Friday, July 17, 2009

Stop the Presses! Mark Bittman's Become Protein-Deficient!


Someone kindly sent me a link earlier to a Mark Bittman piece from yesterday's New York Times. In Tara Parker-Pope's "Well" column in the health section of the paper, Bittman explains how while training for the New York City Marathon, he was informed that he's not eating enough "'complete' proteins". In fact, it seems that he just hasn't been getting enough protein at all. He lists the credentials of nutritionist and Today TV show regular Madelyn Fernstrom, and states:

We met, she heard me out, then immediately declared my diet to be on the “low end” protein-wise – which, she said, “would certainly cause fatigue,” especially since I eat mostly vegetables and don’t typically consume “complete” proteins (code-word for animal products).
So what's an omni foodie trying to pass himself off as a supposed "part-time vegan" to do?
I started eating a “concentrated protein,” usually tofu, a can of sardines, an egg thrown onto whatever else I’m eating, or something equally simple, right after six-miles-or-longer runs.
So here's the scoop: Bittman's obviously not an abolitionist or any sort of animal rights advocate. He's not a vegan. He's not even a vegetarian. He's a trendy food writer who's tried to cash in on the rising popularity of veganism, attempting to co-opt the term to sell his book. I certainly don't expect him to defend a plant-based diet any more than he already has for the limited reasons he has (e.g. personal health, the environment). However, the reference to needing "complete" proteins (or of the supposed need to combine proteins), whether or not for "athletes", has long-since been dismissed by even the most mainstream of non-vegan-friendly bodies as completely unnecessary. Plus, the whole idea (his token reference to tofu aside) of needing to consume "concentrated" sources of animal-based protein to not "often run out of energy halfway through even four-mile runs" had me rolling my eyes more than a little. Some of the comments were especially annoying, especially one where Tara Parker-Pope added a note describing Bittman as "mostly-vegan" and attributing his protein deficiency to that fact. Mostly vegan? Really?

I would certainly never try to encourage someone to go vegan for health-based reasons, since it's not about personal health: It's about our usage of animals for our own selfish and trivial purposes. On the other hand, it really ticks me off to see someone who's getting so much attention as a purported food expert now trying to spread the word that anyone exerting themselves physically needs to eat animal flesh to stay healthy. I really hope that someone takes him to task concerning this soon.

13 comments:

Babble said...

Sigh. Sigh Sigh Sigh. So very much to deal with, here, but just to start: "mostly vegan" makes about as much sense as claiming to be "mostly not a pet-torturer." I spend MOST of my time *not* torturing pets, after all...

Mylène Ouellet said...

I know. It's bad enough for him to now be customarily associated with veganism by mainstream media just because he doesn't eat animals at each and every meal, but his whole perpetuation of the protein myth (which is really sooooo old at this point) really left me shaking my head. The sad thing is that from some of the comments I read, so many people are taking what he's saying at face value.

Babble said...

It just boggles my mind. Sure, we're small minority in the grand scheme of things, but we're a minority population of MILLIONS of people, and some of us have been vegan for *decades*.

If we were all, to a person, afflicted with scurvy or malnutrition, *certainly* we'd see some actual evidence of it?

katesaltfleet said...

He is an idiot. He says he is "vegan plus". Vegan plus what, you ask. Here is the maths.

Vegan + meat eating after dark = an omnivore who is a total jerk and misleading the public.

Dan Cudahy said...

Yes, and some of us run as much or more than Bittman (me, for example) and even far, far more than Bittman (Scott Jurek, for example) as vegans and thrive. In fact, my recovery periods as a vegan seem to be about half of what they used to be (perhaps due to lesser lactic acid build up). In my many years experience, both pre-vegan and as a vegan, my energy levels on long runs have everything to with carbohydrate and water intake and pretty much nothng to do with protein (but then again, as a vegan, I've always had plenty of protein from just consuming sufficient calories without any need to pay attention to the matter at all).

I think Bittman is just looking (very hard) for a "story" and perhaps a lame 'justification' for eating whoever he feels like.

Ariix said...

I guess my 3:35 marathon a couple years ago was just my imagination; no way I could have actually done it after being so protein deficient for years... *insert eye rolling here*

MikeyPod said...

OH MY GOD

I was just mildly aggravated about this stupidity until I read the comments! Now so many vegetarian atheletes are saying "OMG NEED MORE EGGS! NEED MORE 'COMPLETE PROTEIN'"

Why didn't he call Brendan Brazier or somoeone like that for advice if he is really interested in veganism. He is doing so much to undemine veganism with his vegan plus bullshit. What an ass.

Oh god. my head. going to explode.

Ken Hopes said...

It sounds like he hasn't read anything on nutrition since the 1970s version of "Diet for a Small Planet."

kelly g. said...

So does this mean he's not even 'vegan before 6' anymore? Vegan minus?

Luella said...

Typical American laziness. "Terrorist" is someone who seeks to undermine routine forms of terror, while "vegan" is someone who occasionally eats a meal with animal products. I have no idea who Mark Bittman is.

Babble said...

Vegan "Plus": I Can't Believe It's NOT VEGANISM!

Alejandra said...

Well actually there are a whole bunch of professional athlete who thrive and achieve amazing result on a vegan diet ie Brendan Brazier an ironman athlete who has been vegan or over 15 years (his book 'The Thrive Diet' expains it all very well)
Bittman is neither an athlete nor a vegan. It's a shame his word gets spread out that way on a subject he doesn't know at all.

Mylène Ouellet said...

Virginia Messina wrote a short piece about this article, as well, yesterday:

http://tiny.cc/1ERxE