Mark Bittman – What’s wrong with what we eat?

NY Times Food Writer, Mark Bittman, gave a TED talk in December 2007 on what’s wrong with our food.

While I’m forever in debt to Mark for bringing us the famous No-Knead Bread recipe, and I appreciate his critique of industrial agricultural techniques in the TED video below, I think his arguments fail to see the whole story.

Here’s why.

He says that animal products aren’t in any way necessary for human nutrition, and that’s just not true. Sally Fallon did an excellent job debunking this in Nourishing Traditions (a FoodRenegade Must Read). While I agree with him that Americans over-consume hunks of meat, he misses one of the key reasons why we need animals — their fat. Our bodies are adapted to cooking with animal fats — butter at low temperatures and tallow or lard at higher temperatures.

When it comes to meat, Americans err in two ways:

1) We eat just the muscle meat without making use of the whole animal. We eschew organ meat, don’t make bone broths, and trim or drain off the fats.

2) We raise our meats in an industrial system that produces unhealthy animals, thereby making all resulting animal products from dairy to hamburger unhealthy for us.

Other than this flaw, I found the following talk — particularly the fascinating history of food in the U.S. and his critique of the “organic” label — to be humorous, informative, and worth while.


  1. TrailGrrl says

    I agree totally about the meat eating. I was just watching the HBO “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and also just read a Native American account of Little Big Horn, and they talk about the hunt and eating the liver and basically using the entire buffalo (and other animals as well).

    I am trying to cook different cuts of meat now, and different types like lamb (which my mother never cooked when I was growing up so I don’t really have a clue). I bought some beef shanks, and have been eying all the “economy” cuts that the Mexican carnecerias offer. One benefit is that the cuts are much cheaper, but you do have to learn how to cook them slowly and be patient enough to make a few mistakes at first. I can’t say I’m brave enough to try brains, but I’m giving some thought to chicken liver (which I know I like) and also beef. I’ve tried beef tongue at the taquerias, and it tastes just fine but the texture is a little weird. I like goat too.

    I don’t agree with the “mostly plants” bit. I think meat is a necessary component of our diet and I know I feel a lot better eating real food, with a lot of meat as the focus. Leaner cuts just don’t make me feel as good. Did I really just used to by boneless, skinless chicken breasts? What was I thinking? Especially since the dark meat is my favorite. And it turns out not without reason.


  2. TrailGrrl says

    I forgot to mention an important point. I started feeling a lot better, and fuller, when I started cooking with animal fats again. Not just butter but lard and bacon fat. My GI tract was so much more relaxed.


  3. says

    Thanks for sharing your story! I used to be a boneless chicken breast momma, too. I can’t believe that used to be me.

    I’m trying to get 60-80% of my diet to be raw or fermented foods, as that seems to be the norm among most traditional cultures (particularly the European ones from which I’m descended). That means that good meat, while wholesome, isn’t the main thrust of my diet. (Plus, I just can’t afford to eat that way. Check out my post on how the economy effects our ability to eat Real Food below.) On the other hand, animal fats & bone broths are cooking staples.

    That’s not to say eating more meat is bad. You may be a protein-type person who really needs meat to thrive. (I know I’m totally anemic without it, even with the best iron supplements.) I would just caution people who choose to eat a lot of meat to make sure it’s from pastured animals. There are a host of studies that the intrepid researcher can discover on Google by searching for the benefits of eating grass-fed meats. I’d encourage you to do it!


  4. Amber says

    We raise our meats in an industrial system that produces unhealthy animals, thereby making all resulting animal products from dairy to hamburger unhealthy for us.

    Do you have any good sources for science to back up this statement? I completely agree with you, but when I say things like this to my husband he thinks I’m crazy until he can find scientific proof. I’ll keep Googling, but if you can point me in a direction I’d appreciate it.

  5. says

    There has been extensive research into this, particularly in regards to the balance of fats in grass-fed and free-range animal products versus industrialized grain fed animals. A decent summary of that (with links to even more info) can be found here and here and here. I would also recommend reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma (you can get it from the Must Reads section if you don’t have it already) for a REALLY in depth look at our food supply (with lots of science to back him up). It’ll blow your husband away.

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