November 01, 2010

VeganMofo 2010 day 1 | Mark Bittman | Madhur Jaffrey

Well here it is, day one of veganmofo 2010. I toyed with various one-week plans like a week of raw foods, a week of book reviews, or a week of macrobiotic dishes, as well as month-long alphabetical plans and color-themed plans. In the end, I couldn't come to a decision, so I decided for now on a "surprise" plan. In other words ... no plan. Perhaps an organized plan will still surface, but for now it's more or less the great "random plan." It starts with two well-known authors on tour to promote their new cookbooks.

Last Thursday evening we heard the New York Times food writer Mark Bittman speak as part of a book tour promoting his latest cookbook. It's not just a book about how to cook, it's a book about how to eat. Ten years ago I wouldn't have gone to hear him, but his ideas about eating have changed so much in the past few years, I was curious about what he would say, and I wasn't disappointed. He gave quite an impassioned talk about the necessity of moving towards a plant-based (vegan) diet. As you probably know, Bittman eats a vegan diet until 5 p.m. and then he eats animal products if he wants to. But even his consumption after 5 p.m. has changed to using animal foods as a seasoning rather than as the main course. For example, he makes mushroom stew with a little meat instead of beef stew with mushrooms. He believes that we will all be vegan in 50 years because the planet cannot sustain an animal-based diet.

He also believes we must abandon junk foods, including soda, if we are to regain and maintain our health. He thinks animal foods, and junk foods should be so expensive that they will be consumed rarely. Although not a vegan, he was quite militant about the need to move in that direction, and he encouraged the audience to take baby steps, if necessary, until they were eating a mostly, or totally, plant-based diet. Most of his talk centered around health (his health has improved dramatically since he altered his diet) and the environment, rather than animal rights issues, though he touched briefly on the cruelty inherent in the animal-based foods industry. He bashed big business, and the tremendous power it has in influencing what we eat.

Although he's not a vegetarian or vegan, he is an influential, well-known, mainstream media personality exposing people to positive ideas about eating a plant-based diet, and he seems to be moving closer and closer to becoming a vegan himself. Go hear him if his book tour brings him to your city.

The next evening, we went to hear renowned cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey speak about her newest cookbook. I didn't realize she had published 31 books, and was also an actress. The two cookbooks I'm familiar with are both vegetarian, though Jaffrey's latest book is not. We loved hearing her speak about her childhood in India and how she developed her palate. She also spoke about her love of cooking, and how she has tried to simplify traditional Indian recipes to make them accessible to the modern cook.

I knew there were going to be food samples so I assumed Jaffrey was going to do a cooking demonstration, but what actually occurred was that several store employees decided it would be fun to prepare a meal from the cookbook to serve after the talk. So, when the talk ended and Jaffrey headed off to the airport, a complete meal of Indian food appeared on the counter and we all had dinner! Several of the dishes were vegan — I think there was one chicken curry — and we had mushroom and pea curry, cucumber salad, rice and the most delicious raw cauliflower salad.

This experience took place at Third Place Books, an independent book store in the Seattle area. My husband was so impressed by what the store had provided by way of the speaker and dinner, he decided he had to purchase a book. He bought a cookbook (not the Madhur Jaffrey book) and made several dishes from it. Stay tuned!


  1. I'm happy to hear Bittman was so positive about veganism; I'm a little sick about people like Foer getting so much attention in the media for discussing vegan information, but not following through. Bittman seems more likely to put people on a path.

    Congratulations on participating in MoFo! I wanted to, but I really don't think I have the 30 in 30 in me. It will be enough work keeping up with the posts of bloggers I enjoy! Good Luck!

  2. I honestly feel a bit sorry for Foer. A lot of people have a hard time transitioning to veganism (what he's doing), and he has to do it in a very public way.

    Mark Bittman got my mom to consider eating more vegetarian meals, which is a huge feat. There are lots of people like her who are swayed by people of note like Foer, Bittman, and Clinton. I say, the more, the merrier.

  3. I'm going with the "no plan" thing, as well. Look forward to reading your posts this month!

  4. Thanks for sharing the book info. I own Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and my daughter owns his book How to Everything. I am so happy to see a major, popular foodie talking about vegan eating and why is important. Bittman's eating routine kind of reminds me of my husband. My hubby tells everyone he's a vegan... at dinner (then he always shoots me a look).

  5. Abby,
    If popular public figures like Bittman and Foer can move people away from a diet heavy in animal products, it will be a good thing. We also heard Foer recently (possible post coming) and although I heard much negative feedback about him before the talk, I have to say, he was terrific. The man who drives me nuts is Michael Pollan.

    Foer gets on some people's nerves, but I like him. When we heard him speak recently, he had a very positive impact on the audience.

    I agree with you on the ability of public figures to change people's eating habits. Maybe there's hope ...

    I'm glad I'm not the only free-lance mofoer out there. I was beginning to think everyone had a plan but me. :D

    I was amazed at just how militant Bittman's talk was. I also like how he believes in simple preparations to bring out rather than change a particular food's natural qualities.

  6. Happy MoFo!

    Michael Pollen drives me nuts too! I was talking to my parents about Bittman. I haven't read his book but feel I should. Plus we might be related. ;-)

    I have no theme for MoFo because it's my first. I am just amping up what I usually do and adding in some other fun stuff. And adding in a bit more ethics than usual.

  7. I am a Mark Bittman fan also. I have his "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" cookbook, which was the first vegetarian book I owned. It was actually one of his articles a few years ago that inspired me to give up meat.

  8. Oh my goodness, I *LOVE* Madhur Jaffrey! I read her memoir about growing up in India and it was fascinating...her cookbooks are amazing and she seems like she would be a really interesting speaker to hear. That is so cool!

    I am thrilled to see you are going to participate in MoFo--I will look forward to your posts :-)


  9. Aimee,
    It could be interesting to see Bittman and Pollan on a panel discussing food issues. They say many of the same things, but there's a difference in their conclusions.

    I know you'll come up with great mofo posts. But it's a challenge to do five posts a week, for sure.

    I don't own any of his books but am thinking I need one. But is it possible to "need" another cookbook?

    She WAS fascinating to listen to. It was very exciting to me to be able to see her in person.

  10. Oh, wow! That food sounds great. I wish all talks ended with a plate of food. :)

  11. I did not know about Mark Bittman's low-meat diet. I watched both videos and they were very interesting, thank you for sharing!

  12. Random plans are sometimes the best...

    Interesting about Mark Bittman, I had not heard of him, as I'm perpetually out of the loop it seems. I agree, anything that raises awareness about the benefits of a plant-based diet is a step in the right direction!

    I have Madhur Jaffrey's World of the East Vegetarian Cooking..I recently saw her in a film, but I can't remember which one it was now. Sounds like a great night...the food looks tasty too.

  13. I second making animal and junk foods super expensive!

    And what an awesome-sounding venue to hear someone speak at!

    Happy World Vegan Day & MoFo'ing to all!

  14. Mo,
    I'd go to lots more talks if they all included food!

    You're welcome. I wonder if he will eventually become vegan, or if that's too radical a choice for him. He has lots of good recipes on his blog.

    He's been writing a food column for the NY Times for at least 30 years (I think) but it's only been in the last several years, that he's changed his own diet and started encouraging others to eat a more plant-based diet. His recipes are good.

    Do you ever go to book talks in Seattle? Both events were free.

    Thanks for reading and commenting! Happy World Vegan Day and mofo madness back to you, too!

  15. I'm such a huge Madhur Jaffrey fan, and I must say also an Indian cinema fan, so I've seen her in plenty of films spanning all the way back to the 1950s, when she played a spoiled starlet in one of the very earliest James Ivory/Ismail Merchant films--of course that film was made long before I was even born (ahem!)--to last year, when she plays a Hindu mother of a chef in some film I'm afraid may not be very good.

    I actually do respect people like Jaffrey and Bittman, who are mostly but not entirely vegetarian. That seems to show a breadth of mind that I don't quite share. With me it was truly all or nothing. It was like God spoke to me one day and said "You are vegan," and I said, "Yeah, okay, I'm vegan." I don't feel that I made an actual choice, but that it's just the way I was made. Eating animals or causing them to suffer so I can eat this or that is wrong, not a gray area. I'm fascinated by the gray.

  16. I'm a huge fan of her cookbooks, and probably saw her in all her films without realizing who she was. I was pretty excited to see her in person.

    I respect jaffrey and Bittman for all the good work they do helping people transition to a more plant-based diet. But I know just what you mean. I turned vegan in 1981, and except for about three months when I ate fish once a week in Australia, and one meal when I considered eating seafood while pregnant, I've been a confirmed vegan. I think if your diet is health-related or environmentally -related but lacks the moral animal-rights component, it's much easier to enter the gray area of "sometimes I'm vegan and sometimes I'm not." Everyone is different, and for some, just thinking about the issue is a huge start. Bittman makes that start possible with his knowledge, encouragement, recipes and personal example.

  17. I think a surprise plan sounds like a good plan. ;) I can't wait to see what you come up with!

    The meal sounds like a wonderful way to end the talk - once again, how I wish we had events like that here as well. :)

  18. You've been to a couple of interesting talks!
    Great parsnip soup recipe. I'm going to try it out soon!
    And I love the story about the Siamese cats. I used to have Siamese and they certainly have very strong personalities. I could just feel your fear as you walked through the house!

  19. Seglare,
    I'm afraid it will be a surprise to me as well. The book talk and dinner was an unexpected treat!

    If you try the soup, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Not everyone is as fond of parsnips as I am. :D

    Strong personalities — and voices — describes Siamese cats well. And yes I was fearful, and maybe not cautious enough.


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