Mark Bittman is coming to the Texas Book Festival this weekend, where American-Statesman food writer Addie Broyles will interview him at 12:15 p.m. Sunday in the Central Market Cooking Tent.
He’ll be in town to talk about the 10th-anniversary edition of “How to Cook Everything: Vegetarian,” a book that came out as the longtime New York Times columnist was transitioning away from a meat-centric diet himself. He’s not writing for the Times anymore and left a high-profile position at Purple Carrot, a vegetarian meal kit service, last year, but he continues to write cookbooks and a column for Grub Street.
We chatted with him ahead of his book fest appearance about how cooking has and hasn’t changed in the past decade.
It’s been 10 years since the publication of ‘How to Cook Everything.’ How do you feel cooking has changed in that time?
I’d like to think more people are doing it, which is what I really think is important. It’s not so much what people are cooking but that people are cooking that’s important.
Once you start cooking for yourself at home, you take control over what you’re eating, you pay more attention to ingredients, your portion control is better, you don’t go out and buy junk food and cook that, you go out and buy ingredients, and that is the key to just about any good diet.
How has the American diet changed in that time span?
Anecdotally, people are more interested in food; they understand that it’s more important. We just have to help them get to a place where they respect real food more and are willing to make cooking a priority.
How did we get to be such a meat-centric society?
In the 20th century, the invention of fast food and the industrialization of animal production has led to unprecedented levels of meat-eating not only in the United States but around the world.
There is nothing wrong with meat, per se, but the way that we raise meat and the kind of meat we are raising is so far from the kind of meat our ancestors ate that we’d all be better off if we ate way less meat and, when we did eat meat, we ate really well-raised, well-bred, well-handled meat. That would make all of the difference in the world. I’ve never advocated for vegetarianism (as) particularly useful or important. I think eating more vegetables is useful and important.
And how do we turn that tide? How do we encourage and support a more plant-based society of eaters?
Teach children better about food, bring food education into schools, try to reduce the impact of food marketing, and so on. We all know it’s hard to make changes as an adult — that’s not to excuse anyone from trying to make changes, but we all know that we grew up with certain preferences: We were taught that sugary breakfast cereal was a part of a real breakfast, that cheeseburger and fries was the definition of a good lunch. It’s hard to break those habits for adults, so until we really start raising children with sound notions of what healthy eating is, it’s going to be hard to have a population of adults with sound notions of healthy eating. I think marketing junk food to kids should be illegal.
Do you have advice for cooks and eaters on how to incorporate an abundance and variety of vegetables in their diets?
Eat all the plants you can manage. Literally. Gorge on them. Salads, cooked vegetables, raw vegetables, whole fruits cooked or raw or even, in moderation, dried. There are hardly any limits here, though you don’t want a diet based entirely on starchy vegetables like potatoes.
MORE AT THE FEST
Want to check out more food events at the Texas Book Festival this weekend? Here are your options:
At 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Central Market Cooking Tent, Terry Thompson-Anderson will talk about her latest book, “Breakfast in Texas,” with Texas Monthly’s Patricia Sharpe.
The Austin-based social justice activist Raj Patel and California peach grower Mas Masumoto are among the contributors to a new book called “Letters to a Young Farmer” that they’ll discuss at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the Capitol Extension Room E2.012.
Mexican ice cream will be the subject of a session at 11:45 a.m. in the Cooking Tent on Saturday with Fany Gerson, the New York City-based pastry chef who has written a number of books about Mexican desserts. Gerson will have another presentation in Spanish at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Ahora Si tent.
What is American food? That’s a mighty question that a new book called “America: The Cookbook” tries to unpack. Several of the book’s contributors will be at the cooking tent at 1 p.m. Saturday to talk about this new megabook from Phaidon.
“Homesick Texan” author Lisa Fain will talk about her new “Queso” cookbook at 2:15 p.m. Saturday, followed by a session at 3:30 p.m. with Sarah Penrod, author of “Cookin’ With the Urban Cowgirl.”
Sunday’s events kick off at 11 a.m. with Julia Turshen, the esteemed cookbook author whose new book, “Feed the Resistance,” talks about how food can be integral to an activist movement.
At 1:30 p.m. Sunday, Austin restaurateurs Tom Moorman and Larry McGuire will talk about their new book, “Elizabeth Street Cafe,” which features French-Vietnamese recipes from the popular South Austin eatery.
“Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons is coming out with her first cookbook this year. It’s called “Bringing It Home: Favorite Recipes from a Life of Adventurous Eating,” and she’ll discuss it at 2:45 p.m. Sunday in the Cooking Tent.
Simmons also has a public event at Lake Austin Spa, 1705 S. Quinlan Park Road, at 5:30 p.m. Sunday that will feature wine, cheese and a book signing with Simmons, who is also teaching a private cooking class for spa guests the following day. The event costs $30, which does not include the cost of the book. You can find tickets at lakeaustin.com.