Christian Long

Mark Bittman: What’s Wrong with What We Eat

In TED Talks on April 10, 2010 at 10:06 am

Reflection by KRISTEN K.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Mark Bittman:  What’s Wrong with What We Eat

We want to lose weight. We want to be green. We want to reduce heart disease. We want to reduce cancer.

But as humans, we don’t want to put too much effort into it.

Mark Bittman reveals that we don’t necessarily have to put much effort into it, and to accomplish many of our goals for a better society and planet, we really only have to do one thing.

And the best part is, he explains, is that we don’t have to go to extremes to make a difference. In fact, if every American did this one thing for only one day, the result would be the equivalent of “taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.”1

If every American went one day without eating meat, the benefits would be astronomical.

Mr. Bittman is not a vegetarian. He even goes on to say that he’ll “never stop eating animals.” But what Mr. Bittman is, is something we as Americans need to become: conscious, informed, and thoughtful.

We need to become conscious. What is ‘wrong’ with what we eat is “a holocaust of a different kind, and hiding under our desks isn’t going to help,” he says.

It is widely known that Americans have more cases of diabetes, heart disease, some cancers; diseases that are a “direct result of eating a Western diet.” In fact, the way we eat is detrimental not only to our health, but to our planet. More damaging than the car you drive, more hazardous than the plane you take, more destructive than all the miles Americans rack up; livestock contributes more to greenhouse gases than transportation.

We need to become informed. But don’t we need protein to survive? “Isn’t meat-eating essential to health?” No, it is not, says Mr. Bittman; “We don’t eat animal products for sufficient nutrition, we eat them to have an odd form of malnutrition, and it’s killing us.”

In another TED talk, Dan Buettner talks about longevity–that is, how some people live to be 100:  “They tend to eat a plant-based diet. Doesn’t mean they don’t eat meat, but lots of beans and nuts.”

Buettner describes a 97-year-old who built his own fence and performs 20 open-heart surgeries a month. His diet comes “directly from the Bible. Genesis: Chapter one, Verse [29], where God talks about legumes and seeds, and on one more stanza about green plants, ostensibly missing is meat.”2 This lends one to believe that less meat means that we won’t keel over and die from lack of protein.

We need to become thoughtful. America alone kills 10 billion animals a year. Animal-lover or not, eating enough animals to reach the moon “and back five times,” seems to be too steep a quantity. “There is no good reason for eating as much meat as we do. And I say this as a man who has eaten a fair share of corned-beef in his life,” Mr. Bittman explains.

How can we get out of the vicious cycle of overconsumption that not only affects our waistlines but the future of our planet?

“Less meat, less junk, more plants.” The mess our diet is in may seem like a daunting problem to solve, especially if concern extends to the welfare of our planet. But every dollar spent on whole wheat bread instead of white, on carrots instead of chips, on a bean burrito instead of a burger–every dollar spent on a more sustainable, healthful option–is a vote for a better future.

Recommended Links

Mark Bittman’s Website:

Mr. Bittman’s book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating:

Learn more about eating less meat:



  1. I like the pairing of Buettner’s talk with Bittman’s here. Both talks are about thinking harder about individual and global choices we make about food. The problem that doesn’t get talked about in your summary (and that’s at least in part because it doesn’t get talked about by Bittman and Buettner in their TEDTalks) is that eating in ways that are significantly more healthy can also be significantly more expensive and/or more difficult to access for some people.

    Still, you’ve presented the ideas of the talk quite well here. Thanks!

    • Jeff-
      I see your point about how eating healthier puts a bigger strain on your wallet. Why would someone spend three dollars on broccoli when they could get a whole burger for a dollar? Yes, eating healthy is inaccessible for many people due to the price.

      It does not make sense that the stuff we should be eating costs more than the stuff that is killing us. The only way to change that is to create more demand for healthy stuff. If those that can access healthier foods choose those foods rather than their unhealthy counterparts, demand for nourishing food will increase and demand for unhealthy food will decrease. The fast food giants became giants because we as a society demanded their services. They are able to cut costs because they can count on all their food being sold. If organic farms can count on all their food being sold, they too can cut costs. If those with more money to spare can afford to buy healthy fruits and vegetables, and buy them frequently, than eventually the prices will drive down.

      On another note, isn’t it worth spending more now on what you eat than spending the same (or, more likely, a larger) amount of money on medical costs later in life? By choosing a healthier diet, health costs will decrease because the chance of getting cancer or heart disease or becoming obese also decrease.

  2. You’ve written a great post!

    This is a problem that affects every American. Its not a problem that only scientists have to deal with or change, and its not a problem that only the government can deal with; anyone can make a difference. All that needs to happen is get America informed about what fats and chemicals they unconsciously or even consciously consume, and what the consequences are if they don’t stop. But, many people are aware, but don’t care enough to ensue healthier lifestyles. The WIN (link at bottom) website says that only 31% of Americans say they engage in daily physical activity. Frankly, I believe that is pathetic. Something has to be done.

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