TED Talks Worth Talking About | Mark Bittman – What’s Wrong With What We Eat

Posted on May 30, 2008



In this fiery and funny talk, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman weighs in on what’s wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it’s putting the entire planet at risk.

Mark Bittman

Here are the key notes:

1. Cow Farts: After energy production, livestock is the second highest contributor to atmosphere altering gasses. Nearly 1/5th (~18%) of all greenhouse gas is generated by livestock production. That’s more than transportation. Methane is 20 times more poisonous than CO2.

2. Drugs: Half of all the antibiotics given in this country are given to animals.

3. Disease: There is no question that so-called lifestyle diseases (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers) are diseases that are far more prevalent here (in America) than anywhere in the rest of the world. And that is a direct result of eating a Western diet (meat, dairy, poultry, refined carbohydrates).

4. Coke: The world consumes 1 billion bottles/cans of coke a day.

5. Calories: Our want for consumption causes us to consume way more calories than are good for us.

6. SuPLANTing: The “5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day” ought not be accompanying other items, but supplanting them.

7. Slaughter: We are killing 10 billion animals (chickens, cows, pigs) a year; and that’s just the United States. If you strung all of them to the moon, they would go there and back 5 times (with shaky math…but you get the idea).

8. A “LOCAVORE” is someone who eats only locally grown food.

9. 100 Years: c.1900, everyone ate locally (even New York), shipping food all over the place was a ridiculous notion. Every family had a cook, usually mom. There was no margarine, no snack food, no frozen food, no restaurant chains, eating ethnic was unheard of unless you were ethnic, and fancy food was French. There was no philosophy of food, you just ate. No marketing, no national brands. Vitamins had not been invented. Corn flakes, pop tarts, pringles, all non-existent.

10. Population: Between 1950 and 2000 the world’s population doubled. Meat consumption grew 5 fold. Someone’s eating all that meat; so we got fast-food, etc….


A. If you’re environmentally conscious, you should probably be semi-vegetarian.

B. The evidence is overwhelming: plants promote health. You eat more plants, less animals, you live longer.

C. We are not born craving whoppers or skittles.

D. Instead of substituting plants for animals, our swollen appetites simply became larger, and the most dangerous aspects of them remain unchanged.

E. Can farm-raised “organic” salmon be organic when its feed has nothing to do with it’s natural diet, when they’re packed in pens swimming in their own filth, when they’re from Chile, packed in styrofoam, and trucked to the destination. This may be organic in “letter” but not in “spirit.”

THE CORE ISSUE: The over production and over consumption of meat and junk food.

There is no good reason for eating as much meat as we do. The most common argument, is that we need nutrients. Experts who are serious about disease reduction recommend that adults eat just over half a pound of meat a week. We eat, generally, over half a pound a day. We don’t eat animal products for sufficient nutrition, we eat them to have an odd form of mal-nutrition, and it’s killing us.

For the benefit of everyone, the time has come to stop raising [animals] industrially, and stop eating them thoughtlessly. Less meat, less junk, more plants. A simple formula. Eat food. Eat real food. We will reduce calories and our carbon footprint. Make food more important, not less, and save ourselves as well.


Reading the comments on the TED page can be helpful in thinking through this talk, ’cause as with every other talk and book on food and consumption, there is controvertible data, and opposing view points (especially one promoting a “raw” diet that’s fun to read).

While it’s dangerous to think Biblically on topics like this, my question jumps immediately to Genesis (and the rest of the Torah), to see if we can glean anything about diet from there. Many have done so in the past suggesting a “God-ordained” way of eating is hidden in the Levitical code. Most recently, Jordan Rubin has marketed well “The Maker’s Diet” which I have yet to read. These approaches are dangerous because it founds our behavior on a presupposition that the Scriptures were intended to give us an inspired “food book,” which may or may not be the case.

Yet I suppose there may be something to God giving ADAM all the “seed-bearing plants” and “every tree that has fruit with seed in it” for food. Perhaps, like Bittman, that’s not a bad place to start.

As someone who loves meat (bacon, tri-tip, pork loin, chicken, etc.) any talk on food, especially this one, is always hard to swallow. For me, I’d be willing to change my diet for a better quality of life, especially the absence of disease, but not necessarily for a longer length of life. I’m not sure why that is, but this talk, like most TED talks, have me thinking now about my existence, and even mortality.

More importantly, what am I going to do with the 5 lbs. of steak in my freezer? Time to fire up the grill and have some friends over.

Posted in: Culture, TED