A couple of weeks ago, the Institute of Medicine, usually a scold-friendly issuer of hundred-page reports demanding social engineering of food choices, dropped a bombshell by declaring that reducing salt more aggressively isn’t necessary. Food scolds like Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), who once declared salt “the deadly white powder you already snort,” were hardest hit.
Mark Bittman, the New York Times’s food-scold-in-residence, responded by dismissing the methodology of the studies underlying findings of the report. To keep fear of the “processed foods” he demonizes so often alive, Bittman dismissed “studies based on people’s reports of their diets” as “of questionable value.”
However, Bittman will apparently make exceptions to this view to support his pet causes. In response to an observational study based on people’s reports of their diets that found that meat consumption was linked to “death risk,” Bittman praised the study as “‘good’ (as in ‘bad’) news.” Why “good”? Perhaps because Bittman was preparing to write and sell a book, Vegan Before 6 — although his Times columns and promotional interviews suggest he doesn’t really follow that rigorous a regimen — purporting to show that animal-free meals (except at dinner) make you skinny.
In reality, weight control is a matter of calorie balance, where calories consumed equal calories used for physical activity. And the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association), the leading association of nutrition professionals, notes that all foods can fit within a healthy eating style if consumed in moderation and in conjunction with sufficient physical activity.
But then again, rigorous science just isn’t Mark Bittman’s strong suit. Despite the American Association for the Advancement of Science finding that crop biotechnology is safe and that labeling so-called “GM foods” will falsely alarm consumers, Bittman demands it. Even though the US Department of Agriculture notes that milk provides three of the four nutrients of public health concern (calcium, potassium, and vitamin D), Bittman chooses to believe his internet commenters’ assertions and anecdotal claims that it causes everything from head lice to heartburn.
And when faced with evidence that the carbon emissions of livestock weren’t as bad as he had hyped, Bittman dismissed the refutation of the centerpiece of his claim as irrelevant. Interestingly, that gives Bittman something in common with the senior author of the supposed meat-death study, Walter Willett, who recently received a science-slap from the editors of the journal Nature for declaring findings about obesity risks that he disagreed with a “pile of rubbish.”