Diet Detective: What inspired your love of food, and how did you learn to cook?
Mark Bittman: I grew up in New York, where we had a variety of ethnic food only now being rivaled by other cities. I liked to eat it, and I wanted to cook it. With the help of cookbooks, I taught myself.
Diet Detective: Do we really need to be so worried about exactly what we're eating? Have we blown our "unhealthy" eating habits out of proportion?
Mark Bittman: Not at all. In fact, we don't take them seriously enough.
Diet Detective: Are there food issues we really should be losing sleep over? And, if so, what can we do about them?
Mark Bittman: We need to be addressing the ratio of animal products, processed foods and outright junk we eat compared with plants. It's pretty simple: Each of us should examine our diet and adjust it accordingly. Ideally, we'd get 90 percent of our calories from plants, and the rest from everything else. Many of us have that ratio completely reversed. It's just a matter of moving in the right direction.
Diet Detective: You've written and talked about the concept of "sane" eating. Can you explain what you mean?
Mark Bittman: Our proportions are out of whack. Sane is conscious. If you're eating a half pound of meat a day and a pound and a half of other animal products (this is the national average) along with a bunch of processed and junk food, that's not sane.
Diet Detective: What is the five ingredient rule?
Mark Bittman: I'd just say that it makes no sense to buy anything with more than five ingredients -- though that's an arbitrary number -- or with anything you can't pronounce. Or anything that didn't exist 100 or even 50 years ago. You want to start with food, mostly, that has one ingredient: itself.
Diet Detective: Is this really a feasible way to eat for the average person?
Mark Bittman: Why not? People cooked this way from the dawn of history until 50 years ago, when "convenience" -- the worst word in the history of food -- was invented.
Diet Detective: What do you consider healthy cooking?
Mark Bittman: Almost all real cooking is healthy cooking.