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Blowing the Fog Off of Mark Bittman’s “Why I’m Not a Vegan”

Filed under: Activism Media Stupid

Earlier this week, Mark Bittman wrote an opinion piece called “Why I’m Not a Vegan” in the New York Times. Mixed in with the human-health and environmental arguments for eating less animal products, was the actual explanation promised by the title. It basically comes down to three points: 1) He doesn’t grasp that veganism extends beyond diet, 2)  he thinks humans have a right to exploit other species, and 3) he likes to eat other animals.

I can kind of excuse the first reason because Bittman is a food writer. Perhaps everything is about food for him. That he’s not a vegan because he buys leather shoes wouldn’t even cross his mind. He wrote a whole book about being vegan for a few hours a day, and he sure as heck just means in terms of diet.

As to the other two points, I’ll let him speak for himself:

I can see three scenarios that might lead to universal, full-time veganism: An indisputable series of research results proving that consuming animal products is unquestionably “bad” for us; the emerging dominance of a morality that asserts that we have no right to “exploit” our fellow animals for our own benefit; or an environmental catastrophe that makes agriculture as we know it untenable. All seem unlikely.

I’ve been thinking about it for three days and I still have no idea what the quote marks around  “exploit” mean. But I’m pretty sure that at the very least they mean Bittman doesn’t think “we” exploit “our fellow animals”. No, we just …

…produce most animal products in deplorable conditions, and some of our health and environmental problems can be traced both to dominant production methods and our overconsumption. But we like to eat them, and they’re a pleasurable and even healthy part of many traditional diets and even sound agricultural practices.

“We like to eat them.” “They’re…pleasurable.” Great reasons to commission vast networks of institutionalized rape, murder, and slavery, Mark. Really top-drawer ethical thinking there.

But then we hit the nut of it, in the last of his eight footnotes:

A vegan diet is no guarantee of a good diet, unless the only goal is to avoid killing animals. Sugar-sweetened beverages, French fries and doughnuts can all be vegan.

That’s a bingo! That is indeed the goal of veganism. (Well, and not exploiting the animals while they’re alive, either.) Sugar-sweetened beverages, French fries and doughnuts can all be vegan. And that’s a good thing.

7 Comments

  1. Comment by

    Dan

    on #

    Bittman is the king of rationalization, unfortunately, his use of animals (or reasons for it) cannot be morally justified.

    The point is, we don’t have to consume animal products in the developed world. Being a “weekend meat-eater” still causes animals to lose their lives for our taste buds. And it’s completely unnecessary.

    As someone who has spent a lot of time with animals, including rescued farm animals, I couldn’t possibly imagine killing any of them simply to experience the taste of their flesh for a 15 minute meal – it doesn’t even cross my mind that they should die for my pleasure. Perhaps Bittman needs to reach that level of empathy to “get it”.

  2. Comment by

    Cathy Guevara

    on #

    What bothers me most about Bittman’s “veganism” is the plain fact that he marks veganism as JUST a diet. To me, personally, it’s a way of life in trying to end the exploitation of animals as best we can.

    Though, what I DO, at least indirectly kinda-sorta appreciate is that fact that veganism/vegetarianism is becoming a growing and growing phenomenon; which Bittman, as misguided as he is, is promoting. If we can cut out at least HALF of the consumption of meat people are eating (and if this number grows exponentially due to exposure) then there is going to be a growing impact in the lives we’ll be changing on the meat farms.

    A first step to change is better than no step at all.

  3. Comment by

    Lizz

    on #

    Well that just proves the fact that he knows he’s full of shit. Good job!

  4. Comment by

    Amanda

    on #

    Glad you posted this. It seems to me he wrote “exploits” in quotes because he thinks animals are not sentient or don’t matter the way people do so it’s not possible to exploit them. That makes me reallyyyy mad.

  5. Comment by

    unethical_vegan

    on #

    imo, bittman has done a heck of a lot more the animals than all the strict abolitionists and AR extremists combined.

    just sayin’

  6. Comment by

    Crissie

    on #

    This is SO well articulated. I’ve had a few people at work come up to me and wanting me to be proud of them for following his vegan before 6 plan. While I want to encourage them to embrace plant based, I also want to scream that Mark Bittman has no authority to speak about veganism because he ISN’T one. Ok…rant over. I’m just going to point people to this post when I’m asked about him :)

  7. Comment by

    Linda

    on #

    To Amanda’s point about “exploit” in quotes – exactly. It’s as if Bittman thinks HE gets to decide what the term means. And if you are reading, Mr. Bittman, this is what it means: “to take advantage of esp. unethically or unjustly for one’s own ends.” And how is confining, torturing and killing animals so that you can eat them NOT doing that?

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