I’m not sure Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist, pleased anyone when he appeared on the Dr. Oz Show last week to promote his new book, “Vegan Before 6” (VB6). VB6 basically encourages folks to become “part-time vegans.” Of course, vegans are outraged because to follow the vegan diet and lifestyle requires an all-or-nothing approach. And, I’m a little perplexed that Bittman is proposing that we would all be healthier if we were vegan “most of the time.”
According to Dr. Oz, “The program has just one simple rule: Avoid meat and dairy from breakfast until dinnertime. Instead, load up on foods that are packed with nutrients, not calories – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils. When dinnertime rolls around, however, you can eat whatever you'd like. The plan is easy, doesn't require a lot of sacrifice and works: Mark lost 36 lbs. after just four months of eating vegan during the day.”
After a reader tipped me off about this program last week, I checked out the interview online.
Here are some real gems (that’s sarcasm, by the way) from Bittman’s interview with Dr. Oz:
• “If you look at the process from corn to cattle, we could be doing much, much better by the animals we raised and by fellow human beings if we eat much more responsibly and consciously. I think the way of eating I have developed has been good for my health, the planet and my pants size.
• “Two things have surprised me. One is the really tragic way we are treating the environment and the animals, and the terrible effect it is having on our health right now. And, the other is that we’re not particularly alarmed about it.
• “I eat a strict vegan diet -- real whole foods, really good for you -- until dinnertime, and then I let her rip. If you are willing to eat real, whole healthy until 6 p.m., we can do the things we like to do at night. Have a glass of wine; have a steak.”
Furthermore, in other interviews promoting VB6, Bittman continues to take jabs at farmers and ranchers. In quotes pulled from The Huffington Post, Bittman says, “Of all the changes you can make to your diet, eating fewer animal products has the most dramatic impact on the health of the planet because eating meat is a top cause of global warming; depletes land, water, energy, and mineral resources; requires 80% of all antibiotics produced in the U.S.; and more. To live more environmentally, we should be cutting back on our meat intake.
“Animals grown in factory farms live in horrific conditions. They're drugged, mutilated, and denied the opportunity to fulfill every natural instinct. So eating less meat (and boycotting factory-farmed meat entirely) also allows us to live out our universally shared opposition to factory farms, which treat animals as if they were widgets, with little to no care for their welfare."
Plain and simple, Bittman is using fiction and emotion to sell copies of VB6.
Frankly, I’ve never met a rancher who treats his animals as Bittman describes. Watch this video, “Animal Welfare: Why It Is Always Important To You,” featuring comments from Dan Thomson, Kansas State University veterinarian.
What’s more, the wastefulness he describes in meat production can be debunked in this blog post, “Clearing The Air On Cattle And The Environment.”
Additionally, his reference to antibiotic use in meat production causing antibiotic resistance in humans also raised my B.S. flag. Burt Rutherford offers some answers in this December 2012 article, “Overcoming Antibiotic Resistance Is A Tough Task.”
I think Bittman has to rely on ruffling feathers to sell copies of his book. After all, recipe suggestions from VB6 include dishes like scrambled tofu with spinach and eggplant un-parmesan. It stands to reason that VB6 isn’t advocating for veganism (sorry, tofu lovers), as much as calling for portion control. In a nutshell, Bittman says you can eat fruits and vegetables to your heart’s desire because they are low-calorie foods. He saves the rich, calorie-dense items (which also make the vitamins in fruits and vegetables more absorbable) for dinner time. This means that, at dinner, he is getting the protein and fats he needs for brain function, energy and cell repair. Although I haven’t read VB6, I suspect the diet plan is simply a fancy way of reducing calories for folks to lose weight.
Bittman is playing on two hot topics right now -- veganism and obesity. Diet books are major sellers right now. Just walk into any bookstore, and you’ll notice rows and rows of new and improved meal plans, all designed to reduce inches and lower that number on the scale. Bittman isn’t a nutritionist or a doctor; he is a sensationalist journalist who wears a chef’s hat, on occasions. With those qualifications, you or I could also pen a diet book. Of course, without the celebrity status or endorsement of Dr. Oz, it might be tough to sell too many copies.
Don't be too upset with Dr. Oz, however. Tomorrow, he'll probably have another new and exciting way for folks to lose weight and be healthy. His endorsements sometimes tend to be a bit like the weather here in South Dakota -- constantly changing.
What do you think about Bittman’s “Vegan Before 6” book? How would you counteract some of the statements he made in his interviews? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.