Dan Barber’s “return to the land” argument is weak and ridiculous, but not all wrong  »

Dan Barber courted some veg-rage back in December 2010 when he asserted that “You have blood on your hands when you eat vegetarian,” and last week Slate interviewed him about it. It’s on video, above, and watching it made me feel the same head-against-the-wall frustration that I do when Michael Pollan opens his yap to opine about how meat-abstainers are wrong, and eating animals is noble. Here are my responses to three of his particularly obnoxious points.

1. He points to the “iconic New England pasture that was built by the dairy industry” as a reason for keeping animals for food. What did the landscape look like before the dairy industry brought their milk-and-death business to the area, Dan? How did it look before the Industrial Revolution? How did it look before the Dutch and English and Spanish came and murdered all the native people? How did it look during Pangea?

2. He condemns a vegetable-based diet as much heavier in “food miles” than his local produce/animal product diet. Man, let’s address food deserts before you insist the nation go full locavore. Of course we should strive to eat more sustainably grown food! But when the choice is between dead cow from a feedlot and mixed vegetables from factory farms, choose the vegetables. They aren’t cutting down the rainforest to grow soybeans for my tofu, they’re doing it to feed the cows that the majority of the U.S. eats. Factory farms are bad for us ecologically, socially, ethically, morally—why go after the vegetarians when there is a much bigger bad to attack? I can’t tell if he’s advocating we all go full backyard chicken, or turn factory farms into small-scale, ecologically friendly farm collectives, or what.

3. The New England landscape “doesn’t want” you to grow vegetables, so that means it does want you to grow animals for killing? And oh no, Michael Pollan is worried about the extinction of farm animals? There is a major difference between “keeping some animals on your farm as farming tools” (eating grass, fertilizing with their waste, pest control) and “keeping animals en masse for slaughter.” You acknowledge that what you want is to “use the resources of animals on a farm in an intelligent way,” which is something I agree with—until you jump from keeping animals to eating them. Why? Isn’t barbarism like killing living creatures for our gustatory pleasure a thing of the past?

You know what? I do agree that vegetarians have blood on their hands. All the male chicks that are killed because they can’t produce eggs? All the male calves born to the perma-pregnant dairy cows, that are sent to veal farms? The treatment of the layer hens and dairy cows themelves? So much blood. That’s one of the reasons I observe a vegan diet: To keep the blood-as-byproduct off my hands.

[Please visit Adam Merberg’s Say what, Michael Pollan? blog for much more extensively documented reasons why this argument is nonsense.]


We’ll tax you till you’re healthy, jerks  »

Our old pal Mark Bittman knows a lot about food. He espouses a vegan-till-dinner diet, which we also encourage you to try if you’re not yet vegan. Give it a go, you know. We love his recipes, his How to Cook Everything app, and his general attitude toward eating.

We’re less pleased with his latest op-ed for the New York Times, in which he proposes taxing “bad” foods “like soda, French fries, doughnuts and hyperprocessed snacks,” and using the revenue those taxes generate to “subsidize the purchase of staple foods like seasonal greens, vegetables, whole grains, dried legumes and fruit.”

OK, MB, we see where you’re coming from. Coke is terrible for you. So are Fritos and Hostess snack cakes. We vegans would love people to eat more produce and non-animal proteins. It’s just that increasing the price of foodstuffs at the retail level makes everyone uncomfortable, and it doesn’t address the government subsidization of meat and dairy, which makes that stuff extra-cheap, and guess what? A cheeseburger will kill you just as quick as a Little Debby.

It also leads normally super-serious magazines like the Economist to respond with their own “humorous” op-eds about taxing fat (read: unhealthy) people in the name of “consumer sovereignty.” I assume the individuals at the Economist have senses of humor, but the editorial voice isn’t exactly the Grub-Street Journal, and this little piece isn’t exactly Swiftian.

Is it the government’s responsibility to encourage better food choices? Is it anyone’s? Omnivores get defensive when vegans call attention to the violence inherent in eating animals, and also because they know their diets are bad for the environment. Even if you don’t mind having animals killed for your meals, you know that mass milk, cheese, and meat production is killing the planet. Maybe that’s the stronger argument, since caring about people’s health and well being is usually wrapped up in scolding and “nanny state”-style policies.

Nutritious food should be accessible to and affordable for everyone. The answer probably isn’t “subsidizing ‘good’ food with a tax on ‘bad’ food,” though, however tempting it may be. You can’t treat food like cigarettes and alcohol in any context because, no matter the quality, food is necessary to live. Addressing the broader aspects of our Terrible American Diet—i.e., federal subsidies to grow corn that mostly feed the cows that mostly feed people—may take longer, but it’s more responsible and more effective. Right? At the very least, making high-fructose corn syrup BAD while ignoring weirdo chemical compounds like non-nutritive sweeteners—aspartame won’t help you grow up big and strong and smart—seems hypocritical, and dumb. You’re better than soda demonization, Mark Bittman.

[“Untitled (view of checkout through pet food aisle)” by Robert Adams via Yale Digital Commons]


The Boston Globe reports: Whole Paycheck no more!  »

In the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, a Whole Foods is set to take over the a Hi-Lo that currently serves as the neighborhood’s grocery. People got concerned that “Whole Paycheck” would be too expensive for the locals so The Boston Globe did an investigation of pricing at the stores. Results? Whole Foods is average!

Homeboy was thorough:

Some points about methodology: When gathering prices, I did my best to pick similar products at each store, and went for the cheapest option, when available. If stores stocked different quantities of a product, I did the math to be sure I was comparing the same measurements of the same or similar products. Last, while there’s no guarantee that the Jamaica Plains Whole Foods will have the exact same prices as the chain’s other stores in the area, I did check the prices at three different Whole Foods—Beacon Hill, Cambridge, and Symphony—and the pricing was identical at each.

After this first study, people complained that the writer failed to include fruits and veggies, which they insisted were more expensive at Whole Foods. They did a follow-up, turns out that’s not true either:

Fruits and vegetables at Whole Foods can get pricey if you buy the wrong items. But if you’re a smart shopper, buying produce there turns out to be the same as buying produce at the other stores. For example, regular tomatoes at Whole Foods were $3.99 per pound, which is a dollar more than at Stop & Shop, Shaw’s and Foodie’s. But plum tomatoes were generally cheaper at Whole Foods than they were at other stores (Whole Foods, $1.99; Stop & Shop, $2.99; Shaw’s, $2.49; Foodie’s, $1.99). Likewise, while oranges were 50 cents more expensive per pound at Whole Foods, green peppers there were a dollar cheaper than at the other stores. If a shopper happened to be buying tomatoes, oranges and green peppers this week, the price fluctuation at the store would have evened themselves out.

He did note that meat was definitely more expensive at Whole Foods—guess who doesn’t care?! THIS GUY! Meat should be expensive, if there are any attempts to raise the animals responsibly (I know, a ridiculous concept on its own, but you know what I mean). Sorry they don’t sell grade-Z chuck.

An important thing to note about this second investigation is that Hi-Lo apparently doesn’t even sell meat and vegetables anymore. WTF? It’s a sad, far-too-common occurrence. In my opinion, it’s one hell of a good thing that a grocery store where you can actually get vegetables is moving in. Welcome to the neighborhood!

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