Be flexitarian with Bittman

Mark BittmanMark Bittman is a fixture on many EYB member bookshelves, both because he's written several excellent cookbooks and because every one of his recipes is indexed on the EYB site (15,643 and counting). A former columnist for the Times Dining section, this prolific author is now back with the groundbreaking The VB6 Cookbook (Vegan Before 6 P.M.), where he provides the tools needed to make the switch to a "flexitarian" diet, including lists for stocking your pantry, strategies for eating on the go, cooking tips, and a complete 28-day eating plan. Bittman sat down with EYB to answer questions about his book, including what he thinks will win over meat lovers.

You can enter our contest for a chance to win one of five copies of VB6.


What do you see as the primary health benefits of following the VB6 diet?

Start with eating real food. You might end there, too. But wiping out junk food from your diet is a huge thing, and will likely result in weight loss and favorable blood numbers. Reducing the intake of industrially produced animal products and increasing your intake of plants is beneficial as well.

A lot of the popular diet books right now seem to be Paleo (no dairy or grains) or sugar-free. What are your views on these diets and how much have you incorporated some of these ideas into The VB6 Cookbook?

Hyperprocessed carbs are almost certainly detrimental to health, and it's pretty clear your body can't tell the difference between white bread and cookies. Saying that "grains are bad," however, is a different story; whole grains are processed by the body completely differently, and are probably beneficial. I do think the word "Paleo" is being used to promote a high meat diet, and in that sense is probably not helpful; if it really meant "eat like a hunter-gatherer" that would be a different story.

The VB6 CookbookOne of the criticisms about a vegan diet is that it is often low in protein and too high in starchy carbs.  How do the recipes in The VB6 Cookbook prevent that?

We don't do a lot of "starchy" (by which I think you mean hyperprocessed) carbs. And there's plenty of protein in beans and even vegetables. But bear this in mind: VB6 is not a vegan diet. It's a semi-vegan diet. If you're worried about protein, have some eggs or cheese or a chunk of an animal for dinner. You'll get plenty.

Do you anticipate following the VB6 rules for the rest of your life (with occasional lapses for bagels, lox and cream cheese on a Sunday morning)?

Yes. It's not a two week diet. It's a change in your permanent diet. I'm on year 8 and it's just second nature now.

Do you have advice for someone who prepares most of his/her family's meals and wants to try VB6, but whose other family members are reluctant?

Yeh. Don't tell them you're doing it. Just run out of eggs & bacon for breakfast and give them oatmeal or fruit salad or pancakes. If you have control over their lunches, pack salads or good soups. And keep dinner as before.

Do you have any recipe recommendations from the book you think will win over dedicated meat-lovers?

I do think the tofu chorizo is amazing. But having said that, I like all of these recipes, or I wouldn't have done the book.

What recipes in your book would reverse someone's prejudices about tofu?

That one.

Breakfast would seem to be a tough meal to go vegan, at least for those into yogurt, eggs or cereal and milk.  What do you suggest as vegan alternatives that give you the boost your metabolism needs at the start of the day?

Most of us get going with coffee or other caffeine, not the foods you mentioned. I eat whole grain porridges many mornings, or non-dairy smoothies, or tofu scrambles, or fruit salad, and all of those seem totally fine.


  • boardingace  on  5/13/2014 at 10:00 PM

    I am interested in this book for a friend of mine who is vegan, but not at all personally. It's quite a jump to go from cooking more from scratch and reducing junk food to being partially vegan. And, I want to see more evidence for this statement and how the latter is correlated to being vegan: "Reducing the intake of industrially produced animal products and increasing your intake of plants is beneficial as well." What does "industrially produced" even mean? Why is it bad if a chicken is "industrially produced" - most free-range ones would meet that broad definition? I can think of many compelling reasons to be vegan, but Bittman's arguments here aren't convincing. Oh well, I guess he is popular enough regardless of what I think - lol. I guess I just don't agree at all that being more vegan is going to be healthier for me. I use chicken stock, eggs, or dairy in nearly everything I cook, and I cook almost 99% of what we eat. So we are both completely not vegan and completely not eating junk food or processed food (except in a recipe). And I eat a ton of fruits and veggies in my cooking. If/when I do take out those dairy/chicken broth elements, the food doesn't taste as good. I'm certainly not willing to reinvent the wheel by starting over with this new cookbook just to take these ingredients out, when I think that they are good for me. Well, I'm interested to see how other people respond to this book and how many people are intrigued to become partially vegan.

  • L40  on  5/15/2014 at 5:05 PM

    boardingace: Do a little research on industrialized farming. There is a wealth of information on the interwebs about how those processes are detrimental to human health, environment and inhumane to animals. All of that aside, I just watched a friend of mine (who was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer and two months to live) extend his life by 4 years by going organic and vegan. This shocked his friends AND his doctors. After seeing his transformation, I too went to a vegan/organic diet and have had measured health benefits (Which, by the way also shocked my doctor.)

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