Meet Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist, bestselling author, and creator of the VB6 philosophy — that is, vegan before six. About a decade ago, in an effort to help him lose weight and avoid obesity-related diseases, Mark’s doctor advised him to go vegan. Instead, Mark struck a compromise: he’d eat healthy, vegan meals all day, and then come dinnertime, he’d eat exactly what he wanted. The decision did more than change his diet; it turned his life around. And with his new book The VB6 Cookbook, in stores May 6th, he’s showing readers how they can apply the philosophy to their own lifestyles. With more than 350 meals for vegan breakfasts, lunches and snacks — plus delicious “flexitarian” dinners — the cookbook is your guide to sustaining a lifetime of healthy eating.
Here, we ask Mark all about the recipes in the book, plus his best tips for eating well any time of day. Read on!
What’s your background, and how did you get into a career in food?
I’m not a chef; 40 years ago, when I was journalist looking for a subject, food was the natural choice. I loved to cook, had already been doing it for ten years, and wanted to do more of it. Writing about that seemed worth a shot. It worked.
Tell us about the VB6 philosophy, in a nutshell. How has it changed your life? Has it changed the way you think about food?
It’s simple: VB6 is just a set of rules for changing the proportions of foods in my (or your) diet, to emphasize plants and de-emphasize everything else. I eat only minimally processed plants from dawn until dusk, and then whatever I want at night – within reason, of course. (Of course, I “cheat,” too; that’s part of the plan.) The results have been amazing, and I still get to eat anything I want for part of every day.
You published VB6 last year. Can you describe the responses you received from readers?
Well, it debuted at #1 on the NYT bestseller list, so that was good. And every day I hear from people whose lives it’s changed, which is fantastic.
VB6 is different from traditional “diets.” What would you say to people making such a huge lifestyle change?
I’d say the change is really an adjustment – a shift in balance – and it’s super important. We all know we should be eating more plants, and we all know that diets that take away the foods we love don’t work. VB6 addresses both of those issues.
How does cooking at home play into a healthy lifestyle?
You can do VB6 without cooking for yourself, but it sure makes things easier. Because cooking gives you control and demonstrates that you’re eating better than you ever have before.
You didn’t include nutritional information with the recipes in The VB6 Cookbook. What can people gain by shifting the focus on nutrition from calorie counts to ingredients?
Nutritional information is not nearly as important as eating real food. Our problem is not that we’re not getting enough calcium or that we’re eating too much fat. Our problem is we eat too much processed food.
What are some discoveries you’ve made by eating vegan, from a culinary perspective? New ingredients, techniques, etc.?
Start with the fact that vegetables are more varied than any other food group – with the possible exception of fruit! So you’re not going to run out of new ingredients. And then have a look at the VB6 Cookbook, which spends a lot of space showing how to make vegetable dishes that are unlike and better than any you’ve ever had. Then build in whole grains and beans (both of which become convenience foods when cooked ahead in big batches) and you have all the components for a rich and varied day of eating.
Let’s talk about breakfast. What are some easy tips for people to get out of the usual eggs and dairy routine?
For some of us, the answer is to think savory – I like stir-fries for breakfast, or rice and beans. That doesn’t work for everyone, but for people attracted to dairy or sweets there’s whole grains mixed with fruit (I love my quinoa pilaf, for example), satisfying smoothies, endless fruit salad, whole grain pancakes, and the like.
Dinner isn’t vegan, but it isn’t a free-for-all either. What are some of your tips and guidelines around a healthy dinnertime?
This is really the coolest thing: think of a beef stew as a vegetable stew with beef rather than the other way around. Meat is a treat, meat is a garnish; meat is not the bulk of your calories.
What’s your favorite recipe from the book and why? Which one do you make most often?
Oh, there are dozens. All the toast toppers in the breakfast chapter; Chickpea Tabbouleh; Cauliflower Romesco; Soba Noodles with Seaweed; Peanut Butter Bonbons; Shrimp and Beans for dinner. Probably the one I’m proudest of is Phony Baloney, made with tofu and zero weird ingredients (try it fried!).
What’s a food you could never, ever give up?
That’s silly. Why would I give anything up? Just put everything in its rightful place.