I’ve often written, is the single most important thing people can do for the environment.
And my pizza habit? After reading Cooking Solves Everything, I revisited Papa John’s website and learned that my dinner of three slices of pizza delivers more than 30 grams of fat. That’s a lot, even for a runner. Pizza (with plenty of leftovers) costs very little, less than $25, including delivery and tip. But, as Bittman points out, cooking can cost even less.
So, the other night, I made a lentil-brown rice casserole (with plenty of leftovers) and sauteed some asparagus on the side. It took no time to prepare and cost less than $10, which appeals to my
cheap frugal side. It was tasty, too, and so low in fat that I had a slice of (store-bought) pie for dessert. Who knows? Next time, maybe I’ll bake one of my own.
[Bittman photo by Dan Lewis]