Food snobbery, thy name is Mark Bittman. Writing in yesterday’s New York Times, the cookbook author cum culinary columnist officially displaced Marie Antoinette as history’s most haute cuisine-addled dining commentator. The biggest difference, of course, is that while the headless French queen never actually told bread-starved peasants to “eat cake,” Bittman is directing Times readers to turn their noses up at any animal protein that doesn’t meet his touchy-feeliness standards.
“We’re crack addicts with a steady supply,” Bittman gripes about Americans’ love for meat and dairy foods. Allowing (apologetically) that he himself “grew up eating meat seven days a week,” Bittman later rejoices at the idea that Europeans are embracing “saner ways of eating, which start with cutting back on some animal products.” These “better-educated citizens,” as he calls them, are the new foodie elites. And Bittman is their tutor.
Forget your instincts, your preferences, your choices, your eating pleasure. Mark Bittman wants you to eat meat “in limited quantities.” And he apparently took time off from an expensive fact-finding junket in exotic Turkish locales to lecture us about why (emphasis added):
A restaurant in Istanbul that had blown my mind 10 years ago with its local variety was offering wild turbot (decidedly not local) and swordfish, along with a few fish that the waiter kindly un-pushed: “These are from the farm,” he said, “so why bother?”
As much as we like eating animals, naturally crave them and are encouraged by misinformation (often a better word than “marketing”), the waiter’s advice — “why bother?” — holds true for at least 90 percent of the animal products we’re offered, no matter what their form. They’re produced badly, they cause immeasurable damage to both our bodies and the earth, and — compared with the real thing — they don’t taste that good.
Why bother? If you have the means to travel the world in search of palate-tickling seafood varieties, there’s certainly no reason. You can have your locally sourced, floss-netted Mediterranean catch of the day and eat it too. You can even ask the fish for its last words.
But for the rest of us, “bothering” enough with ordinary food for nourishment is a call to give thanks, not turn up our noses. And for consumers worldwide who haven’t yet climbed Bittman’s social ladder, it’s a matter of survival.
Who is Bittman to tell the single mother of three that she shouldn’t serve bacon for breakfast if it didn’t come with a certificate of authenticity from an artisanal farmer? Why should hope-swelled American immigrants with barely two nickels to rub together waste brain cycles locating “locally and ethically produced dairy and eggs”? And, for that matter, what of the poor masses in Turkey where Bittman filed his column this week? (What of the waiter who served Bittman his fish and his ink-ready snark?)
To ordinary consumers, meat, eggs, and dairy foods—those they can afford—are miraculously abundant and satisfying. If Bittman really believes “they don’t taste that good,” he’s cooking them wrong.