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Forget 'Dieting' -- Here's a Painless, Easy Way to Be Good to Your Body and the Planet

The joys of moderation -- and its radical potential.

In his decades-long career, Mark Bittman has become one of the most articulate, passionate and downright sensible food writers in America. That his advocacy is infused with a flair for finding the definitive recipes for  literally everything has made him beloved by foodies and novices alike.

In his writing, Bittman has always been engaged in a public conversation about not just what we eat, but how and why. More recently, that quest has taken him in the direction of part-time veganism, or as he calls it, the VB6 plan. The concept is simple – try to stick to an animal products-free diet for breakfast and lunch, and then go less restricted (but still moderate) for your evenings. And the rewards – for both the planet and the individual – are dramatic.

I’ve become a proponent of the VB6 lifestyle and have  seen the results in my own life. It’s easy to follow, even if you’re feeding a family, and it’s non-dogmatic or preachy. You won’t get any Skinny Bitch preaching about how gross you are if you sometimes require more flexibility – which is exactly why I wouldn’t trade the glorious boeuf bourguignon and ice cream lunch I had in Paris this winter for all the guilt-tripping in the world. I just keep my day-to-day life more greens- and beans-oriented.

After the success of  his first VB6 manifesto, Bittman has now released  the VB6 cookbook, a gorgeous collection of recipes and photos that won’t just make you feel good and eat better; they’ll get you out of the bagels and sandwiches rut with hearty morning milkshakes and teriyaki tempeh. Salon recently spoke to Bittman about the challenges and rewards of going more plant-based, and the surprisingly voluptuous pleasures of moderation.

You’ve written a lot over the past several years of your own journey toward a more plant-based diet, and the impact it’s had on your health issues. Tell us a little more about how this change came about.

I had a conventional doctor who said, “We can put you on drugs, drugs, drugs.” I’m not anti-drugs, but I don’t like drugs as solutions to chronic problems. I went to another doctor who said, “If you became a vegan, these issues you’re having will take care of themselves.” I said, “I’m not going to be going vegan. You know what I do for a living.” He told me, “You’re a smart guy, figure something out.”

People like rules. We make rules for ourselves all the time. There’s no other way to do the things that take discipline. So I made this rule for myself: I’ll be a vegan till dinnertime and something will come of that. Then it became a game, and I thought, this isn’t hard. This is fun. I wasn’t checking in on it, and after six weeks I had lost 15 pounds. That was enough positive reinforcement. I’m still well over 20 pounds lighter than I was then. And since then my cholesterol has been great.

So now that you’ve done it a while, what are the advantages of going part-time vegan?

There are two branches of this discussion. There’s the political and the personal.

It’s been seven years for me. I didn’t do this because I wanted to be a vegetarian. I think full-time veganism is not that necessary or desirable. But the writing on the wall was that plant-based diets were going to be the way to eat, and what also happened was that the link between industrial agriculture and climate change became more clear. I saw what many people saw.

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