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Mark Bittman: Eating Right Can Save The Planet

If you're one of those people hoping to change the world in 2009, writer Mark Bittman says you can start by changing what you eat.

In his new book, Food Matters, The New York Times food columnist writes about the environmental impact of industrial farming — and how individuals can make a difference by cutting down on the amount of animal products they consume.

"All industrial farming — from fish farming to chicken farming to egg and dairy farming — has an environmental impact," he tells Morning Edition's Steve Inskeep.

Bittman's recommendation? Eat more fruits and vegetables and skip a few helpings of meat.

"There's nothing wrong with eating smaller amounts of meat," he says. "It's quite common sense that you can eliminate animal products from some of your diet."

Bittman says that Americans raise and slaughter 10 billion animals each year for consumption. If we all decreased consumption of animal products by 10 percent, he says, it "would have both an environmental impact and an impact on all of our mutual health."

As for Bittman's personal diet, it used to be that he'd eat bacon and eggs for breakfast and a hamburger for lunch. But a few years ago, he changed his ways. Now, a typical day's fare might include a bowl of oatmeal (see Bittman's recipe for porridge) with maple syrup for breakfast, fruits and vegetables for lunch, then a more "old-style" type meal — which might include meat — for dinner.

After just a few months of the new diet, Bittman says, he noticed improvements to his health: "I lost 35 pounds — which is about 15 percent of my body weight — my cholesterol went down 40 points; my blood sugar went from borderline bad to just fine; [and] my knees, which were starting to give out as a result of running at too high a weight, got better."

All of those things — and, he says, he's shrinking his carbon footprint.

"Feeling like you're changing the world," he says. "That's a nice thing, too."

Recipes From Mark Bittman's Food Matters:

Chocolate Semolina Pudding With Raspberry Puree

Somewhere between a cake and pudding, this lovely dessert is served warm, with a simple raspberry puree that balances its richness. Other fruits that work well here include stone fruits, but (except for cherries) they have to be peeled first. Figure on about a pound of fruit for just over a cup of puree.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, plus butter for the pan
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup (2 ounces) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup semolina
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound fresh raspberries
Sugar (optional)
Freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan. Put the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, add cocoa powder and semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and stir until smooth. Remove from the heat.

2. Beat the yogurt and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter and chocolate, the semolina, the baking soda and the vanilla; beat until thoroughly blended. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is lightly browned, about 30 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, puree the raspberries in a blender or food processor. Depending on how flavorful they are, you may want to add a tablespoon of sugar or a squeeze of lemon juice to the mixture, but taste first to see if either is necessary. Then strain the puree, stirring and pressing the mixture through a sieve with a rubber spatula to leave any seeds behind; be sure to get all the puree from the underside of the strainer.

4. When the pudding is done, let it rest for a few minutes, then cut it into squares or rectangles and serve warm, on some of the puree, with a few whole berries on top.

Breakfast Bread Pudding

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Time: About 1.5 hours, largely unattended

Not your usual bread pudding; this has less custard and more bread, fruit and nuts. For variety, use pears, peaches, cherries or blueberries instead of the apples.

Butter or grape seed oil or other oil for greasing the pan
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup honey, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt
4 medium to large apples, cored, peeled (or not) and cut into chunks or slices
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)
8 slices whole or multigrain bread (preferably stale), cut in 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 1 1/2-quart or 8-inch square baking dish. Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Whisk in the milk, honey, cinnamon and salt. Stir in the apples, raisins and nuts. Then fold in the bread cubes, using your hands or a rubber spatula to make sure everything is evenly coated. Let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes or until all of the liquid has been absorbed; give another good stir. (You can prepare the pudding ahead to this point; cover and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.)

2. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and smooth out the top. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden and only a little wobbly in the center. Let sit for a few minutes before cutting.

Porridge, Updated

Porridge is an ancient and international breakfast staple, for good reason: It's cheap, easy and nutritious. Oatmeal and cornmeal mush are the American classics, but you need not stop there: Use any ground, cut or rolled grain. Steer clear, though, of fast-cooking or instant oats, which are tasteless. For extra flavor or texture, stir in fresh or dried fruit, nuts and seeds, vanilla, or ground spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or cardamom; add sweetness with a little honey or syrup or richness with a small pat of butter or a spoonful of milk or cream.

To go savory, try topping the porridge with a spoonful of chunky salsa, grated cheese, chopped hard-boiled egg (or, for a special treat, poached or fried egg), a drizzle of soy sauce and a few sliced scallions, or simply coarse salt and freshly ground pepper. Or fold in leftover chopped vegetables (mushrooms are nice) or raw tender greens (like spinach) and let them wilt a bit.

Cooking times will vary depending on the grain you use, but even if you're cooking for yourself you may as well make a full batch, since this keeps for days in the fridge and reheats perfectly in the microwave. (This means you can make porridge at night or any other time that's convenient for you.)

Pinch of salt
2 cups grain, like rolled oats (or other rolled grain), cornmeal (or grits), cracked wheat, quinoa, millet or short-grain brown rice
Butter, to taste (optional)
Salt, sweetener (like maple syrup, sugar or honey), and/or milk or cream, as desired

1. Combine 4 to 4 1/2 cups water (more water will produce creamier porridge), the salt, and the grain or grains in a medium saucepan and turn the heat to high. When the water boils, turn the heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until the water is just absorbed: about 5 minutes for rolled oats, 15 minutes for cornmeal or cracked wheat, 30 minutes for quinoa or millet, or up to 45 minutes or more for brown rice. Add water as needed to keep the porridge from sticking.

2. When the grains are very soft and the mixture is thickened, serve or cover the pan and turn off the heat; you can let sit for up to 15 minutes. Uncover, stir, add other ingredients as desired and serve.

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