Mark Bittman is a pretentious, anti-science food writer. Best known as a columnist for the New York Times, Bittman is a popular advocate of organic agriculture, veganism and a handful of other kooky ideas around environmentalism and ecology. He is an avowed “anti-capitalist” who believes that “industrial agriculture is poisoning our health and the planet.”
“Agroecology”: Bittman’s Feel-Good, Anti-Biotech Catchphrase
Though lacking any requisite science education or experience in agriculture, Bittman believes himself up to the task of reforming the modern world’s “poisonous” food supply. He is an advocate of “Agroecology,” which aims to “fundamentally [redirect agriculture] towards modes of production that are more environmentally sustainable and socially just.” Agroecology is a valid scientific concept, but it has been hijacked by activists who have turned it into a one-word slogan for their political and cultural movement.
Putting aside the pleasant-sounding buzz words, this shift in our food production methods is necessary, Bittman says, because conventional agriculture is resource intensive, expensive and bad for the climate.
Bittman Denies the Benefits of Modern Agriculture
These are real challenges that have to be addressed, but Bittman wants to eliminate the very technologies scientists are using to solve these problems. Had Bittman talked to an expert before penning any one of his New York Times columns, he would know that scientists and conventional farmers are utilizing innovations like gene editing and digital irrigation systems to reduce water consumption on farms and improve crop yields, to cite just two examples. These developments explain, in part, why food prices are lower than they’ve been in 57 years.
To be sure, there are countries where food is expensive or even in short supply. But these are exceptions to the rule, where governments have been scared into prohibiting the use of modern agriculture, thanks to organizations like the the Union of Concerned Scientists, where Bittman serves as a Fellow. Countries that do embrace crop biotechnology have seen yield increases comparable to those in the first world, which puts downward pressure on food prices. But economics, sadly, seems to be another subject where Bittman has failed to grapple with the facts.
Bittman and the 1.5 Earths Myth
Radical environmentalists have long perpetuated the idea that humanity is consuming natural resources at a faster rate than mother earth can replenish them. Bittman has jumped on this apocalyptic bandwagon as well, claiming that “It takes the earth 18 months to replenish the amount of resources we use each year … we’d need 1.5 earths to be sustainable at our current rate of consumption.”
Disaster calculus like this, scary as it is, only has a ring of plausibility because it ignores a key variable: adaptation. As our environments change, people adapt in impressive and often unforeseen ways. When our access to natural resources grows scarcer, we develop methods to use them more efficiently discover new supplies, as in the case of oil, or find alternatives. Economists are so confident in humanity’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances that they bet their own money on it–and win. Adaptation applies to Bittman’s favorite boogieman, climate change, as well. During heat waves, for instance, weather-related mortality actually declines, because people invest in technology that make the heat less dangerous–namely, air conditioning.
Bittman refers to these significant developments as “blind faith in technology” and dismisses them out of hand. What he misses, however, is that economic development and the corresponding investment in technology drives demand for a cleaner environment and sustainable food supply. This is certainly true of the United States, where air quality has never been better. Ironically, it’s America’s affluence that Bittman holds responsible for environmental degradation around the world.
Bittman: Always Getting the Science Wrong
Scaremongering about resource depletion and denying the benefits of biotechnology are but two examples of a long trend of science denial in Bittman’s history as a food activist. Bittman would have his readers believe that the fight over food production is between pure-hearted environmentalists like himself and big corporations. But the simple fact is that the former New York Times columnist has been shunned by mainstream science. On every subject he covers, Bittman gets the facts wrong and badly misleads his audience as a result. For that, he should fade into obscurity like the crazed doomsayers before him.