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Why Doesn’t Mark Bittman Just Come Right Out With It?

January 3, 2013

NYT writer Mark Bittman writes about food, and has long been troubled by the impact of our food choices on health, the environment, and the animals use in the food production system. He’s got the setup to the problem right, as here:

Nothing affects public health in the United States more than food. Gun violence kills tens of thousands of Americans a year. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes kill more than a million people a year — nearly half of all deaths — and diet is a root cause of many of those diseases.

And the root of that dangerous diet is our system of hyper-industrial agriculture, the kind that uses 10 times as much energy as it produces.

We must figure out a way to un-invent this food system. It’s been a major contributor to climate change, spawned the obesity crisis, poisoned countless volumes of land and water, wasted energy, tortured billions of animals… I could go on. The point is that “sustainability” is not only possible but essential: only by saving the earth can we save ourselves, and vice versa.

But given his diagnosis of the problem, I keep thinking he will eventually come right out and urge the world to go vegetarian (and he has written an excellent vegetarian cookbook). Yet for some reason he prefers to nibble his way toward that highly logical recommendation, without ever fully voicing it, which is a shame because there are few changes any human can make that match going meatless for beneficial impact on health, the environment, and animal welfare.

For example, after the setup above, Bittman goes on to write:

I believe that the two issues that will have the greatest reverberations in agriculture, health and the environment are reducing the consumption of sugar-laden beverages and improving the living conditions of livestock.

I have no problem with less sugar, which indeed would improve human health and reduce human impact on the environment. But just substitute “and dramatically reducing or eliminating the consumption of meat” for  “and improving the living conditions of livestock” and his sentence (and argument) would make so much more sense.

I am all for attacking the mindblowing animal cruelty embedded in our food production system. But c’mon, Mark. Why not just flat out urge your audience to give up meat? I know it sounds radical, but everything you write about food simply screams for that conclusion.

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