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Mark Bittman On Food Culture Now

Superstar food thinker Mark Bittman on “vegan till 6” and our food culture now. On Point Live!

Food writer, food thinker Mark Bittman is one of the big voices relentlessly pushing, cajoling, inviting, instructing to change the way America eats.  For our health, for the big world.

He’s done it himself.  Vegan ‘til six is his new mantra.  Basically, eat plants all day, enjoy what you like in the evening.  Your heart and health will thank you, he says.  And so will an environment not asked to carry the groaning load of the way we eat now.

He’s funny.  He’s smart.  He’s a good cook.  He’s thinking about your plate and the planet.

This hour, On Point:  On Point Live with Mark Bittman.

- Tom Ashbrook


Mark Bittman, American food journalist and author. Columnist for the New York Times and lead food writer for the New York Times Magazine. He wrote the “Minimalist” column for the Times for more than 13 years. His new book is “VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 To Lose Weight And Restore Your Health… For Good

Also, the great bluegrass group Della Mae joined us for On Point Live. Their new album is “This World Oft Can Be.”

From Tom’s Reading List

The Washington Post: Weeknight Vegetarian: Going vegan, for the day, with Mark Bittman — “What may come across as gimmicky, with the acronym and the time stamp and all, becomes less so once you read or listen. For one thing, that 6 o’clock reference is just a device to mark off part of the day from the rest, to give eaters structure without asking them to obsess. Want cream with your morning coffee? Going out to lunch one day and don’t want to seek out a vegan entree? Want to eat bacon at breakfast and a vegetarian dinner? Don’t sweat the details. ‘The point is to eat less meat and other animal products,’ he says when we’re back in my Dupont Circle kitchen. ‘VB6 is a way to do that, but it’s certainly not the only way.’”

The New York Times (Mark Bittman): Welfare for the Wealthy — “The critically important Farm Bill is impenetrably arcane, yet as it worms its way through Congress, Americans who care about justice, health or the environment can parse enough of it to become outraged. The legislation costs around $100 billion annually, determining policies on matters that are strikingly diverse. Because it affects foreign trade and aid, agricultural and nutritional research, and much more, it has global implications.”

Excerpt: ‘VB6′ by Mark Bittman

Video: Della Mae Performs


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  • northeaster17

    Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. A quote by Michael Pollan.
    VB6 works for me too. But I must confess. It is very easy to not follow through. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      It’s all about how you define plants, isn’t it? After all, a donut is entirely made of plants: flour (from wheat), sugar (from sugar cane), and vegetable oil (probably from palms).

      • J__o__h__n

        I think Pollan deals with that by not considering junk as food.  He got into a funny battle with Paula Poundstone on Wait Wait over that. 

      • BHA_in_Vermont

         I believe he said NON PROCESSED foods.

      • northeaster17

        It’s all about the journey the plant takes from the field to your table

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    Mark Bittman went from being a moderately interesting cooking writer to being a deadly dull food scold. His repetitive generalizations have little to do with scientific evidence and everything to do with his own food hang-ups, his puritanical worldview, his relationship with affluent “foodies,” and his personal likes and dislikes. (His recent NYT piece on his psychological trauma when “forced” to eat a Nathan’s hotdog at a NJ rest area was among the most moronic things I’ve ever read.)  

    Bittman spoke in my town some time back, completely ignoring the economic realities of our area’s poverty-stricken neighborhoods (where the closest thing to a berry is inside a pop tart). He did, however, speak to the affluent part of town and he visited the local boutique organic farms which provide produce for our upper-middle class farmer’s market (raspberries at $10 a pint last summer). He had much praise for the healthy food ways of our local elites. I wrote him and asked why he didn’t visit the poorer folk and address some of the hard and basic food issues we face, issues which are at the center of our nation’s obesity problem and are closely related to the country’s growing inequality, instead of just attending to the wealthier parts of town. I suppose I knew the answer: the affluent pay him to speak to them and they buy his books. In any event, he never responded.

    • J__o__h__n

      Is he still a scold after 6:00?

      • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

        Haha! I heard him speak after 6:00, and I can attest to the fact that, indeed, he is. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/megan.mchugh.984 Megan McHugh

      Science won’t convince most Americans that their diets are killing them. Conversation will. And, for better or for worse, generalizations are more meaningful to most people than scientific evidence. Very few people who embark on the hard work of losing real weight turn to hard science for answers – Bittman knows that. I attended this Live event last night and was impressed with his down-to-earth tone. I’m fully vegan and have been for years, so he needn’t convert me. But for those who wrestle with weight and health problems, his 2/3 vegan diet just might be the helpful. Neither rigid nor dogmatic, Bittman’s advice brings many of veganism’s health benefits to meat-and-potatoes people who don’t have the desire or wherewithal (kitchen skills, capital) for a complete dietary overhaul.

      • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

        Bittman preaches his repetitive generalizations to the already converted (such as your vegan self) and fails to address the really hard food issues. That was my point, which I repeat here in simpler language, since you obviously did not understand it the first time around.

  • madnomad554

    Great. Another program about food, where “most” will swear they have no choice but eat what is in the grocery store.

    If one has the time, space and money to grow grass, then one has the time, space and money to grow food.

    Yes I am well aware that some live in apartments, as I lived in one in the past. That is why I say time, SPACE and money.

    Basically, if one owns a lawnmower, then one can almost certainly grow some food. And even some of the poor own lawn mowers. I don’t consider myself poor, middle class or upper class. I’m just a US citizen/veteran. But society would classify me as poor, lower middle class at best. Growing up in rural Tenn would have been considered, “dirt poor”, but we had a garden, as I do now.

    Stop making excuses and get proactive and preventative with the only health you will ever have America. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      That’s right. If everyone had enough (1) time, (2) space, and (3) money, we could solve not only our food problems, but pretty much all of our other problems as well. Isn’t this fairly simplistic and obvious?

      • madnomad554

         Were not on the same page here. My comment refers too the time, space and money, the is directly used to grow grass, meaning the lawn.

        My comment is not about time, space and money in general. So let me make this crystal…the time, space and money used to grow a lawn.


    • Carla

      I agree in a way. Food is simply not as important to Americans as it is to the rest of the world, so we say we don’t have the time or money or space. I can certainly point to statistics that show the rest of the world has less money and space. More time, perhaps. We’re busy working to make money to buy “food scold” (thanks, Bast – Howard’s End?) books and eat take out all the time since we are not interested in cooking at home. I guess I’m a “food scold” too but I preferred Bittman in his hedonistic, food-loving days, rather than his newfound preachy anhedonism. I wish he’d rather preach vegetables as pleasure, like Nigel Slater. 

  • dmart76

    We are not ruminants, we don’t have two stomachs. Vegetarian diets lack adequate proteins, important omega 3 (DHA and EPA),  and other healthy fatty acids. The China Study has been disproven (link below) so why bother talking about vegan diets? I’d much rather focus the conversation on whole foods diets such as Paleo or Primal.

    The China Study: Fact or Fallacy?

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      Unfortunately, I’ve never known a vegan to be swayed by scientific evidence. Veganism is closer to a religion, and its evangelists are not generally open to empirical evidence. 

      • scgojp

        That is completely not true.  Yes, the vegan diet originally began as a lifestyle choice and was primarily motivated by animal welfare.  Today’s vegans are quite in tune to the scientific evidence that proves the health value and disease preventing qualities of the diet and way of life.  Nearly everything stated above by dmart76 is completely untrue.  It IS true that our bodies are not built to eat meat.  Our digestive tracts are not nearly long enough to digest meat properly and the shape of our teeth is better suited for chewing plants.  The amount of protein that we need on a daily basis has been grossly overstated.  Plant based protein sources are the absolute healthiest and cleanest available, i.e. beans, lentils and grains.  High quality fatty acids are readily available through flax seeds, seeds and nuts.  Also of note is how vegan diets eliminate all cholesterol and have been extremely successful for the prevention and reversal of chronic disease such as diabetes and heart disease. It may not be easy and it may not be for everyone, but it’s health value cannot be disputed.  As a vegan, I applaud Mr. Bittman for making the idea of plant-based eating approachable and achievable for all.

    • adks12020

      He isn’t promoting an all vegetarian diet. He’s promoting a mostly vegetarian diet. That’s the way I am and it definitely makes me feel better. I’d say 80-85% vegetarian diet is perfect for me.

      I enjoy red meat occasionally (mostly venison) and fish but I keep it as a small portion of my diet. Even when I do eat it my plate is 85% veggies, 5-10% starch and the rest meat. I also could not do without cheese and yogurt.

      • ChevSm

        I agree completely.  I don’t eat a lot of meat maybe 3-4 times a week.  I do eat a good amount of fish but I mainly eat fruits and veggies.  I do this b/c it makes me feel great.  I find that I have much more energy then when I was eating a lot of precessed foods and it’s also much cheaper.     

    • http://www.facebook.com/BGHooke Bruce Hooke

      “Well-planned vegetarian and vegan diets are nutritionally
      adequate and are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle,
      including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and
      adolescence.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vegetarian_nutrition (see citations at end)

  • Shag_Wevera

    Move along.  No revolution to see here.  Move along.

  • Ayn Marx 666`

    (I’m sorry if my earlier comment were deemed rude; that was not my intent.)

    I’d like Mr Bittman to address what I think is a real problem:  many in the general public will not listen to people who pay a lot of attention to their diets because they sense, incorrectly or (often) correctly, that such people were using their scrupulousness as a way of feeling better than everyone else.  As a wise man said, ‘Vegetarians may have something, but their diet is conducive to wind and self-righteousness.’

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      Very true. I often sense this when I talk to people who see themselves as healthy eaters (especially vegans and vegetarians). They seem to have attached moral value to their food choices, and they speak in a way that is almost religious in its need to evangelize. It’s definitely a turn off.

      • http://www.facebook.com/BGHooke Bruce Hooke

        I know a lot of vegetarians and vegans. In my experience a tiny percentage of them are “evangelists.” The vast majority just quietly eat their chosen diet like everyone else, unless someone starts aggressively challenging them and trying to tell them why their diet is wrong. Of course in that case you can expect some push-back but that’s hardly the fault of the vegetarian/vegan! On the other side of the coin, a fair percentage of meat eaters seem to be pretty defensive about their diets, which means that someone just saying they are vegetarian is seen as evangelizing.

  • Mariamirojohnson

    Tom, from the very intro, you’re making an ignorant assumption: “eat vegetables all day and WHAT YOU ENJOY in the evening”? Vegetables, for the record, are enjoyable to eat!

  • Matthew J Hall

    Come to Foodie Burlington, VT! Restaurants more and more growing & picking their own food for meals that are served.  Talk about knowing where your food comes from! http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20130607/LIVING06/306070009/Dinner-grown-here-More-restaurants-are-picking-from-their-own-gardens

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      Yeah, and very little of it affordable to the lower class citizens of Burlington (of which I am one). My food budget is $40 per week. Please explain to me how I can eat in these restaurants. “Foodie Burlington” is by, of, and for the affluent bourgeoisie (same people that made it impossible to find affordable housing here).

  • ChevSm

    This is easy, cheap and common sense. 
    I have been doing this for years. 

    Breakfast: Oatmeal. 

    Lunch: salad with chickpea or tuna.  Or, peanut butter with fruit /veggies and granola.

    It’s a lot cheaper then eating out or eating prepared / processed food and it’s healthy!       

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

      It is cheap, and parts of it could be tasty, but, no thanks. I’d rather get sick and die twenty years before my time than face this every single day for years.

      • ChevSm

        I don’t do this b/c it’s healthy.  I do it b/c I enjoy it and feel better.  I might be an outlier but I actually like oatmeal or cheerios for breakfast.  I also love greens and peanut butter so I’m perfectly happy eating peanut butter everyday for lunch.  On the weekend, I might have some eggs for breakfast and cook some chicken or a burger w/fries for lunch but there is no way I could eat that heavy everyday.  I wouldn’t be able to move. 

      • madnomad554

         And that’s exactly part of the problem in this country. You would rather be overtaken with preventable sickness, illness and diseases for years and expect other people to take care of your healthcare needs.

        Why is it my responsibility to take care of you, because you decided not to take care of you?

        If your gonna eat yourself into poor health, then you pay for your health problems all by yourself.

    • madnomad554

      Hey, I have pearled barley for breakfast and it doesn’t have to take 30 minutes to cook it or steel cut oats either. I put an entire package of the pearled barley in a glass container, fill it with water, pop the lid on it and stick it in the frig. Within 24 hours the barley is soaked full and I can eat from it for a week or more.

      One mashed banana, crushed walnuts, ground cinnamon, the barley and milk. Just over a minute in the microwave and it’s ready to eat. The same can be done with steel cut oats . The soaking does away with the 30 minute cook times.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    My eggs come from chickens that (spring through fall) eat very little “processed” chicken feed and a lot of self sourced bugs, grass and seeds. Earthworms they dig up are a favorite.

    If my chickens need animal protein, I suspect I do as well.

  • MaryFinelli

    How about advocating a diet where one can consume all the junk food they want after 6? It’s just as nonsensical.

    A vegan diet can be far healthier, less expensive, more interesting and delicious than one that includes meat, milk or eggs: http://tinyurl.com/csussh8  It is also extremely diverse, and so can be adopted by virtually everyone.

    A diet that includes meat, milk or eggs is one that entails harming animals, and there is no justification for that – after 6 or any time. Cut out the excuses, go vegan ALL the time: http://www.ChooseVeg.com 

    • BHA_in_Vermont

      “A diet that includes meat, milk or eggs is one that entails harming animals, and there is no justification for that.”

      I challenge anyone to come see my chickens and then claim they are being harmed in ANY way. I can’t even find them when they are out in the field, the grass is too tall. They only spend time in the coop (big enough for 3 times as many birds as I have) at night and that is to protect them from predators. They go in at dusk by themselves because they instinctively know they want to be up high in a safe place when they sleep.

      And when they stop laying eggs, they will be among the “takers”; not headed to a soup pot.

      If I had milk animals, they would be equally NOT harmed.

      • MaryFinelli

        In order to produce milk, a cow, goat, etc., first needs to be pregnant. What would you do with the resultant babies, and what would you do with the mothers when they become too old to produce milk?

        • BHA_in_Vermont

          Perhaps they could be work/draft animals while on the dole. Though I guess if they are working, by definition, they are NOT on the dole.

          People and animals that have nothing to do but lay around all day are less healthy and less happy than those who do work. A century plus back, cows were smaller and could do double duty, not just stuff them full for max production and 2 daily trips to the milking parlor.


          Or sheep – sheep cheese brings quite a nice price. And you can shear them annually.

          Point being, not all animals raised to produce food (as opposed to being raised to BE food) are mistreated and live horrible lives.

          • MaryFinelli

            Cows need to be impregnated yearly in order to continue to produce milk, sheep even more often. That’s a LOT of calves and lambs. Not a very realistic prospect, at all. And what about when they can no longer produce milk or otherwise slave away for you?

            Additionally, the vast majority of animals used for food ARE mistreated and live horrible lives - the vast majority, by far.  

    • J__o__h__n

      Most people aren’t interested in that.  Why not focus on reducing the total number of animals consumed by getting the majority of people to cut back instead of advocating an extreme diet that most people are never going to adopt? 

      • MaryFinelli

        Increasingly people ARE interested in it, once they learn the truth. That’s what we need to tell them, not that it’s okay to abuse their bodies, animals and the planet after 6.

        • J__o__h__n

          The environment, animals and people’s health would be better overall if they followed his advice.  If 80% of people followed his advice it would be more effective than if 5% adopted a vegan diet. 

          • MaryFinelli

            You don’t know that. Many people might eat just as great an amount of animal products after 6 as they would if they were eating them throughout the day. They might actually consume even more of them if they feel they are holding out for them all day.

            The point is, people should adopt a 100% vegan diet 100% of the time, and that’s what anyone who genuinely cares about human health, animal well-being, justice, and/or the planet should be advocating.

          • J__o__h__n

            Can’t reason with a cult.  We are all unenlighted and uncaring.

          • MaryFinelli

            You mean to say you can’t defend your position.

            It’s not a cult -though saying so is an easy cop-out for you-it’s plainly the truth. It’s a matter of being responsible enough to acknowledge that and act accordingly.   

          • J__o__h__n

            I did defend it.  The total impact to health, the planet, and to animals would be greater if a larger number of people made moderate changes to their diet than if a smaller number adopted the more extreme diet.  It is a question of math not morality.  People who bother to follow his suggestion aren’t likely to try to find a loophole and eat likes pigs after 6:00.  And you claim that anyone who doesn’t share your views in unenlightened and needs to learn “the truth” or they don’t care.  Cult fits.  Also as you aren’t a regular poster, I looked at your posts on other sites and they are all on animal welfare and veganhood.

          • MaryFinelli

            Yes, I have long advocated for animal protection and therefore for veganism.
            I do so because it is a principled position based on fairness, compassion, and
            personal responsibility. Call it what you will.

            And yes, J_o_h_n, unlike you I use my full, actual name to post. Please don’t try to speak for
            me. If you’ll read your previous comment you’ll note that YOU are the one who
            claimed everyone is unenlightened and unethical. Speak for yourself.

            Veganism isn’t an “extreme diet.” What’s extreme is insisting on using
            animals for food when it is harmful to animals, human health, and the
            environment. THAT is slavish thinking.

            The bottom line: there’s no valid justification for harming animals for food,
            or for advocating a diet that does that, including one that claims it’s fine to
            do so after 6.

          • jefe68

            Sounds extrem to me.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jason.scorse Jason Scorse

            I don’t think Mary is acting at all cult-like. The benefits of a vegan diet are simply science and fact. I agree that getting people to eat less animal products overall is a worthy goal, but the ultimate goal should be the elimination of all animal products from the food system. It’s the most sustainable all around. And tastes better too.

          • jefe68

            It comes across like that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/jason.scorse Jason Scorse

          YES!!!!! We need to turn people on to the amazing joys of veagn food and then they won’t go back to eating death and poison.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jason.scorse Jason Scorse

       Thank you. I respect Mark but this eat crap and animal products after 6 is lazy and weak thinking. Moving towards a 100% plant-based diet is the rational and sensible course.

    • jefe68

      No thanks. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/SeacoastFringeFestival Valerie Marcley

    Does eating an unorganic vegetable out weigh eating whatever they spray it with? Or does the pesticide overtake any good the vegetable has? Is it better to have any kind of vegetable regardless?

    • adks12020

      Yes, it’s better to have any veggies than little or no veggies. Pesticides have their own issues but they don’t take the nutrients out of the veggies. Always wash any veggies thoroughly.

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    I would rather see a tax on soda and removal of the “no store prepared food” for those using food stamps. Does it make sense that someone can’t buy a cooked chicken (eaten only after 6 PM of course ;)  ) but can buy soda and Twinkies? 

  • BHA_in_Vermont

    vegetarian dish “everyone” loves:
    Spinach and artichoke cheese “dip”. Even people who like neither artichokes nor spinach like it. 

  • BlueNH

    Eat a varied diet, but DO NOT EAT any GMO foods. There is strong evidence that GMO foods have caused the spike in autism, and lots of digestive problems. It’s like eating a dose of Roundup with every spoonful. No thanks!

    Why won’t the US require GMO labeling? Easy answer: Corporations own Congress.

    • BenGjones

      No, there really isn’t any evidence of that; that is a claim as far fetched as the MMR vaccine ‘scandal’. I think you need to cite something if you’re going to make a claim like that. I strongly dislike a lack of scientific literacy in posts about serious issues, and I find very distasteful the linking of the ‘disease of the week’ (in this case autism) to whatever bogeyman people are wishing to scare others away from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/emily.h.lacroix Emily Harvey Lacroix

    Let’s call it “low meat.” 

  • Sandy2118

    Organic carrots make great snacks.

  • Sandy2118

    Canned tomatoes?  What about BPA in the lining?  It is still an issue.  We should shun canned tomatoes.  Only buy tomatoes in glass containers.

  • Al_Kidder

    I was watching a doco on telly a few nights ago about insect eating in Thailand and Cambodia. Insects are high in protein and quick to grow, turning vegetables into flesh just as fast as meat chickens do.
    So if the vegan thing is about not eating sentient beings, is a locust far enough away from us on the evolutionary tree to be acceptable as food?

  • mrtwilight23

    Great show and I think diet and health deserve a lot more attention. I do think Bittman is incorrect in saying we need sugar in our diet. Our cells need glucose, but we can turn dietary fat and protein into glucose. The only way I could lose weight was when I cut out all carbohydrates from my diet. I ate a high fat, moderate protein diet for about 9 months to get down to my desired weight. I learned that when you eat fat you train your body to metabolize your own body fat. In the presence of blood sugar spikes from carbohydrates, that process is impaired, or in my case, completely shut down. Who knows what percentage of the population has this near zero tolerance for dietary carbohydrate, but we’re out there.
    I agree that we need to tax soda – maybe expand that to all added sugars. With prolonged chronic exposure, sugar is toxic. And right now sugar is dirt cheap and it’s been added to everything in a package.

  • Unterthurn

    After listening to this as a podcast: I’m not too sure about the credibility Bittman. He first explained that vegans considered their ‘carbon footprint’ and the ‘sustainability’ of what they consume, but later said a “coke and fries” would quality as vegan. (Really with processed sugars and fats?) His authority for what he believes in would better hold up if he’d give one and only one single definition of vegan and then stick to his guns. His borders are so flexible that it undermines the whole concept.

  • missioli

    Senate Passes Chairwoman Stabenow’s 2013 Farm Bill http://www.stabenow.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1038

  • geraldfnord

    As the Last Poets rapped avant la lettre:

    The Revolution will not be [cooked sous vide in a truffle sauce accented with just a hint of asafœtida and thyme and served on a bed of heritage kale, judged by professionally famous people, and] televised.

  • Carla

    Disappointed in Bittman, whose cookbook The Minimalist Cooks at Home, was the first cookbook I owned. This VB6 sounds like something straight from the pages of any silly women’s magazine. Eat very little all day, at night, indulge, and you’ll lose weight! And the book author will make lots of money on our high hopes and preference to shell out for a book with a possible magic bullet. (We love consumerism!) Rather than buying yet another diet book, Americans need to grow up, face facts, and stop eating junk as if there were no consequence.
    Also, his comment that it is easier to eat well in America than in Western Europe takes one specific phenomenom – vegan/vegetarian/health restaurants in the US – and turns it into something else that is incorrect. In the run-of-the-mill US restaurant there are far fewer – and a smaller variety of – vegetables served than in the run-of-the-mill European restaurant. In our typical extremist black/white fashion, we Americans can go out to eat and eat very poorly or we can go to a vegan restaurant and feast on kale. In Europe – I’ve lived in France, Belgium and Germany and my husband is French – vegetables are a part of everyday life and cooking, whether restaurant or home cooking. They are not some special health food. They are food. I’m glad he corrected himself to point out that Europeans eat more vegetables at home.

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