Mark Bittman Is Coming Out (Slowly)

It’s been interesting to track NYT’s food writer Mark Bittman’s growing preoccupation and alarm over the human, environmental, and animal costs of meat production and consumption. He’s not yet an all-out vegetarian crusader. But he seems to be getting there one column at a time.

Here, he calls on meat eaters to be heroes by….eating less meat. Okay, that’s not terribly inspiring, but he is quoting Bruce Willis in Armageddon, so at least he has the Apocalypytic context right:

Here’s the thing: It’s seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.

In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat tomorrow. That’s something any of us can do, with no technological advances. If personal choice enacted on a large scale could literally save the world, maybe we have to talk about it that way. We could be heroes, like Bruce Willis in “Armageddon,” only maybe the sacrifice is on a more modest and easier scale. (You already changed your light bulbs; how about eating a salad?)

Well, “heroic” and “modest” don’t usually go together. So I’ll stick to my personal hope that one by one people simply decide to stop eating meat altogether, instead of eating the planet into fiery, supervirus-infected oblivion, one heaping platter of sirloin at a time (while aiding and abetting an animal Holocaust for good measure).

I’d urge you to read Bittman’s piece, anyhow, because even if his rallying cry is a bit timid, his summary of all the impacts of meat eating and production is concise and bracing. It came out of a request the NYT made, asking readers to defend the ethics of eating meat (Bittman was a judge who helped pick the winner and finalists). He writes:

A fascinating discussion. But you need not have a philosophy about meat-eating to understand that we — Americans, that is — need to do less of it. In fact, only if meat were produced at no or little expense to the environment, public health or animal welfare (as, arguably, some of it is), would our decisions about whether to raise and kill animals for food come down to ethics.

That seems odd to me, since it is exactly all of those things (cost to the environment, public health, and animal welfare), which are at the heart of any evaluation of the ethics of meat eating and production (especially factory farming).

Anyhow, it feels like it won’t be long before Bittman is writing about vegan cooking, and wondering why anyone eats any meat at all.

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