Full disclosure before I start this review, so you get where I’m coming from: 1/ I love Mark Bittman, long time food writer at the NYTimes and 2/ I was a briefly a vegan and I’m married to one. This style of eating does not scare me.
The basic premise of VB6 is that you eat vegan before 6pm, or whatever time you set for yourself. After that you can eat what you want and you will have a more healthy diet and loose weight. The impetus for Bittman’s approach was a trip to a doctor and numbers that he did not like to see. His cholesterol was high and he was pre-diabetic. His doctor suggested he go vegan – Bittman’s high numbers were due to dietary issues. Going vegan whole hog was not something Bittman thought he could do, especially given that he is a food writer, so he came up with a compromise – vegan before 6pm.
The main problem I have with Bittman’s approach is that he only goes halfway. He lets you slip up and make mistakes. He believes it is better for your body and the planet to move towards a plant-based diet, while still allowing room for treats. I speak from experience when I say this approach is very hard to maintain. I was a vegan who allowed occasional slip ups and look at me now, I’m not even a vegetarian. My husband, on the other hand, was 100% dedicated to a life style change driven by health concerns and 2 years later he remains a vegan.
That is not to say that VB6 is not filled with valuable information. In fact, explaining the biology behind what we eat is one of Bittman’s strong points. He lays out how different foods are processed by the body, giving you the information you need to make informed decisions. As with any diet that is premised on lifestyle change, Bittman argues for eating more plant-based food that is not highly processed. Simply put, that means nothing pre-packaged and nothing that you can’t pronounce. It means eating whole grains over processed grains, cutting down on sugars and turning towards legumes and tofu as major sources of protein.
The final portion of VB6 is dedicated to recipes. Not only does Bittman provide vegan recipes, but he also includes a wealth of recipes that use meat as a garnish. Those are there to help guide the reader in their after 6pm meals. Perhaps because I cook vegan meals on a daily basis I found many of his selections to be on the boring side. The key to eating vegan for me is good, tasty and exciting food. I’m not sure if he provides that, though Bittman certainly provides an easy step into vegan cuisine for the reluctant cook.
Who would like this book? VB6 is clearly meant for an audience who is already poised to make a significant change to their dietary lifestyle. That does not necessarily mean becoming a full fledged vegan, but more moving towards a plant-based diet. It is choke full of informative material that would be of use to anyone who is interested in cleaning up their diet and understanding what we need to eat in order to function. If going vegan is your thing, I would recommend something by Dr. Neal Barnard, such as 21-DayWeight Loss Kickstart (this awful title is clearly aimed at those who are prone to serial dieting, rather than seeing it as a lifestyle change). In the last few years an abundance of really good vegan cookbooks have come out as well.