While musing about my blog and trying to decide how to best begin to describe what my dilemma is, a copy of chef Mark Bittman’s, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian blocked my path. I say blocked, because at 995 pages and weighing in at about 5 pounds, it is a boulder of a book and boulders don’t simply cross paths.
Last week, despite a 30-plus year vegetarian lifestyle, I was seeking some inspiration– as I was to be soon hosting my neighborhood vegan week dinner. One day, just prior to closing, I ran into my local library looking for a good cookbook, and Bittman’s book insisted that I choose it. I could not argue and lugged the tome home and curled up with the most comprehensive compendium of my culinary clan that I had ever laid eyes on. One does not flip through the pages. Instead, one takes about a one-inch chunk of paper and hurls it over to see what else lies within.
An idea came flashing. Perhaps instead of my ponderous and not very amusing idea to outline the conundrums and frustrations I face in my profession, I could instead, a la Julie Powell who made her way through every recipe in Julia Child’s, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, start cooking and blogging my way through Bittman’s vegetarian bible. Page 38, the first page of actual recipes–simple green salad. Sounds easy enough, but there are then three sub-recipes for greek, lyonnaise, and endive salad. Would I have to prepare all of those too? That could really slow things down if I had to get to page 907. Should I call it Elyn and Mark? Would it take me three years or four? These seem like rightful dilemmas, do they not?
By the next morning’s dawn, reality came slapping me in the face. 6:30 am. Bleary-eyed and making my daughter’s avocado, cheese and spinach sandwich for lunch, an NPR reporter in lighthearted radio voice informs me that 84% of parents fed their kid (ages 2-11) fast food in the past week according to a new report published by the Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. I grabbed for the closest writing implements–pen and paper napkin. Here’s what I hastily got down: advertising geared to children by fast food companies has increased 34% since 2003; despite the increased availability of healthier options, 80% of diners are given french fries automatically; marketing promises have not been kept; something about apple dippers; and, many kids meals still tally up to 1400 calories.
Oh boy, another day at the office. But, I wasn’t even at the office yet. By the time I did arrive, a co-worker had forwarded me additional gory details of the report in a Wall Street Journal article. The reality is though, I don’t need to read such reports. The data presents itself to me on an almost daily basis. By 10:45, a 13-year-old girl weighing 284 lbs. and with frighteningly high insulin levels portending diabetes was sitting before me. There I was outlining the grim details to this middle schooler and her mom. They got it. They weren’t idiots. But, they were up against some heavy outside forces–including billions of advertising dollars. So am I. And that is a big part of my dilemma.
So, for now, I will assign the Bittman project to the back burner. I have other work to do, other people’s stories to tell and other battles to fight. Perhaps best for the moment, I can just gently heave over a copy of Mr. Bittman’s book to this family. It could serve as both a nutritional guide and exercise weight in one. Now there’s a marketing idea. Diet and exercise. That’s all it takes, right?
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In health, Elyn
(Update 2020: Mark Bittman has released the revised 20th Anniversary edition of How to Cook Everything. At only 960 pages, it features beautiful color photos and recipe updates mindful of sustainability concerns.)