Food matters!

Posted on Jan 14 in: Food and nutrition, My life - 16 Comments »

This post was originally written on Friday, but is finally posted now, sorry about that.

Hope you all have had a nice weekend. We really did! Desmond’s team won the football match 3-2 and he even scored the first goal. Then we went biking – almost five hours on a tandem bike! In the rain! Haha! We even had a small accident. The rain made it slippery, so in a turn the bike slipped and we both crashed to the ground with the bike on top. Luckily we did not go very fast, so we only got some wounds.

On Sunday we were both very tired from Saturday’s adventures, so we had a more lazy day. We started off with a great dim sum brunch with Desmond’s family. Then we just did some shopping, ate more, read newspapers etc.

Here comes the originally post:


As a new years gift I have written a book summary for you (actually I wrote it for Desmond, but thought everyone will benefit from reading it, so I will share it with all of you) – of the book “Food Matters. A Guide to Conscious Eating”, by Mark Bittman. For more facts, week menu suggestions and many recipes, you have to either buy the book, or, like me, look for it in a library.



A summary of

”FOOD MATTERS. A Guide to Conscious Eating”

By Mark Bittman

If I told you that a simple lifestyle choice could help you lose weight, reduce your risk of many long-term chronic diseases, save you real money, and help stop global warming, I imagine you’d be intrigued. If I also told you that this change would be easier and more pleasant than any diet you’ve ever tried, would take less time and effort than your exercise routine, and would require no sacrifice, I would think you’d want to read more.

When you do, you’ll find an explanation of the links among diet, health, the environment in general and climate change in particular and you’ll see how you can make a difference. And while you‘re doing your part to heal the planet you’ll improve your health and spend less at the checkout counter. And yes: This is for real.

The industrialization of food production was one development that – though positive at first – is now exacting intolerable costs. Industrialized meat production has contributed to climate change and stimulated a fundamental change in our diets that has contributed to us being overweight, even obese, and more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and perhaps even cancer.

Climate change is no longer a theory, and humans will suffer mightily if it isn’t reversed. Most people know this. Less well known is the role that raising livestock plays in this: global livestock production is responsible for about one fifth of all greenhouse gases – more than transportation. Equally certain are that many lifestyle syndromes and diseases are the direct or indirect result of eating too many animal products. Our demand for meat and dairy – not our need, our want – causes us to consume way more calories, protein and fat than are good for us.

It doesn’t have to continue: by simply changing what we eat we can have an immediate impact on our own health and a very real effect on global warming – and the environment, and animal cruelty, and food prices. That’s the guiding principle behind Food Matters, and it’s really very simple: eat less meat and junk food, eat more vegetables and whole grains.

For our own sakes as well as for the sake of the earth, we need to change the way we eat. But we can continue to eat well – better, in fact. In the long run, we can make food more important, not less, and save ourselves and our planet (and some money) by doing so.

Rethinking Consumption

Could improved health for people and planet be as simple as eating fewer animals, and less junk food and super-refined carbohydrates?

Yes. Of course health benefits for individuals would vary, and the effect on the planet would not necessarily be dramatic (as everyone knows, large adjustments in energy use are essential), but it would be a real step forward, and perhaps the most important one that can be taken by individuals, with no government intervention.

A New World of Meat Eaters

We might love meat, we might benefit from eating it in moderate quantities, but we don’t need to eat meat to live. And most independent experts believe that consuming it at our current levels is bad for us. And our consumption is headed in the wrong direction. Livestock, globally, is the fastest-growing sector of agriculture. The people in many developed countries consume an average of about half a pound of meat per day. The Chinese now eat twice as much as they did a decade ago.

We currently raise 60 billion animals each year for food – ten animals for every human on earth. The projection is that just to sustain current consumption levels (and consumption is increasing, so this is conservative), by 2050 we’ll be raising 120 billion animals a year.

That number would require using more land for agriculture than exists. Even if we could find the space (or technology) to meet the demand, the number also assumes that the atmosphere, land, and oceans could tolerate it. The effect would be cumulative, like credit card debt: a year of animal consumption at this rate requires a year and two months’ worth of resources.

It’s Not Just Meat

There’s another aspect to this problem, one that many experts believe affects our health even more dramatically than meat. And though it’s been overshadowed by livestock in the realm of ecological damage, it’s equally alarming. That is the world of junk food, over-refined carbohydrates, and highly processed oils – foods that make up an astonishingly large part of our diet.

The term “junk food” means different things to different people. Potato chips. Shakes. Candy. Doughnuts. Double cheeseburgers. Chicken nuggets. White bread. For the most part, these foods contain far more calories than are justified by their nutrient levels. In part, this is because they’re largely made from corn, in the form of a sugar called high fructose syrup;  soy in the form of extracted protein or oil; or refined wheat – white flour – all processed to the point where they’re nutritionally worthless or even damaging.

The Environmental Impact of Overconsumption

Even the most conscientious agriculture has some environmental impact, and though much food production yields greenhouse gases, raising livestock has a much higher potential for global warming than crop farming. For example: To produce one calorie of corn takes 2.2 calories of fossil fuel. For beef the number is 40: it requires 40 calories to produce one calorie of beef protein. Another way to put it is that eating a typical family-of-four steak dinner is the rough equivalent, energy-wise, of driving in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home.

To give you an idea of how much more energy goes into junk food than comes out, consider that a 12-ounce can of diet soda – containing just 1 calorie – requires 2,200 calories to produce, about 70 percent of which is in production of the aluminium can.

Overproduction drives overconsumption, which in turn is bad for our bodies and the environment – but these negative effects, can be diminished by more moderate consumption, which in turn will eventually lead to lower production.

The choice is obvious: To reduce our impact on the environment, we should depend on foods that require little or no processing, packaging, or transportation, and those that efficiently convert the energy required to raise them into nutritional calories to sustain human beings. And as you might have guessed, that means we should be increasing our reliance on whole foods, mostly plants.

A Brief History of Overconsumption

Cheap Soy and Cheap Corn Yield Cheap Meat (And Cheap Lives)

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with corn or soy; whole cultures have relied on each as their main source of nourishment. But in the US, and increasingly around the world, an overwhelming proportion of farmland is devoted to growing these two crops, not for us to eat directly (the most commonly grown varieties are not fit for human consumption), but to feed to animals or convert to oil or sugar. So dominant have these crops become (wheat, rice and cotton are the other giants), that America no longer grows enough edible fruits and vegetables for everyone to eat our own government’s recommended five servings a day. Were we all to do so, we’d be dependent on imported vegetables!

More than 50 percent of the corn grown in this country is being fed to animals; of the remainder, most finds its way into junk food (usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup), corn oil, and ethanol.

The story of soy is similarly dismal: Nearly 60 percent finds its way into processed food; the rest is used to make soy oil and animal feed (globally 90 percent of soy meal is fed to animals). This makes it easy to understand why more than 1 billion people around the world are overweight. (The trendy term for this phenomenon is “globesity”.)

Even more distressing is the sheer waste of feeding corn and soy to animal and using it to produce junk food. There are nearly a billion chronically hungry people on our planet, and we have the means – the food, even – to nourish them. If we simply shifted resources to growing crops that fed people directly, we’d go a long way toward resolving many issues of health, agriculture, and the environment.

Soy, Corn, and American Farmland

Furthermore, cows were never meant to eat soy or corn; the digestive system of cows developed to eat grasses. But you cannot possibly raise as many cattle as are sold on pasture, or as many pigs in sties, or as many chickens in yards, so producers had to figure out another, more “efficient” way to raise these animals. That way is confinement: sometimes in pastures, sometimes in cages, sometimes in concrete, almost always with soy and corn as feed. (It’s actually even worse. Although chickens, pigs, and cows are herbivores, naturally foraging for plant food, we’ve turned them into carnivores, often supplementing their grain with ground-up animal parts.)

The combination of crowded living conditions and unnatural feed makes the animals vulnerable to disease, so they’re often given subtherapeutic antibiotic treatment to keep them just healthy enough to survive, put on weight, and get to market – fast. Feeding animals antibiotics increases antibiotic resistance in humans, and though the food and Drug Administration (FDA) says hormones do humans no harm, other people believe the jury is still out on this one. In fact, unless you’re one of the people making millions or billions of dollars from this system, it’s all bad.

Production of meat will not decrease as long as it’s profitable, so we need to reduce it, and we can do so only by reducing demand. (Production would be less profitable with stricter laws and law enforcement, and with lower subsidies for corn and soy, but the federal government, no matter who’s running it, shows no inclination to move in that direction.)

Sane Eating

The realization of just how straightforwardly and even easily we can make things right – at least a great deal for ourselves, and to some extent for one another – was the driving force behind my decision to change the way I ate. The more I understood about the relationship between human and environmental health, the more I felt a need to act.

Equally important, though, since I was unwilling to give up one of life’s basic pleasures, was that I saw a way to introduce a much better diet into my own life without much sacrifice.

At first, I simply eliminated as much junk food and overrefined carbs as I could, along with a sizable percentage of animal products. All this turned out to be easy enough, for a couple of reasons. One, when I did allow myself to eat meat, or dairy, eggs, sugar, or bread made from white flour (usually at dinner), I ate whatever I wanted, and as much of it as I wanted. And two, I started to lose weight, quite quickly – a big boost of positive reinforcement. Clearly, the diet was helping me; I lost weight and saw my cholesterol and blood sugar improve dramatically

So. Welcome to Food Matters: a not very new (but for most Americans novel) way of eating that’s personally healthy and globally sane but not deprivation-based, faddist, or elitist. No calorie counting, and no strictly forbidden foods: just a few quite specific recommendations that you can adapt to your own style.

Sane Eating Simplified

Here’s the summary: Eat less meat, and fewer animal products in general. Eat fewer refined carbohydrates, like white bread, cookies, white rice, and pretzels. Eat way less junk food: soda, chips, snack food, candy, and so on. And eat far more vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), fruits, and whole grains – as much as you can. If you followed those general rules and read no farther, you’d be doing yourself and the earth a favour. The principles are simple: deny nothing, enjoy everything, but eat plants first and most.

You can go from here to there a number of different ways. You can opt out of two servings of meat a week, or of all but two servings of meat a week. You can eat an apple (or three) instead of potato chips this afternoon. You can start the day with oatmeal instead of bacon and eggs, and so on. You’ll find many substitutions, ideas for specific eating styles, and recipes, starting on page 111.

What Works for Me

I eat about one-third as much meat, dairy, and even fish, as I did a couple of years ago. I eat very little in the way of refined carbohydrates. (However, when there’s good white bread on the table at dinner I attack it, and I still eat pasta a couple of times a week.) I eat almost no junk food – by which I mean fast food, candy bars, snack food, and the like – though I allow myself the classic combo of cheeseburger, fries, and Coke every couple of months. I eat probably three or four times as many plants as I ever did, and my guess is that 70 percent or so of my calories come from non-animal sources.

As months of this style of eating turned into years, I found myself front-loading even the grand meals with vegetables, and becoming less interested in the heavier meat dishes that followed. This is an important point: My food choices have changed, even when I go out, and they reflect my mood more than what was surely a habit of focusing on meat, with simple carbs in second place. That balance has shifted. I don’t want to downplay how much of a change this has been for me, but at the same time I want to stress that it’s been nearly painless.

How to Eat Like Food Matters

The Essential Food Matters Pantry

Grains – These are mostly whole, and include rice, cornmeal, and whole grain flours.

Beans – Like grains, buy an assortment of beans (dried and canned, beans, peas and lentils).

Olive Oil – Extra virgin, in almost every case.

Other oils – You’ll need something more neutral for cooking Asian-style dishes or pan frying at high heat, for example rapeseed, peanut or sunflower oil.

Staple vegetables and fruits – These range from much used seasonings, like onions and garlic; to frozen vegetables like spinach and peas; to fresh vegetables, which you have to purchase at least a couple of times a week.

Fresh herbs – almost all herbs, especially parsley, basil, mint, dill, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro, are great to have around.

Spices – As big an assortment as your space and budget allows.

Vinegar – I think sherry vinegar is the most versatile and best for the money; balsamic, of course, is more popular, but sweeter.

Soy sauce – look for brands that contain no more than soy, wheat, salt, water, and bacteria.

Dried fruit and nuts – For snacking and for cooking.

Meat, dairy and cheese – Bacon for seasoning. Parmesan cheese, lasts forever; grated over almost any salad or pasta dish, is just a killer. Butter, as an occasional alternative to oil in cooking or flavouring, a real pleasure. Eggs, possibly the most useful of all animal products.

Canned tomatoes – Couldn’t be simpler. Avoid those with additives.

Sweeteners – Sugar is unavoidable and of course fine in moderation. But maple syrup and honey are in a way more useful, since they deliver more flavour along with sweetness.

Baking soda, baking powder, instant yeast – especially if you’re into baking.

The Advanced Food Matters Pantry

Dried Mushrooms – especially porcini (cèpes) and shitakes.

Capers – packed in vinegar or salt.

Miso – Truly one of the world’s great ingredients; instantly adds depth to soups and stews, and you can use it to make quick sauces and dressings simply by adding water.

Anchovies – packed in olive oil: best bought in resalable glass jars rather than cans.

Sesame oil – The roasted kind, sold in all Asian markets. No better ways way to finish a stir-fry.

Sea greens – Especially hizki, konbu (kelp), and nori (laver).

Coconut milk – Easily made fresh, but far more convenient when canned. Light is an acceptable option in almost every case.

Silken tofu – The kind in the box keeps for months in the pantry. It’s a handy substitute for sour cream or other thickeners, and it is also nice slipped into a soup or tossed with Asian noodles and vegetables.

Disclamier: The above piece was summarized from Mark Bittman’s book “Food Matters. A Guide to Conscious Eating”, and all credits go to him. It is a great book, so go get it!


I have not been writing here for a while, but I hope you all still have had a great start of the new year! :P

The thing is that I have been thinking about whether I want to continue having this blog or not. I am still not hundred percent sure, but I think I will close it down. One of the reasons are health related; I have some troublesome arms that are not very fond of computers. Well, I will probably come back with my final decision soon.

Another news, I am going home to Norway very soon, next Tuesday morning I will be back. I have very mixed feelings about this! Of course it will be great to be with friends and family again, work and feel useful, and ski and enjoy beautiful Norway. But going back to having a Skype relationship with Desmond, after seeing him every day for three months, I do not exactly look forward to..

But, since I only have 90 days travel insurance, and I have a 80 % (++) position in my old job (as a personal assistant for a girl with cerebral palsy), waiting for me, I guess it is most reasonable to go home.

I will definitely not spend much of my last week in Singapore in front of the computer, so do not expect any updates here.

This weekend’s plans so far is to watch Desmond play a football match tomorrow at 11, then we will go biking along the east coast, from south to north, and back. I am very excited. On Sunday we are going to eat dim sum with Desmond’s parents and brother, and of course have our weekly Norwegian class.

I wish you all a great weekend! :D

16 Responses to “Food matters!”

  1. Joao Miguel Says:

    Welcome back to Europe!

  2. Ann Kristin Says:

    I’m not back yet, but thanks:)

  3. Moritz Says:

    Welcome back, AK!! I hope you two had great last days in Singapore :)
    Hopefully we´ll meet soon again somewhere in Europe! Best, M

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