I've written a little about Mark Bittman before. He's likely one of the better-known foodies who's carved out a nice niche for himself co-opting the term "vegan" while making it clear that he doesn't take veganism seriously. Bittman is beloved by those who fancy themselves green and conscientious omnivores and is the guy behind the whole "Vegan Before Six" diet. He's gone on the record repeatedly as saying that veganism is too hard and that he has no interest in going vegan (or even vegetarian), himself. He's cited one of the reasons for this as having something to do with vegans consuming meat substitutes (apparently as opposed to consuming whole basic foods). His interest, he says, is simply in getting people to become "less-meatarians".
I don't read Bittman's column regularly (or even sporadically), although if you wade through past blog posts, you'll see that he'd gotten under my skin a little a few years ago. I stumbled across one of his NY Times pieces this morning ("Is 'Eat Real Food' Unthinkable") and stopped to take a gander. In it he discusses how the USDA fails miserably to advise Americans properly on what they shouldn't be eating. Although the USDA leans towards suggesting a "more plant-based diet", it waffles and uses vague wording, perhaps to placate meat and sugar lobbyists, when going into details concerning consumption that should be lessened or avoided altogether. That part of his article was reasonable enough and I certainly don't disagree with Bittman's emphasis on the need for healthier eating habits. What was unfortunate, however, was that he chose to insert a dig at Oprah and to use it to revisit a stereotype he perpetuates about veganism, and that he once again took the opportunity to dismiss veganism.
Bittman refers to her recent show in which she "challenged" her staff to "go vegan" for a whole wretched week and rightfully calls her on how
her idea of surviving without meat and dairy — no explanation given for why we should go from too much to none — is to fill your shopping cart with fake versions of both, like meatless chicken breasts and dairy-less cheese.The truth is that many vegan food bloggers and others in the vegan community who did watch the show also bemoaned this very thing, shaking their heads at Oprah's focus on processed substitutes. Although some vegans do make use of meat and dairy substitutes and processed foods -- the same manner in which innumerable non-vegans consume processed foods -- it doesn't follow that the dietary aspect of veganism necessitates the consumption of products or that most vegans do consume them in abundance (just 'cause Oprah offers something up doesn't make it so). Nor does it follow that one should take off running with these assumptions and dismiss the dietary component of veganism as somehow being environmentally unfriendly.
Bittman, however (and not completely unlike Oprah), side-steps the issue of the ethics of using non-human animals and uses Oprah's show to lead up to yet another dismissal of veganism, as well as to emphasize that humans' real concerns when it comes to whether or not they put non-human animal parts and products into their mouths should be about their health and the environment:
[T]he goal is not universal veganism, which is pie-in-the-sky; it’s health and sustainability. And we get there by preparing real food, vegan or not. (Remember: Coke, Tostitos and Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs — yum! — are all vegan.) The answer is not fake animal products, whose advocates argue that they’re transitional to a kinder-to-animal diet. Indeed, that’s good, but a real food diet is better.I'm left wondering if Mark Bittman has ever leafed through some vegan cookbooks or if he's ever spent a couple of hours reading vegan food blogs. I'm half-tempted to send him a link to a few of my monthly "What Vegans Eat" posts to see if maybe there'd be some way to show him that the dietary component of veganism doesn't de facto exclude "real" foods. In fact, most vegans I know spend much of their time researching ingredients and cooking from scratch. It's really disingenuous -- and unfortunately misleading -- of Bittman to create this false dichotomy between what vegans eat and "a real food diet".
Erik Marcus of the unfortunately named vegan.com adores Bittman, often lauding him as someone to whom vegans should be paying attention, saying that
[i]t’s so refreshing to hear Bittman talk because the majority of meat eaters who write about food are just appallingly misinformed about veganism. Bittman, by contrast, really understands the spectrum of concerns that relate to food, and he manages to reject veganism for himself without at all acting like a dick about it.So it looks as if even someone who rejects veganism, calls it too much of a "tough sell" and who stereotypes vegans as eating processed foods (when Bittman's entire raison d'être is to educate people to avoid eating processed foods) is "refreshing" because he's one of the few who's supposedly not "appallingly misinformed" about it? Just because he's not "a dick about it"? It seems to me that Marcus, who often publicly appears to pride himself on his snark and sarcasm, is himself "appallingly misinformed". And rather than find him refreshing, I think that Bittman's anti-vegan stance has reached the end of its shelf-life.