Mark Bittman on Vegans, Ethical Eating, and a New Cookbook
"Chorizo" tacos. Photograph by Quentin Bacon.
If there’s one thing Mark Bittman, author of kitchen standby “How to Cook Everything,” knows well, it’s how to craft a recipe. But there’s something else the longtime New York Times columnist is getting to be a pro at, too: irritating vegans.
“A lot of them get pissed with my use of the word,” Bittman, author of the new “VB6 Cookbook,” told us. VB6 is short for “vegan before 6,” and represents his approach to eating: Follow a strict vegan diet that’s free of junk and highly processed foods — but only till dusk, at which point you can go hog-wild. “It’s a strategy for increasing the proportion of plants and other real foods in your diet, and decreasing the amounts of processed foods and animal products,” he explained.
But Bittman, whose newest cookbook includes recipes from (vegan) Seaweed Soba to the (decidedly not) Pork Chop Pan Roast, was also quick to note, “I’m not a vegan and I’m not a believer in veganism.” In fact, he finds the philosophy of eating both “less pleasurable” and “unnecessary.”
His comments will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed his writings over the years, particularly his 2013 New York Times opinion piece, “Why I’m Not a Vegan.” And they will certainly bring comfort to omnivores who struggle with guilt over the notion of ethical eating. But Bittman’s words (including his most recent provocative piece, “Leave ‘Organic’ Out of It,” in which he defends GMOs) can seem confusing to anyone who sees him as a defender of sustainability—an approach he himself touts often.
On one hand, addressing the issue of animal cruelty, he told us, “Now that [Iowa] has got fields and fields of corn and soybeans and very few animals on the landscape, except poor pigs locked in barns in what amount to factories, that’s not a healthy situation.” Furthermore, he’s noted that animal products “use too many resources: land, water, energy, and — not the least important — food that could nourish people,” and that industrial livestock production is “a major (if not the leading) contributor to greenhouse gases.”
And yet, he still disses veganism, writing in his book that “the idea of becoming a full-time vegan was neither realistic nor appealing to someone accustomed to eating as widely and as well as I do.”
This has left actual vegans in a tricky situation: Embrace Bittman—a nationally revered and best-selling author with a six-digit Twitter following—or fault him.
Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary, the nation’s leading farm-animal protection organization, has chosen to embrace him, inviting Bittman on to its recent fundraising panel, “The Conscientious Table: Rethinking Our Food System,” in New York City.
“There are things that we agree on and things that we disagree on,” Baur told us. “He would say, ‘eat animals that come from so-called humane farms,’ I would say the word ‘humane’ and ‘slaughter’ are in conflict with each other.” Further, he notes, “I think he sort of operates in the middle ground — he doesn’t delve into the ethical issues around animals as deeply as he should.” However, Baur says, “We appreciate how much he’s done to start discussion on these issues. A lot has to do with momentum, and he is doing a significant amount to build momentum.”