The Politics of the Plate

By Ezra Klein

I was very sad to miss Monday’s panel discussion between IFA-here Mark Bittman and DC-chef Jose Andres. Well, I’m still sad. But less sad than I was, because now I’ve got the video!

Update: Gah! I can’t embed the video! But you can watch it here.

I’m particularly taken with Bittman’s opening statement: He retells the long and winding process that eventually brought him to view food choices as a political — and more than that, policy — decision. His evolution has been pretty similar to my own. A report here. An article there. A nagging feeling that beans are a pretty viable alternative to flesh. And one day, you find yourself unhappily looking at your plate and feeling guilty. Frankly, you know better. And if you know better, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that you should be acting better. Not necessarily perfectly. But better.


10 responses to “The Politics of the Plate

  1. This is very interesting and pretty well timed, I decided this week I am going to try and cut back meat consumption to once or twice a week. Have you started substituting tofu and seitan? I may just stick to veggies.. but that could be because my CSA starts in a week.

  2. Actually, beans are not a very good alternative to meat. The country is experiencing an epidemic cluster of diseases–obesity, hypertension, diabetes, atherosclerosis–rooted in overconsumption of carbohydrates the insulin response they provoke in the body. What we could really use is a national conversation on the insulin bomb that is our carb-heavy diet. Meat is the most nutritious food we know and does not require insulin to be metabolized in the body. Advocating that Americans shun meat in favor of more carbohydrates can only exacerbate our epidemic of diet-related disease. We need more healthy meat and fat in our diets, not less, and certainly not carbohydrate substitutes.

  3. Alton told me that beans don’t have the same insulin response as other carbs. As we know, Alton is never wrong (unless he’s correcting himself, or building kitchen gadgets so complex not even he can explain them) this research seems to back it up.

  4. Yeah, I’m not buying the beans as the culprit argument. Haven’t seen any evidence that obesity, hypertension, and especially diabetes are linked to overconsumption of beans. Beans are very complex carbs, not the same thing as white bread or a Ho Ho at all.

  5. Beans and rice have been the staple of Mexican diets for centuries. They are complementary proteins-the amino acids lacking in one is made up by the other. Yet when Mexicans emigrate to the US and their diet changes they suddenly have a far greater incidence of diabetes. Wonder why.

  6. Beans are not the only option. Since getting 5 cheerful chickens in my back yard, my family has 1 or 2 egg-based evening meals per week. Delicious, nutritious and foodmiles = 0. And I don’t feel guilty about the unproductive land my yard is wasting.

  7. I’m all for cutting back on my meat consumption – and I too support beans. No way connected to wonder bread at all. My question is this… My question is what are the relative environmental concern of red meat vs. chicken vs. fish. Or, as my gut tells me, is it a question of moving towards a more plant-based diet? (or all-backyard-egg diet)

  8. mark,


    …for a counter-argument to the standard environmental arguments about vegetarianism. Written by a Maine grandmother — clearly a radical!

  9. I couldn’t get through that grandmother’s entire screed, but from what I saw her points are valid, but they also don’t deviate far from a lot of what Bittman has said, such as the idea that we need better sources of meat, not just get rid of it.

    She makes another problematic point, while she’s right that pastured meat isn’t terrible for the enviroment, we also couldn’t sustain our consumption on pastured meat. Even if every farm had the output of polyface or similar operations we still couldn’t produce enough beef to get there.

  10. The Maine grandmother is right on a number of issues. Humans are omnivores. Meat is a good source of both protein for growth and calories for sustenance ; in addition humans are hard-wired to enjoy fat, be it olive oil, stir fry, or Doritos. It is no wonder that as soon as income goes up so does meat consumption.

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