What Does a 'Good Diet' Mean to You?

It's not just nutrition. Many also weigh the environmental and animal-welfare impacts of what we eat.


Despite all the fads, a "good diet" in terms of health is fairly straightforward: Eat mostly fruits and vegetables, whole grains, sources of good fats and lean sources of protein, and fewer processed and fried foods, bad fats, and overall calories. But the notion of "good food" is expanding in some circles to include not just nutritional value but other considerations—such as the environment and animal welfare. (Just look at some of the suggestions I got when I asked nutritionists what they'd like to see on food labels.)

Mark Bittman book cover Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating With More than 75 Recipes

One of the better recent summations of how all these ideas come together is illustrated by this e-mail interview, by the Barnes & Noble Review, with cookbook author and food writer Mark Bittman. He's answering questions about his new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating With More Than 75 Recipes . Here's just one quote:

I'm no less enthusiastic about cooking—or eating. I have simply spent the last five years trying to figure out what style of eating really makes sense for Americans. The motivations are many: I became aware of (and was appalled by) the impact that the production of livestock, and junk food for that matter, has on the environment and global warming. Two, about 95 percent of animals in the U.S. are raised industrially—i.e., with no consideration for the animals themselves. Three, too much meat, junk food, and overprocessed carbohydrates have combined to cause a health epidemic in this country. And four, because after years of being a food writer and food lover who eagerly devoured pretty much anything, I was faced with some personal health problems.

Bittman, like food guru Michael Pollan, is making the case that following better environmental practices actually dovetails nicely with improving the typical American diet. Others, like chef Dan Barber, have noted that treating animals humanely and the land well actually leads to better-tasting food. What do you think? Do all these considerations—plus others, like the conditions under which the people who produce the food live and work—belong in a broader definition of good food? What does a truly "good diet" mean to you?