Interview: Mark Bittman on his “Vegan Before 6″ Philosophy

 

Journalist, New York Times columnist and cookbook author Mark Bittman's new book, "VB6: Vegan Before 6:00," will be released later this year. (Photo by Fred R. Conrad/New York Times)

Last week, as part of my South Beach Wine & Food Festival coverage for WLRN, I wrote about how the festival’s first vegetarian dinner seems to reflect a broader trend. The dinner, along with other indicators I mention in the article, may suggest that people are craving more vegetables–and vegetable dishes as cuisine in their own right, as opposed to meatless replacement recipes for classic dishes like chili or lasagna. This is for a variety of reasons including health.

New York Times columnist and cookbook author Mark Bittman’s new book, VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00, will be published later this year. Bittman adopted a diet of eating plant-based foods before 6 after his doctor gave him a wakeup call about his poor health. The author still eats the cheeses and meats he can’t bear to give up, if he desires, but only after 6 and in moderation.

After adopting this lifestyle, Bittman reported that he lost 30 pounds and improved his overall health.

“I’m also able to enjoy a bit of self-satisfaction knowing that, by an infinitesimal amount, I’m reducing the pace of global warming…There is no doubt that food production is contributing to global warming and the environmental crises we’re facing.” [NPR]

Bittman is referring, at least in part, to the amount of water, energy and land it takes to produce meat (see an NPR graphic detailing the resources it takes to make a hamburger).

Mark Bittman answered a few of my questions about VB6:

What do you think has shifted in the national zeitgeist about plant-based eating, if anything? How are people in the U.S. approaching plant-based eating differently, based on your observations?

There are really very few numbers saying “oh, yes, Americans are eating better,” although there are some indications we may be eating less, or at least fewer calories, which is certainly a good sign. But there have been very few incentives for Americans to change the way we eat: the true costs of junk food are hidden in health and environmental damages (and some of those costs are being passed on to future generations) and there isn’t much encouragement for people to move to a plant-based diet. Still, it seems to be happening, however gradually, and ultimately it’s inevitable.

Why “Vegan Before 6:00,” especially considering studies like this that may suggest we should be eating lighter later in the day?

You want people to change the content of what they eat: that’s of primary importance. When they eat is of secondary (or even lower) importance.

The change is difficult enough; you don’t make it easier by suggesting that they eat the bulk of their calories before noon. And the social aspects of dinner should not be underrated, something that study ignores.

What in your personal experience and lifestyle made VB6 work for you?

I need rules. To say “I’m just going to eat better” doesn’t work for me. I can probably follow almost any rule I think that makes sense and doesn’t rob me of all of my enjoyment of food.

I could’ve said “vegan weekdays, omnivore weekends,” or “three weeks out of four vegan” but this makes the most sense to me. I want my health and I want to enjoy dinner.

Having a really strict diet during the day–and “vegan” doesn’t really do it justice, because it’s not just vegan, it’s no animal products plus no over-processed food (“white” food)–and then a more relaxed one in the evening achieves both.


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