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Mark Bittman On What We Should Eat

What to eat?

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With copies of How to Cook Everything and VB6 tucked under their arms, Sun Valley residents filed into the Church of the Big Wood for a March 6 lecture by Mark Bittman.

Bittman--a New York Times food columnist, cookbook author and advocate for eating a vegan diet before 6 p.m. (or VB6)--prefaced his lecture by noting, "I will ramble; there's a lot in my head."

"Today is both the best food has ever been and the worst food has ever been," Bittman continued. "It's that Dickensian thing--we have better ingredients in more places, we know more about food, we obviously have better restaurants. ... There are now more farmers markets in the United States than there are McDonald's. At the same time, there are more pesticides and fertilizers and insecticides and herbicides used than ever before."

Combine the health issues created by the industrial food system with the scientific community's ever-shifting nutritional advice, and Bittman says, "You don't have any clue what you can possibly eat."

So what should we put in our mouths? According to Bittman, it all boils down to a simple piece of advice: Eat real food and stop stressing.

"You eat less fake food and you eat more real food and you don't worry about it too much," he said.

But Bittman said figuring out what is actually real food can be difficult when we're constantly blinded by the processed "food carnival" assaulting us with its sights and smells.

"If we could avoid the food carnival and just eat real food we'd be fine," he said.

Bittman broke up the rest of his lecture into various food categories, offering his thoughts on each one.

On meat: "It's good for you in limited quantities, but of course, this is America, we don't do limited quantities. ... If we raised better meat and ate less of it, we'd all be better off"

On dairy: "It's a treat; it's not something we should eat unlimited quantities of. ... "But there is the special case of butter, which, of course, you can't eat too much of."

On cooking: "[Q]uite possibly the most radical thing you can do to improve your diet: Cook."

On GMOs: "I'm not as worried about it as I am, for example, about antibiotics in our food. ... Having said all that, I'm in favor of GMO labelling because I believe in transparency and people should know what's in their food."

Though the central point of Bittman's lecture was that we should "eat more plants, and less of everything else," he said we don't all have to be "nutty, carrot and celery" eaters.

"A slice of pizza, a cheeseburger, a double cheeseburger, a package of Pringles, a Coke--these things are not going to kill you," said Bittman. "The point is they can't be a daily staple in our diets and we have to treat them as weird anomalies that are kind of fun but that belong to a past when we didn't know any better."