13 August 2021

Painting of a hand holding a bloody dagger and a hen with tears
Beth Clifton collage

Regarding The Bittman Project:
“Food is Everything”

By Karen Davis, PhD, President, United Poultry Concerns

New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has launched The Bittman Project, “where we’re cultivating a ‘Food is everything’ community to help each other become better cooks and eaters.” Here’s an example of “Eat it to stay healthy” posted on August 10:

Stop Eating Chicken Soup When You're Sick!

While the project includes vegan recipes along with the animal-based recipes, it exemplifies the result of focusing only on food and opposing only “factory farming.” The animals are absorbed into the food fetish rhetoric – “our cooking feeds your soul” – just as they are absorbed into the dishes that feature them and their eggs and milk products.

While I hate giving Bittman the publicity, I think he needs to hear from us “compassionate cuisine” people. And animal advocates need to understand that Bittman is no real friend of the animals. All he has ever claimed, in a cavalier fashion, is opposition to “factory farming.”

You can politely send Mark Bittman your thoughts and concerns here: bittman@markbittman.com.


This Excerpt from my article Disengaged Journalism & The Disparagement & Disappearance of Animals looks at Mark Bittman.

A type of disengagement that is shown by some journalists covering disclosures of farmed animal abuse is to acknowledge, but then sabotage, the evidence by pitting the disclosure against another atrocity in a way that diminishes the significance of the one being discussed.

While many animal advocates feel that The New York Times op-ed columnists Mark Bittman and Nicholas Kristof are doing farmed animals a favor in their coverage of exposures of farmed animal abuse, I’m skeptical. This is because the attitude of both columnists toward the information they present is shallow, hedonistic, and presented in a way that undercuts the emotional impact of animal suffering, encouraging readers to focus instead on the fact that “we” love eating animals regardless of how they are treated, and that if you, dear reader, are troubled by the cruelty, try to reduce your consumption of “factory farmed” products.

Bittman published a column in 2015 about the lifting of a ban enacted in 2012 on selling foie gras in California. Foie gras is an appetizer obtained from ducks and geese by shoving metal funnels down their throats for several weeks until their livers are gorged and they are slaughtered. In “Let Them Eat Foie Gras,” Bittman scolds not those who supply and demand foie gras, but those who oppose it: “To single out the tiniest fraction of meat production and label it ‘cruel’ is to miss the big picture, and the big picture is this: Almost all meat production in the United States is cruel.” As if animal rights advocates didn’t know this already and were ignoring “the big picture” by focusing on particular instances of farmed animal cruelty in a vacuum. Foie gras, Bittman says, may be “cruel”—a concession he undermines by placing the word cruel in quotation marks, adding that while the force-feeding process may be “unnatural,” it is not necessarily “torture,” because ducks and geese “will stuff themselves anyway.” This slur presumably alludes to the fact that wild waterfowl eat extra large quantities of food to prepare for their long-distance flights. They eat for the energy these flights require, not because they are gluttons.

Hope holding a microphone
Photo by Frank Johnston — The Washington Post

“This is not to say a few thousand ducks and geese don’t matter,” Bittman says, though the tone of his column says he thinks otherwise. He blunts the effect of the abusive situation he’s discussing by pitting it against other abuses so that by the time all the misery is massed together amid playful mini-commentaries on the prices and pleasures of specialty meats and other dainty observations, Bittman has succeeded in rendering the reader morally impotent and stupefied by the mélange. Observing that more chickens are killed in an hour in the U.S. than ducks and geese are killed for foie gras in a year, he says: “If you allow that the same is true of most animals raised in the United States . . . you are looking at an industry that produces cruelty on a scale that’s so big and overwhelming few of us can consider it rationally or regularly.”

I wonder if this is the condition Bittman wants people to be in by the time he is through. He gives no indication that he himself is doing anything in particular to help the chickens, cows and other animals whose “big picture” misery he flashes before us. He doesn’t seem to be asking the reader to either. What he says about foie gras in his final sentence may extend to the plight of all of them, that for him, it “just isn’t that important.”
Karen Davis, United Poultry Concerns