Mark Bittman: “Eat Vegan Before 6:00” | Talks at Google

Mark Bittman: “Eat Vegan Before 6:00” | Talks at Google


LIV WU: Hi everyone, welcome. I’m Liv, I’m on the food team,
and I don’t need to say anything but to say
Mark Bittman is in the house, I think. [APPLAUSE] LIV WU: So, he’s columnist at
the New York Times, he wrote about food, and for me, what’s
most interesting about the man is the trajectory of starting
with the pleasures of eating to let me show you how to do it,
and you are all, I think, devoted followers of “How to
Cook Anything” and Everything. But then he started writing
something about food conscience and something about
where food comes from, and then this latest, “Vegan
Before 6:00”, is a very interesting turn in his
heart and his mind. So we have what I hope to hear
from today is the full man and all of his ideas. Please welcome Mark. MARK BITTMAN: Great
to be here. Thank you for coming. So historically, well,
it’s interesting. I did start– I was extremely arrogant twice
in my life, actually. The first time was I got my
first food column by walking into an editor’s office and
saying you ought to let me review restaurants for you, and
he said, I already have someone reviewing restaurants
for me. And I said, I’d be better. And he said, try it, and
then he hired me. So that was– I don’t know if I feel great
about that, but it worked and it was 35 years ago,
so I’m over it. But the interesting thing is
that led to a transformation that was so– I guess I have to back up a
little bit, but first I’ll say that led to a transformation
that was so important to me and, in a way, emblematic of
what I believe that I think it’s worth talking about, even
though it goes way back. The reason I thought I was
qualified to review restaurants was not because
I’d eaten in so many restaurants, because I hadn’t,
because I couldn’t really afford to, but because
I’d cooked so much. So at that point, I was about
30, and I had started cooking seriously when I was about 20,
and through that period I did many things. I was a community organizer,
I was a new father, I was a father of a newborn. I’d gotten married before that,
I’d driven a taxi, I’d taught high school, I’d
done a bunch of stuff. But through all of that, I
cooked, and when I decided I wanted to be a professional
writer, a freelance writer, I did what everybody’s supposed
to do– what everybody was supposed to do in those days–
which was I consulted this big fat book called “Writer’s
Market” and its accompanying magazine called “Writer’s
Digest”. And it taught you how to find
an editor, write a query letter, pitch a story, I mean,
all this thing was sort of done was you’re supposed
to learn how to do it, and do it by road. So imagine you’re an editor
and you get a letter from someone you’ve never heard of
that says, I’m going to France in two weeks and I really
want to write about restaurants in Leon. Why? But the funny thing is that no
matter what I wrote, no matter what I tried to write about,
no one was interested. When I tried to write about
food, suddenly many people were interested. And that’s got something to do
with timing and something to do with, evidently, that there
was more honesty there, there was more authenticity
there coming for me. More arrogance, too. So the funny thing is that
this was in New Haven, Connecticut, and I started
reviewing restaurants in New Haven, Connecticut,
and guess what? After about six restaurants,
they weren’t very good. I mean, you could find you could
find a bunch of good restaurants, but
this was 1980. So after you did the requisite
two or three pizza places and the requisite one or two
hamburger places, and a couple of seafood places, couple
Italian places, let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and
say 12 weeks into it, I’d started eating at places that
were considerably worse than what I was cooking at home
every other night. So I transitioned the column
from a restaurant reviewing column to a cooking column, and
I did that by saying, I went to this place and they made
me– and I remember this pretty well– and they made me this pasta with
pesto, and it was kind of bad for these reasons, but you
can make it really well at home, and here’s how. And so I transformed– I know, it was very quite
elegant, really– transformed this so-called
restaurant– since they were paying me
anyway, way sort of– so I transformed this restaurant
column into a cooking column, and then I
continued to do cooking columns from that point on. So through the– I’m going to just do a little
chronology here– through the ’80s and ’90s, I
wrote about food and cooking for first publications around
New Haven, and then Connecticut, and then
the Northeast, and then the country. And then eventually I became
editor of “Cook’s Magazine,” which was a predecessor of
“Cook’s Illustrated”, and then I was the first editor of
“Cook’s Illustrated”, with the publisher, Chris Kimball. And then I started writing for
the “Times”, so all of that sort of happened by 1990. But what was interesting then
was that the first interesting thing was that, at the
beginning, no one was interested in my recipes,
because they were too simple. So they wanted kind of– this
was the ’80s, there was a bit of a food as art
scene going on. Chefs were really coming
on strong, and the more complicated food was the
more interesting it was seen to have been. And it was different on the east
coast than on the west coast, because here there was
starting to be more of a focus on ingredients, local
ingredients. But on both coasts, the
commonality was that there was some preciousness, and that I
wasn’t a part of that scene. In the ’90s, the appeal of
simpler food became greater, and I was kind of allowed
to do my own thing more. But a funny thing happened in my
life in the ’90s and up to about 2000, and in the late
’90s, three really big things happened in my life– they started in the mid ’90s. One, I got this column with “The
New York Times” called “The Minimalist”, two, I wrote
a book with Jean-Georges Vongerichten about his cooking,
and three, I wrote “How to Cook Everything”. So by the end of the ’90s, I
was a lot more established than I had been at that
end of the ’80s, say. But funny things that happened,
and I lived in and around New Haven for this
entire period, and every old-fashioned supermarket
closed. And by old-fashioned
supermarket, I mean like the one in my neighborhood where I
originally lived in New Haven catered to the three major
ethnic groups who lived in that neighborhood, and at that
time, that was Jews, Italians, and blacks. So you’d see tripe next
to pigs feet, next to chicken fat. And that was– everybody was sort of
fine with that. That closed, and first turned
into a local chain called Stop & Shop, and then later turned
into what it is now, a Walgreens, which almost
everything is. But when it became a Stop &
Shop, that whole sort of ethnic flavor, multiethnic
flavor was gone, and it also became clear that food was
becoming more corporate tied, less local, there was more stuff
coming– you know how you started to see meat that had
been pre-packaged in Iowa at the big slaughter house,
rather than sides of meat coming into the supermarket. You started to see things
like, I don’t know, pre-wrapped strawberries that
were packaged in Mexico, whatever, instead of boxes
that came from somewhere nearby, and so on. You all saw this, too. And what I saw in my own life
was that I first joined a CSA, probably the first CSA in New
Haven, if not Connecticut, and then started gardening quite
avidly, and then started buying eggs, and dairy, and
chickens, and a big half a pig, or a quarter of a
veal, or both every year from nearby farmers. I didn’t think that much of
this, I just thought I’m– I don’t know why
I put this on. What had happened, or what was
happening, was that I was beginning to recognize that it
was easier for me to get decent food because I had the
time and ability to work for it or pay for it or whatever,
but the fact is, not only had my standards maybe gone up a
little bit, the availability of what I had been used to
had gone down a lot. And so, when you look at what
happened in and around, say, 2000, you’re looking at the
publication of “Fast Food Nation”, you’re looking at
Morgan Spurlock doing his thing, you’re looking at Pollan
writing “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, and you’re looking
at these people who were saying what’s wrong with
our food system? Which I thought was a very good
question, and one that I hadn’t really asked. Which was, in retrospect, a
little bit surprising, because I had been pretty good, I
thought, in my life in synthesizing or at least in
thinking about how things that were wrong, that I perceived as
being wrong or going wrong in the world, in the United
States, were tied together and were coming from the same
kind of routes. But I never really saw that
in food, and I think it’s probably because I never really
thought much about agriculture, and that’s because
I had been a, a very urban person and b, someone
who wrote about cooking. So around about that time, I
started to think more about eating in addition to cooking,
and when I thought about eating, I thought one thing
that’s interesting about eating is that the writing
is on the wall. We’re going to eat a more
plant-based diet. This is really clear, and this
was clear to anyone I was thinking about this stuff
carefully 10 or 12 or 15 years ago. I was a little late
to the game by my standards, but anyway. So I decided to write a book
called “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”, not because I
wanted to channel my inner vegetarian, because my inner
vegetarian doesn’t exist, but because I wanted to just become
more familiar with plants, and I was– “How to Cook Everything”,
the original, is a very honest book. There’s nothing in there that I
didn’t cook, there’s nothing in there that I don’t
understand at least pretty well. But there’s always room to
learn, and if you mess around with stuff in the kitchen,
everybody has this experience, you get to know it
much better. So I thought, I’ll set myself
this goal of writing “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”, I
will spend a lot of time with whole grains, legumes, fruits
and vegetables, of course, and I will sort of understand
this world. And as an aside I will say,
well, first I’ll give myself the pat on the back, which
is that it was seen by my publishers to be a niche book
and it immediately sold on the same level as “How to Cook
Everything”, so that was good. But I will then say it seems now
to me that’s it’s a very Moosewood-style of cookbook,
which is to say– one third of you are nodding
your heads– which is to say it has, to my
current tastes, way too much dairy and eggs in it. So not to say you shouldn’t
buy it, I mean, come on, support your local cookbook
writer, but I’m going to redo it and it’s going to become
much more vegan-ish. And I think that that’s part of
the discussion which we can have or not, I’m not going to
go into it in this talk, but someone can certainly
ask questions. It’s part of the discussion
about the difference between a heavily plant-based diet and a
so-called vegetarian diet. “How to Cook Everything
Vegetarian” was published in 2007, I believe, or 2006, and
in the intervening period between writing it and starting
to write it and its publication, a number of very
interesting things happened. One is that the notion that a
plant-based diet was not only desirable but inevitable
became more and more compelling to me. Two is that I started
to cook that way much more often anyway. And then three is that– well three and four, which are
the keys, actually, are one, there was a publication of a UN
paper called “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, which some of you
may have seen, but if not, it’s online, it’s findable. And “Livestock’s Long Shadow”
said in some 18% of greenhouse gases are generated by
industrial livestock production, and that
industrialized livestock production was, in fact, the
second greatest generator of greenhouse gases after
energy production. There are people who have argued
since, by the way, that the real number associated with
agriculture in general, industrial agriculture is
something closer to 50% of greenhouse gases, and so it
doesn’t matter what the actual number is, the point is that
industrial ag and especially industrial livestock production
is a big generator of greenhouse gas, is a big
contributor to climate change. The second thing that happened
at that time was personal, and in a way, everything you talk
about, when you talk about food now, everything you talk
about falls into personal– that is, a sort of nutritional
realm– and, you might say, political
or environmental realm. And of course, they have an
effect on each other, and you can talk about them together,
and there are some happy and sad coincidences about these
things, but you can separate them also. While I was thinking about
this stuff on the bigger environmental realm, something
happened to me which happens to many, many middle aged
people, and I was 57 at the time that I’m talking about,
and that is, I had all this health stuff sort of go wrong,
and it was all diet-related. And it was being overweight by
40 pounds, which, if that sounds like a lot and you’re 20
years old now, think about gaining a pound a year for 40
years, and you can see how readily that can happen. Seeing my cholesterol level,
which had always been 25 or 50 points under 200, which is some
marker, a marker, was suddenly 25 or 40
points over 200. Blood sugar level, which was
always on the good side of I think it’s three, whatever the
right number is, was suddenly on the wrong side of three. I had sleep apnea, and
I had bad knees. I’ve been a runner my whole
life, my knees never bothered me, and now suddenly they
were bothering me. So I had this conventional
doctor who basically said, yeah, we can do the apnea,
that’s a little minor surgery, or we can get you this thing
that you wear on your face at night that makes you look like
Hannibal Lecter called a CPAP. And for the statins, there’s a
drug for that, and the blood sugar, well, we might be able to
control that with diet, but if not, there’s always
insulin. Well, the weight loss, we’ll
have to figure something out, and the knees, there’s always
surgery for that. So I thought, all of this
stuff, this is 100% diet-related. Even I could figure this out. So I went and talked to an older
hippie-ish, or let’s say more thoughtful, really,
holistic, if you want, doctor. He had been my daughter’s
pediatrician and was an iconoclastic genius,
or a brilliant iconoclast, however you like. He became my doctor over the
years, but he lived far away, so I couldn’t see him often, so
it was almost like he had guru status in my mind,
he did and does. And his name is Sid. And I went to Sid, and I
said here’s this stuff. And he said, this is
interesting, because you’ve always been on the right side of
all this, and now suddenly you’re on the wrong
side of all this. And I said, OK, what
do you think? And he said, you should
become a vegan. It was really like that. And I said, you know what I do
for a living, and I’m also kind of old, and at this point,
I don’t think I’m ready for such a radical change. I’m not even sure
I believe this. But I don’t know, what’s
option two? And he said, option two is,
you’re a smart guy, so figure this out. So I thought, OK, that’s
a challenge. I like challenges. And I knew something about
myself, by this point, I knew something about rules
for myself. And I can give two examples
of those. One is that, when I was 26, I
think, I stopped smoking. And I stopped smoking by
doing this thing of– I went to see this doctor,
and he said, I’m going to hypnotize you and you’re
going to stop smoking. And I said great. Go ahead. And he said, no, no,
no, we need you to do some stuff first. So I said, OK, what? And he said, first thing I want
to do is smoke half as many cigarettes as you’re
smoking now. So I said, OK, same
kind of thing. It was a challenge,
it was a rule. I went home I smoked half a
pack of cigarettes a day instead of a pack of
cigarettes a day. I went back two weeks later,
and I said, OK, I’m ready. Hypnotize me. He said, well, we have
another step here. I said, what’s that? He said, I want you to smoke
less, I don’t care how much less, I want you to smoke as
little as you can, and I want you to write down every
cigarette that you smoke, the time of day, the
blah blah blah. Did that. Went back two weeks later,
he was on vacation. Now, when you’re young and
impressionable, you sometimes think people do things for
reasons other than why they’re doing them. And I, of course, thought he
was on vacation to trick me into going another two weeks
smoking not as many cigarettes as I wanted to smoke. But I dutifully did that, and
then he came back from vacation and he never hypnotized
me, basically. He said, when you want a
cigarette, I want you to go into a quiet place and do
a sort of very simple meditation, and think about the
fact that you want your health, and that cigarettes are robbing you of your health. And imagine yourself in a
peaceful place, going down the stairs, the whole meditation
thing. You’re more relaxed with every
step, and blah, blah, blah, and then get up and don’t
smoke a cigarette. It worked. I mean, it really worked. So that’s how I stopped
smoking. But what I realized is that I
couldn’t just smoke less. I had to get to a place where
there are rules and there was this thing that would
eventually get me to stop smoking. The second sort of instance I
had of making rules was that I was always making rules for
myself to drink less wine. And alcoholism is obviously a
serious subject, but it’s also a spectrum. So many people think they drink
more than they ought to, and I’m sometimes one
of those people. And I couldn’t get to the place
where I drank one glass of wine a night. Sometimes I could, but mostly
I couldn’t, and I know why that is. It’s because I like drinking,
and as soon as you have a glass of wine, your
willpower– this is why you drink, right? You soften up, your willpower
is out the window. The rule doesn’t make
any sense anymore. It’s not a good rule. So some people can do that, and
some people can smoke two cigarettes a day. So I stopped drinking
for a year. I just said that’s it,
I’m going to stop drinking for a year. So needless to say, at
the end of year, I started drinking again. But so when I started thinking
about this eating thing, I thought, I need rules. And I actually don’t think
veganism was the right goal for me or is the right goal
for very many people, and here’s why. I think there’s a spectrum,
and the spectrum, like all spectrums, looks something
like this. Starts over here, and
it ends over here. And over here is Morgan
Spurlock, and over here is the ideal diet, which we actually
don’t know quite what that is, and bearing in mind that vegans
can drink Coke and eat fries and stuff, so it may or
may not be a vegan diet, but over here is like
the ideal diet. Every single person we have ever
known and every person who’s in this room is on the
spectrum, and almost no one has ever been on either extreme
of the spectrum. And I think what’s important– and this is all post-figuring
this stuff out a little bit– but I think now what’s important
is that we move down the spectrum. That almost all of us have a
reason to be moving in this direction, to my left, towards
the sort of plant-based diet and away from the brilliant
but misfortune Morgan Spurlock diet. And that if you get, say, 20%
of your calories from unprocessed fruits
and vegetables– which for an American these
days is actually a lot– and you then, a year later,
are getting 40% of your calories from unprocessed fruits
and vegetables, you may not have become a vegan, but
you’ve improved your diet. And so, if you start with a sort
of typical American who gets maybe 10% of his or her
calories from unprocessed fruits and vegetables and
then moves to 20%, that’s progress too. And I think the important
thing– I’m jumping ahead of my story,
but I think the summary almost is that the important thing is
that we’re all able to change the proportion of unprocessed
plant foods in our diet to make them be a greater
percentage of our caloric intake. And that that’s sort of almost
the bottom line, with the addendum that those new calories
from plants have to replace something else. Because what’s happened, in
a way, in the history of government intervention into
dietary advice in the last 30, 40, 50 years has been because
of the pressures of industry on USDA, USDA could never have
said in the ’70s, which is the advice that the USDA was getting
in the ’70s, was tell people to eat less meat
and less sugar. Tell people that. And USDA was unable to do
that, largely because of industry pressure. So instead of saying eat less
meat and less sugar, it said things like eat fewer
foods that are high in saturated fats. So there was sort of a switch
from beef to chicken, and there was sort of a switch from
food that was high in fat to food that was low in fat, but
the food that was low in fat was not necessarily low in
calories, and the food was low in fat tended to be
high in processed carbohydrates and sugar. And as a result, we’ve seen the
biggest weight gain in the history of the world in
this country in the last 30 or 40 years. So to back up, I mean,
put quite simply– and I don’t want to get too
deeply into this, because I know you have questions, I want
to save time for them– but quite simply, in 1970, the
per capita production of high fructose corn syrup in the
United States was zero. Zero pounds per year, zero
pounds per ever. And now the production of high
fructose corn syrup– per capita production of high
fructose corn syrup for Americans is between 50 and 60
pounds a year, which averages out to about 200 calories a day
per person in the United States, which obviously– and we’re eating that. It’s not being thrown away,
which obviously explains, at least in large part, our
collective weight gain in the last 20 or 30 years. So what I figured
out was, for me. What I figured out was
not for anyone else. What I figured out was for me,
and what I figured out was there are some things
I need in my life. I need pleasure, I need
socializing, I need wine, I need good food, I need to cook,
I need to cook, I like good meat and other
animal products. I want to keep that
stuff in my life. On the other hand, I
know Sid’s right. I need to have more
plants in my diet. So I invented this thing
with a friend. I invented this thing of let’s
be like maniacally strict during the day. Unprocessed fruits and
vegetables, whole grains, legumes, no white flour, no
white foods, really, nuts and seeds, nothing processed, no
sugar, blah, blah, blah. We quickly adapted that to say
but we’re allowed to cheat some, and I’ll get into that. Someone will ask the question
that’ll get me into that. And then at night, we
kind of go back to doing whatever we want. We have dinner, we have wine,
and we have steak. Not that often, but
whatever we want. So we tried it, and she lives
in Kansas City, this woman, and we talk almost every day,
work together, and after some period of time, a week or two,
or three, or whatever, she said, so have you been
doing this VB6 thing? And I said, the what thing? And she said the vegan
before 6:00 thing. I said, oh yeah, I actually
have been doing it. She said, yeah, me too. It’s not that hard. No it’s not that hard. And it wasn’t that hard. And so six weeks went by,
and I tried not to think about it much. I was just accepting it as
a challenge and as a thing that I do. Six weeks went by and
I weighed myself and I’d lost 15 pounds. So I said, well, that is real
positive reinforcement. And I didn’t do anything else. Another six weeks went by,
I lost 15 more pounds. And let’s see, my wife said,
well, you’re not doing that weird snoring thing
at night anymore. And then, if you look up sleep
apnea, most sources will say that if you’re sort of
overweight, not super obese but sort of overweight, if you
lose 10 or 15% of your body weight, your sleep apnea
will go away. And I had lost precisely
15% of my body weight. So that went away. My running, my knees were much
better, and every time I carry a 30 pound backpack, I remember
that I used to be 30 pounds heavier, because
my knees get tired. My cholesterol went down 50
points, my blood sugar went back into the good range, and
I was enjoying myself. Sid was very happy, Sid is now
back to calling me the champion of middle aged blood
levels, or something. And I wrote some about this
stuff in “Food Matters”, a book that I published in 2009,
but it’s not a coming out thing, I just didn’t want
to proselytize because it seemed too soon. And now it’s been six years,
and it seems right. And I’m just going to say why
I think it seems right, and then I’ll take questions,
because I’ve already spoken for longer than I intended to. It seems right because of the
proportion thing that I said before, and it seems right. Someone will inevitably ask the
question about why would you have your biggest meal at
dinner when some data, not all, but some data point to the
notion that you’re better off not eating your biggest
meal of the day at night. And my answer to that is I
wanted to create a diet that was not a sort of crash diet. It was not a six week diet, it
was not a do this for a while and then go back to eating
normally, because everybody knows that doesn’t work. I wanted to create a diet in
the sense of what the word diet originally meant, which
was style of eating. I wanted to create a style being
that you could stick with, and I think that many of
us, most of us, like to have the big meal at the end of the
day because we’ve done working, we want to take our
shoes off, we want to kick back, we want to have a glass of
wine, we want to be able to eat what we want to eat. We don’t want to go out with our
friends and say I’m going to have the vegetable soup
and nothing else. For some people, that’s fine. For me, that was not fine. So that’s why I think it’s good,
but there’s a sort of bigger picture here, and
I’ll just say this. The big picture is this– there is no disputing that as a
community, as a society, we need to move towards a more
plant-based diet. That’s good for us as
individuals, and that’s good for us as a society, and it’s
actually good for us as a race, as the human race. That is pretty much
indisputable. It’s also pretty much
indisputable that those plants should take the place of the
foods that didn’t exist 100 years ago– that is, highly
processed food-like substances that don’t even really
meet the dictionary definition of food. It’s also true, although not
inarguably, but it’s also true that that plant-based diet
should decrease the amount of animal products we use, because
the earth can’t sustain the amount of animal
products we’re using now, and that amount is increasing
in the developing world. All of that doesn’t even address
humane and ethical issues of raising animals the
way that we tend to raise them, which I think is
important, but we could just leave that aside for a second,
because I don’t want to get into ethics, I want to talk
about the science. The science is that we need to
be eating a diet that is more plant-based. So what’s VB6? VB6 is a strategy. It’s a strategy to integrate
what we know, what science tells us, into our own diets. And I don’t want to leave here
without saying it’s not the only strategy there is. It’s a strategy I came up with
the works for me and has worked for a number of other
people, an increasingly large number of other people, but
a number of other people. And some of you are going to
think it’s completely idiotic, and some of you were to think
it’s really coolm and and some of you will try doing it, and
some of you will not. But if you think it’s idiotic
or you don’t try it, then I strongly suggest you think about
what your strategy is to get more plants into your diet,
because I think that that’s the important thing. The important thing is to move
towards a plant-based diet, and the less important thing
is how you do it. And I’m offering a strategy that
I believe works, but any other strategy that you think
works is equally fine with me, as long as the goal
is about the same. So I think I’ll stop now and
take some questions. AUDIENCE: Thanks for coming,
and I wanted to ask you, a month or two months ago, you
wrote a column talking about a study that Dr. Lustig published
that basically said the link between sugar and
metabolic syndrome is as clear now as any of the science we
have about cigarettes and lung cancer, and this just
needs to end. And it seems like your column
was about the only place I actually saw that study
mentioned, and nobody else has picked it up since then. So I’m wondering if you could
talk about that a little bit. MARK BITTMAN: I can
talk about it. It’s tricky, because I didn’t
perhaps do what I should have done at that time, which
was hedge a little bit. But the fact is that what
Rob Lustig’s study– which was not a clinical study,
but an epidemiological study– shows a very, very
clear link between sugar intake and metabolic syndrome,
and we know about the link between metabolic syndrome
and diabetes. What I think it demonstrates
is that you can get type 2 diabetes– not the kind that’s genetic,
but the kind that’s environmental– you can get type 2 diabetes
without even being overweight or obese. You can just get type 2 diabetes
by consuming too much sugar, and this study pretty
much demonstrates that. His study was rejected by two
or three of the bigger journals and was accepted by
another big journal, but whether it’s because it’s not a
convincing enough study for scientists to accept it, or it’s
just too threatening, or people are waiting for
more of the same evidence, I can’t say. I find it incredibly convincing,
the people I’m closest to in the science world
find the convincing. Needless to say, you can go
online and find people who think we’re all idiots. I mean, that’s easy enough,
because there are many ways of interpreting this
kind of stuff. But in my gut, I believe that’s
right, and I believe we’re going to see
more of that. AUDIENCE: My question
has to do with– I appreciate what you’re saying
and how you chose to have dinner– you want to be able to enjoy
dinner as your big meal to be social, and I agree with that. I also feel like, here at
Google, we have access to such amazing food that I guess I’m
wondering how you feel about or if you would say, do you
think most of your success is also related to the consistency
of having the same diet every day so your
metabolism got used to that, or do you think that there
could also be success in you mix it up? So you have animal products one
meal a day, versus after a certain time? MARK BITTMAN: Absolutely. I think the first part of your
question is did my body get used to this? No. I think I just needed
a discipline. And I understand what it’s like
here, and I understand you can do that. The danger for me– and I know nothing about you
or anyone else, right? The danger for me would be I’d
say, oh, I’m here, it’s so great, blah, blah, I’m going to
have this big meal at lunch and I’ll have a very
meager dinner. And then someone would call, or
my wife would come home, or whatever, and we crack open a
bottle of wine, and next thing I know I’m making pasta a
little piece of fish, or whatever, and it becomes oh,
well now I’m having two big meals a day. But like I said, the goal is
the same, the strategy is different, and whatever
strategy works for you, by all means. I think if I worked
in a place where– I happen to work in a place
with really terrible food. Like just– this is going online, right? So I’m on record, here. I mean, the Times cafeteria
is really– I’m going to say shameful. And it’s not free. I mean we don’t expect– you don’t expect every place
to have free food. This is unusual, right? But if I could graze during
the course of the day on salads, and grilled vegetables,
and stir, fries, and whole grains, and beans,
and that stuff was out? I would probably eat
a lot of that. I do eat a lot of that, but I
kind have to hunt around my neighborhood, bring stuff from
home, do all kinds of things. But if that stuff was at my
disposal, I think that this diet would be much easier to do
than it is for those of us who have to kind of scramble. As I have scrambled today. I mean I go into a hotel in the
early morning, and I had oatmeal and fruit, and then I
went to an airport, and I had a really, really bad salad in a
plastic clamshell container, and then I went to the hotel and
I had 18 handfuls of nuts, or whatever. And I’m starving. But I think to the extent that
you have access to good food all day long, this is
easier, not harder. I give this talk to lots of
different kinds of people, and everybody– and those of you who travel,
who are not on this campus every day know exactly what
I’m going to say– everybody says lunch
is a bitch. Lunch is really hard. Lunch is hard if you don’t work
in a place like this. Lunch is really hard if you’re
on a plane or in a cafeteria– I mean, on the road or in a
strange city or in someone else’s office where they’re
gracious enough to provide lunch, and they bring
out deli sandwiches one after the other. AUDIENCE: You mentioned earlier
that someone would end up asking about cheating
or getting exceptions. That’s what I wanted
to ask about. And just going off of your last
answer, I started VB6 last week, and I think
this place is the easiest place to do it. I’ve had the best lunches,
I’ve had– MARK BITTMAN: Yeah, I’m sure. AUDIENCE: But then the weekend
rolled around, and even though I live in San Francisco, the
first place I went to for brunch, the only vegetarian
option was a grilled cheese sandwich. MARK BITTMAN: Brunch
is deadly. Brunch– you shouldn’t have brunch. But anyway. No, but I mean, there’s so
many different ways of addressing this. And I want to take you back
to the part of when I was talking, and I said– I mean, this is so elemental–
but when I said 20% is better than 10%, and 60% is better
than 40%, and so on. It’s not a black and
white situation. So I am on the verge of starting
this talk by saying I’m VB6, but I put cream
and sugar in my coffee, because I do. And because I think I’m not
going to be perfect in any case, but am I going to approach
this kind of goal that I set out for myself, and
am I going to be better at approaching it this year
than I was last year? And to me that’s the thing. And the problem you’re
describing specifically is that, unlike most people, you
have an amazing place to eat during the week. So that’s great, but it sounds
like maybe you don’t cook. I don’t know whether you cook. But for those of us who do cook,
this kind of style of eating is dead easy
if you’re home. Because my home is kind
of like here. Because it doesn’t take me long
to cook something, and it’s good, and it’s what I want
it to be, and if it’s not free, it’s usually not
very expensive. So for everyone, the answer is
a little bit different, but I do think that it’s for those of
you who like to cook, keep doing it, do it more. And for those of you who haven’t
had that particular come to Jesus moment,
you might try. Because cooking makes good
eating much easier. AUDIENCE: I was a vegetarian for
a very long time, and at some point, I realized that
even though it was easy to give you myself a pat on the
back, I was actually a very bad vegetarian, because my
vegetarian diet was just very imbalanced, tons of dairy,
tons of cheap carbs, and stuff like that. So my wife and I kind of in
tandem tried to kind of refactor our eating
a little bit. We ended up moving to a very
meat-heavy diet, and it’s been working well for me, in the
sense that’s it’s helped wean me off of cheap carbs, which
was like, the biggest risk factor for me. But at same time, I feel kind
of conflicted about it, because it’s obviously moving
in the opposite direction on the spectrum, right? MARK BITTMAN: Well, it’s not
so simple, because if the spectrum over here is animal
products and processed junk, and you moved away from one but
back towards the other– in a half an hour talk, I’m not
going to cover every base that there is to be
covered, right? Frankly, I think you’re better
off, but I think what you need to do is eat more plants. I mean, it’s really simple, and
you’re not going to start eating more Cheetos. So you clearly get that,
and you’re clearly– now this is like a Car
Talk or something. You’re calling in to talk
about your car and I’m psychoanalyzing. But clearly, you’ve got some
ambivalence there, so just grill that onion and that pepper
with the meat that you’re eating, and start eating
more of that stuff. And smaller portions, too. I made a stir fry for six people
the other night and it had 10 or 12 ounces of
meat in it, which is two ounces or less. We didn’t even finish it, so it
was less than two ounces of meat per person, so that’s a
meal with meat in it, but it’s not a meal with a lot
of meat in it. AUDIENCE: Fair enough. Thank you. MARK BITTMAN: I am reminded of
my friend, Craig, who I lived with when I was about 23 or
24, who was a vegetarian. Everybody flirted, or many
people flirted with vegetarianism back then– we’re
talking the early ’70s. My own particular flirtation
with it was because this woman I was going out with only ate
brown rice and broccoli. So for like two or three
weeks, I ate brown rice and broccoli. Not sustainable, by the way,
nor was the relationship. But my friend Craig was a
vegetarian, and he’d sit around eating Snickers, all
the time eating Snickers. And I’d say, you’re
a vegetarian. And he’d say, it’s vegetarian. I’m like, yeah, but this can’t
possibly be what your intent is in being a vegetarian. And he said, we all have our
little inconsistencies. And it’s true. We all have our little
inconsistencies. AUDIENCE: Thank you
again for coming. I’m going to take your ideas to
a little bit of a different level in terms of impact on food
politics and stuff, so stop me if I’m taking
it too far. MARK BITTMAN: No, no. Believe me, you’re not going
to say anything I haven’t thought of. AUDIENCE: So, you’re really
advocating for a plant-based diet, and obviously, I think
some people have noted that one difficulty of moving to
the plant-based diet, and especially veganism is getting
protein and feeling full. And so I know a lot of people
have started eating more protein-rich greens like quinoa,
and one big offset of this happening is that these
places where these food products are made, like quinoa,
end up impacting the native people who’ve
been growing them. And there’s currently a big
issue in South America where quinoa’s been around for
centuries, and now they’re getting priced out of the
market, and so native people aren’t able to eat the quinoa
that they’ve been growing and has been sustaining
them for so long. So I was just wondering what
your thoughts were on having people turn to this plant-based
diet, but also be conscious of where those plants
are coming from and how that affects the local
economies. MARK BITTMAN: Well, the quinoa,
I won’t claim to understand it fully, and with
all due respect, I don’t think you do either, and I mean
with all due respect. My most recent understanding of
this, and I could be wrong, is that the farmers who are
selling quinoa are actually doing better because they’re
selling it for a higher price, and people around the farmers
who are used to buying quinoa at a lower price are not
doing better, are less able to buy quinoa. So is it an issue? Yeah, I’m in total agreement
with you, is it an issue. There is no no impact diet, and
there is certainly no no impact diet when you’re a
wealthier nation in a world of less wealthy nations. Almost everything we do has an
impact on other countries, on people in other countries. If we had more regional
agriculture, we could probably better deal with this. I think the funny thing is
that the quinoa issue– it’s interesting that you
bring it up, because the quinoa issue is a very singular
thing, because quinoa has this reputation of
being high protein. But I think the reason people
who switch to a more plant-based diet feel hungry is
not because they’re lacking in protein, because for the most
part, they’re not, but because they are
lacking in fat. And that if you eat your
vegetables, and your brown rice, and your whatever else,
your beans, whatever, if you eat that stuff with a healthy
splash of olive oil– and by healthy, I wasn’t meaning
it’s good for you, I was meaning a lot– you get fuller. You really get fuller if you
cook those vegetables with a lot of oil. And I don’t mean a cup, but I
mean, this thing of let’s steam everything, now
you’ve got no fat. You’ve just got no fat, and
you need fat, and you need especially fat that’s high in
monosaturates and high in omega-3’s, and blah, blah,
blah, and there’s a whole argument about how all of that
part of our diet is completely whacked out also. But you do need fat, and
I think– and I know it’s true for me– that it’s not about protein,
it’s really about fat. It’s fat that fills you up. AUDIENCE: Thank you. MARK BITTMAN: You’re welcome. AUDIENCE: Thanks so much
for coming today. My question is actually
to do with my parents. So they tend to eat very
unhealthily, they eat lots of things that come out of
packages, and they also have a lot health problems. And my dad has always been
the sort who yo-yo diets. He tries sort of the
latest fads. I was wondering if, because
you’re about their age, if you could speak to your– [AUDIENCE LAUGHS] –sorry. MARK BITTMAN: I’m like 41. AUDIENCE: Oh. But I was sort of curious that
speaking from your peer group, any other sort of arguments or
particularly the ones that are most important from your book
that you would find would win people over– MARK BITTMAN: Well, I mean
the lifelong habits are– I always cooked, so I obviously
had a head start. And I always cooked
from scratch. If you look at “How to Cook
Everything”, first published in 1998, no blatant health
conscious stuff, none, but it’s all from scratch stuff,
and it’s all well-balanced, and it’s all pretty
decent food. And you could cook from that
and eat pretty well. If you have a lifetime
of eating badly, then it’s harder to change. But again, I think– I once had the opportunity to
write a non-food book with three psychologists about
how people change. And it was a self help book, so
of course there are seven stages of change, or six,
I can’t remember. You have to go in sequence
down all these– but the first important stage
of change is intent. So if they don’t want to change,
they’re not gonna. You’re not going to convince
them and neither am I. But if they do want to change,
I think if you say, look, there are these three
or four principles– I’m sorry– if you paid
attention to these things you could probably do OK. And one is you’ve got stop
with the packaged stuff. Two is you have to be more
plants at the expense of the packaged stuff. Three is you probably need
to eat less super high fat animal products. And to my mind it always becomes
sour cream, not that people eat so much sour cream,
but that that’s sort of iconic, in a way. And then, as I said, this is
a strategy for doing that. They can come up with any other
strategy they want, but if they’re willing to think
about it, then that’s the direction they need to go in. Good luck. AUDIENCE: Hopefully they’ll
listen to you. MARK BITTMAN: Good luck. They won’t listen to me. AUDIENCE: So I lived in Japan
for a few years, and that’s supposed to be a really good
diet, and so forth, and I lost a little bit of weight, but
not a huge amount eating mainly Japanese style. But it seemed to me that part of
the reason why people were thinner there is you just walk
a lot more when you live there, especially if you
live in Tokyo or Osaka. And you haven’t mentioned
anything about exercise in this. MARK BITTMAN: Well, exercise
is, as we say, part of a healthy lifestyle. And it’s clearly true, but it’s
also not what I’m about. I mean, there’s nothing
to say. I totally agree. New Yorkers are among the least
obese people in the United States for precisely
that reason, and it makes sense, but the data show that
exercise is very good at helping you maintain weight,
it’s not really great at helping you lose weight. Helping you lose weight pretty
much happens by eating the right kind of food and
fewer calories. But no argument there, certainly exercise is important. AUDIENCE: So I was glad you
brought up cooking your own food as a way to control what’s
going into your body. I see that as a primary
way that I feel like I have control. But I know a lot of people
who don’t like to cook. They don’t see the point, they
don’t care, not interested, especially if you live in a big
city like we do, you can just walk down the street
and get something. And I saw in here, I haven’t
read the book yet, but that you have a lot of recipe
recommendations. Do you have a recommendation for
like a gateway recipe that would convince somebody– MARK BITTMAN: Like
a gateway drug. AUDIENCE: –who doesn’t
see the point? Yeah. MARK BITTMAN: Well, that’s
a really good question. The cooking thing is kind of
about priorities, and I think a lot of people want control
over their lives, and they get it in different ways. But I think we can agree that
eating is a really important things in our lives, and the
way that you get control– I mean, I go out to eat all
the time, too, but I do recognize when I’m going out
to eat that I have no idea what’s in the food. Like the salad I had for lunch,
which had some white dressing on it, I don’t
know what was– I have no clue what was
in that dressing. When you cook, you can’t make
food that’s as bad as the food that you buy. And that’s not true of
everything that you buy when you go out. We all succumb to temptations,
and we’ve all got, or most of us have junk food that really
appeals to us for one reason or another. And you don’t know what’s in
that stuff, whereas when you cook, you really have control
and you actually do know, as someone once said, the
active ingredient in broccoli is broccoli. Things that don’t have labels
on them don’t have labels on them because we know what they
are by looking at them. So as for gateway recipes, I did
do a piece in “The Times” a couple of years ago called– I’m only remembering two of
them– but it was like “The Three Most Important Recipes
in the World”. Oh, I know what they were,
rice and beans, which is symbolic of all legumes and all
grains, which can all be cooked the same way, and can all
be cooked in advance, and can all be cooked in quantity,
and can all be combined in different ways. So that’s one thing. Chopped salad, which is
sort of self evident. There’s ways to make it better
and ways to make it worse, but it is what it is, and most
people pretty much like it. And stir fry, which is addition
which you get to put, if you want to, various animal
products or high protein foods that we tend to crave, but
combine them with many, many other things. And again, infinitely
variable. And I swear, if I were to break
down every variation I could think of those three
recipes, I could write a cookbook with 3,000
recipes in it. My style happens to be here’s
how you make a stir fry, now go figure out how to make
it in different ways. But those are three really
good recipes, I think. Oatmeal is also very
important. AUDIENCE: I’ll wrap it up. I have a two, almost three
part question. Other than less pain in your
knees and maybe sleeping better, were there other
benefits from your weight loss and the change in the way you
ate that kept you on the diet? Did you feel like you
thought better? Were you more productive? MARK BITTMAN: I still drink
a lot of coffee. I never felt bad in the first
place, so I can’t say I feel better, I have so much
more energy. I’d like to be able to say those
things, but I also like to think that I’m not a huckster
and they’re not true. So I feel fine, and
I felt fine then. I mean, I am six years older
than I was then, so I’m not feeling much older, which
is nice, but I can’t– in fact I don’t sleep better,
but the reason I sleep badly I don’t think has anything to do
with my health or my diet, it’s because I’m overworked
and nervous. I’m sure no one else in this
room has ever had that experience. What’s the second part? AUDIENCE: The second part is
what’s at home in your refrigerator right now? MARK BITTMAN: Well, I’m not
there, so probably things that are going bad. When I go home, I go shopping
the next day, I figure out how many days I’m going to be in
town, which is sometimes two weeks, in which case it’s
infinite, and sometimes two days, in which case, I
have to be careful. But I buy– I do believe that shopping is
a really important part of eating well, because I go, and
I go to the vegetable part first, and I try to really fill
my shopping cart with vegetables, and then I
fill in with other stuff here and there. So there’s usually a couple
kinds of greens and a couple kinds of harder vegetables like
broccoli and eggplant and stuff, and tofu. Staples like potatoes, and
onions, and Parmesan and that. It’s not exotic. If you’re looking for
an exotic answer. AUDIENCE: Actually, I’m
looking for a ratio of plant-based to– animal product. MARK BITTMAN: Well, volume-wise,
the bags of greens take up lots of room. So volume-wise it’s way,
way more vegetables. You don’t need a lot of animal
products to have enough. I tend to eat much, much less
meat than I used to, and most of that’s kind of in the freezer
and gets pulled out from time to time, and I might
go to the store by fish on a given day, or I might just have
pasta with vegetables for dinner or like that. AUDIENCE: Thank you
so very much. MARK BITTMAN: Well, thank
you all for coming.