Mark Bittman’s *VB6*

by on April 28, 2013 at 7:19 am in Food and Drink, Uncategorized | Permalink

The subtitle is Eat Vegan Before 6:00 to Lose Weight and Restore Your Health . . . for Good.  This is an excellent book (recipes too) which comes to grips with the notion that virtuous eating also has to be fun and privately beneficial and involve a minimum of self-constraint or for that matter calculation costs.  As I’ve argued in my own An Economist Gets Lunch, eating less meat is the most socially beneficial change in your dietary habits you can make.  Here’s one very good way to do it.

Of course the economist in me wonders why Bittman chose “vegan before 6 p.m.” rather than after 6 p.m. or for that matter after some point closer to the middle of the day.  Is it simply two meals vs. one?  Or is it that the prospect of meat and dairy in the evening makes vegan eating during the day more tolerable, whereas the opposite would require too much retrenchment to be sustainable?  For most workers, free time also comes at the end of the day.  I have never heard of a society where you wake up, have five or so hours of free time, head off to work, and then come back home and go right to bed.  Yet surely at least a few of you wake up at 3 a.m. and construct such a daily pattern for yourselves, without much societal support of course.  What is it that sets you apart?

Ashok Rao April 28, 2013 at 7:32 am

“As I’ve argued in my own An Economist Gets Lunch, eating less meat is the most socially beneficial change in your dietary habits you can make. Here’s one very good way to do it.”

Do you really think that’s true? I was raised (and am) a very strict vegetarian, and for a long time I used to be proud of its “sustainability” and all that stuff. But I’ve become very skeptical of vegetarian self-righteousnous. There are two arguments vegetarians make, one is animal rights and the other is sustainability. As far as animals are concerned the biggest thing we can do is buy/rent a smaller house (and most Americans can quite easily manage this) and rally against infrastructure development (not that I’m advocating this). Destruction of habitat is the single-largest consequence of human activity.

The more “economic” argument is that we need 10kcal input for 1kcal output vis. the meat production. This would be a fair argument if we somehow think that calories wasted in the USA will somehow find its way to Africa. We have a pretty terrible allocation of food in the US, granted. (There’s a new documentary about hunger, I can’t remember the name – was interviewed for the Daily Show recently). But we produce far more calories than even needed, so its an issue of distribution not output.

Then again, if America became vegan we’d probably be seriously skinner. And huge benefits to that. But I don’t think that’s vegetarianism, per se, just that it’s a lot easier to eat crappier food as non-veg.

Anyway, thanks for the book reco, going on my list.

dearieme April 28, 2013 at 9:00 am

“I’ve become very skeptical of vegetarian self-righteousnous.” Good for you: I have been a cyclist for decades and I’m very sceptical of cyclists’ self-righteousness.

Thor April 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

I’ve been a homo sapien for decades and I’m very skeptical of homo sapiens’ self-righteousness. (Point being: there are self-righteous jerks in every “tribe” or sub-group.)

However, a good question might be: does self-righteousness cluster in specific groups? Are veget. more likely to be self-righteous than others? I don’t think of Nascar fans as “self-righteous”. But I don’t know many.

The Original D April 28, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Well, NASCAR fans are disproportionately from the South (I grew up there), and there certainly is a strain of grievance and resentment to the North and its perceived attacks on “our way of life.”

Vernunft April 28, 2013 at 7:54 pm

But are they self-righteous?

Oh, who am I kidding – you know, which is why you said what you said, instead of “they are”.

mw April 28, 2013 at 9:35 am

Most antibiotics are used on farm animals, and therefore most antibiotic resistance is due to meat-eating. That’s among the most socially corrosive problems. Also, carbon footprint. And a big southwest chunk of the country is going to have a massive water shortage over the next few decades, also mostly farm animals. Finally, soy is responsible for most Amazon deforestation, and therefore species loss including some much higher up the brain evolutionary tree than cows, and soy’s only really used to feed farm animals. Still, I too don’t make that much of the “cow welfare” argument.

Brandon Berg April 28, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Most antibiotics are used on farm animals, and therefore most antibiotic resistance is due to meat-eating.

Has an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the US ever been traced back to livestock?

mw April 28, 2013 at 5:49 pm

That’s not really how evolution works…it’s simply the more exposure to antibiotics, the greater the chance of selection for resistant mutations.

sort_of_knowledgable April 28, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Assuming constant percentage waste in the food system, reducing calories wasted implies less land used for agriculture. Less land used for agriculture implies more land for wildlife. Vegetarianism reducing total calories in the food system would help with that.

prior_approval April 28, 2013 at 12:52 pm

‘Destruction of habitat is the single-largest consequence of human activity.’

Any idea what most habitat has been destroyed for? Hint – it isn’t building houses or roads.

Brandon Berg April 28, 2013 at 2:18 pm

Then again, if America became vegan we’d probably be seriously skinner. And huge benefits to that. But I don’t think that’s vegetarianism, per se, just that it’s a lot easier to eat crappier food as non-veg.

Really? Seems to me that most junk food is devoid of animal products. Chips, cookies, french fries, pastries, cake, donuts, soda…There’s ice cream, I guess. And fast food, though that wouldn’t really be any more healthful with meat substitutes. Insofar as veganism promotes weight loss, it’s likely due to the fact that vegans are a small minority of the population, and most food producers don’t cater to them, meaning that vegans have very limited options at most restaurants. It also likely reduces food reward, at least in the short term before the individual discovers high-reward vegan food. These advantages go away if the entire country becomes vegan, though.

kiwi dave April 29, 2013 at 11:09 am

Agreed. Not clear at all what the effect would be. As it is, red meat consumption in America (as in a lot of other countries) has significantly decreased in recent decades (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_Meat_Consumption.gif) (although fish and fowl has gone up) — while people have got more obese. A lot of people who are neither Atkinsian or Paleo agree that the weight gain is more to do with carbs (and possibly vegetable oils) than with animal products.

I’m suspicious too that repors of vegans or vegetarians having longer life expectancy or better health outcomes by various measures is affected by selection bias: in the rich world, vegan or vegetarians tend to be (in my experience) people from high socio-economic and educational backgrounds with longer time horizons and more self-discipline.

My guess is that if the masses switched towards veganism, you’d see a much worse diet than today: even more hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugars and starches. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if obesity got worse.

Floccina April 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm

http://www.waldeneffect.org/blog/Calories_per_acre_for_various_foods/
I remember when I first started considering my dietary options, I was told that we could feed many more people with the same amount of land if we all became vegetarians. I was swayed…until I realized that we’re talking about feeding people only corn and potatoes. The truth is that creating protein is expensive in terms of land use whether you’re growing soybeans or raising cattle, and if we compare apples to apples you’ll notice that pigs actually win over beans.

Seth Roberts April 28, 2013 at 7:51 am

Does it come with evidence? Several studies have found that vegetarians and non-vegetarians die at the same rate.

Seth Roberts April 28, 2013 at 7:59 am

I should have said “at least two studies”. Here is one:

http://www.bmj.com/content/313/7060/775

Here is another:

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1613S

Darren April 28, 2013 at 10:24 am

“Another limitation is that the questionnaire was short and did not include several important food groups (for example, dairy products, fish, alcoholic drinks), did not allow us to estimate energy intake, and did not include other factors known to be associated with health (exercise, socioeconomic status, past smoking habits). We were therefore unable to explore whether the significant associations observed were partly due to confounding by other dietary or non-dietary variables.”

Vegetarianism is generally associated with greater health consiousness and therefore, exercise. However, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that increased consumption of fruits and vegetable alone without changes in physical activity will result in weight loss. There’s no conclusive evidence to suggest that it won’t either though. We just don’t know.

Neil April 28, 2013 at 7:52 am

@Ashok: Are you talking about A Place at the Table, from the directors of Food, Inc.? I’ve seen Tom Colicchio (Top Chef) doing media appearances for it.

Antonios April 28, 2013 at 7:53 am

The author describes why he chose 6:00 (really, it should be 18:00 — I thought the title referred to the morning) in the blurb that’s on the Amazon page:

So why be vegan just until 6 o’clock? Am I suggesting that 6 p.m. is some kind of magical metabolic witching hour? Not at all. Truthfully, the hour itself doesn’t matter much, and if you habitually eat dinner very early, your plan may be VB5—or VB9, if you live in Spain. The point I was making to myself, and that I’m saying to you, is that dinnertime sets you free. Dinnertime, because that’s when you’re likely to want to eat the most, because that’s when you’re most likely to drink (and lose discipline!), because that’s when you’re most likely to combine eating with socializing, an important and even beneficial thing.

But even though the time itself is arbitrary, it has the power to make you stop and think before acting. In fact, the rules are what VB6 has in common with “regular” diets; because anyone can say (and many people do), “Eat sensibly, don’t overeat, increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, eat less junk and high-calorie, low-nutrition foods.” If it were that easy, there’d be no need for diets. But by telling you “Don’t eat animal products or refined foods during the day, and feel free to eat what you like at night,” VB6 gives you the structure you need to exercise limited but effective discipline in a way that accomplishes all of those things.

During the day you’ll be observant, and eat way more fruits and vegetables than you probably have until now, and virtually none of the foods that we know cause your metabolism to go haywire, putting a downward spiral in motion. In the evening, you’ll still eat more thoughtfully, but won’t necessarily avoid or limit foods you love and can’t imagine eliminating from your diet. Simply put, at 6 o’clock you can put “the diet” on hold—a compromise that offers the benefits of restraint without the hardship of perpetual denial. Even reading this now, six years after I began, it still sounds pretty good to me.

The Original D April 28, 2013 at 3:33 pm

This seems the most likely explanation to me. Embracing contraints, even arbitrary ones, has been found very useful in many aspects of life and business.

I personally follow a paleo regime, but one day per week allow myself to eat as much carbs, dairy and sugar as I want. I’ve found this outlet makes it much easier to stick to the diet over the long term (two years so far).

Curt F. April 28, 2013 at 8:21 am

This plan means that you can’t eat today’s dinner leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

a-non April 28, 2013 at 8:42 am

Nice contrast to the recommendation from my nutrition session at the gym this week: http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/270/The_Meat_and_Nut_Breakfast.aspx . Comforting to see that applied nutrition is as all over the map as applied macro. Regardless of the approach, I think it’s beneficial to think about your food habits and ask why they are that way. Personally I don’t think the eating habits of hunters and gathers or the amount of cow farts per glass of milk is going to convert anyone to healthier living…it is how you feel relative to the costs.

Urstoff April 28, 2013 at 11:33 am

The state of nutrition science is kind of ridiculous. Basically, anything beyond “exercise regularly, don’t overeat, don’t eat trans fats” is probably based on fairly weak evidence (i.e., no large-scale RCTs).

Ray Lopez April 28, 2013 at 9:01 am

I thought this was a review of Visual Basic 6 (VB6), the programming language.

Insofar as vegan diets go, Steve Jobs died from cancer due to his high-fructose vegan diet, see here: http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/kdaniel/2012/12/31/veganthink-dr-john-mcdougall-explains-the-death-of-steve-jobs/

Recall also the previous MR post on the high amount of technology that goes into supposedly natural orange juice.

If you’re against killing animals that feel more pain, like cattle, eat more chicken and fish which is more healthy anyway.

Curt F. April 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

The link you presented contains absolutely zero evidence for your claim that “Steve Jobs died from cancer due to his high-fructose vegan diet”. Where do you make up this stuff? It takes teams of doctors and hundreds or thousands of multi-person studies to determine “factors” that are “associated” with cancer. And even then no one really knows what causes cancer in general, much less cancer in a specific person. (Exception: a few cases like cigarette smoke and the virus-linked cancers.)

Ray Lopez April 28, 2013 at 11:03 am

Zero evidence? Are you trolling Curt F? Re-read the article and get back to us son. And you don’t sound credible when you say “hundreds or thousands”–which is it? We can see through your b.s. Curt F. Enjoy your high-fructose drink and “I hope” you don’t develop cancer from it.

Dre April 28, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Making up grammar problems to criticize and wishing other commenters would get cancer. (And doing it passive aggressively; not even coming out and saying it, bonus points)

Stay classy MR comment section.

Curt F. April 28, 2013 at 2:17 pm

From your link:None of us, of course, can say for certain what caused the pancreatic cancer that led to Steve Jobs’s death, or what, if anything could have saved him.

Sam April 28, 2013 at 9:47 am

But the sentience per lb of meat ratio on a cow is much lower. In other words say you have to kill two dozen chickens to get the same amount of beef by weight. That makes chicken worse from a utilitarian perspective. the ideal would be to have one gigantic mutant cow that hang enough mass to meet world demand. Even if it suffered enormously there’s a good chance it’d be an improvement. Scope insensitivity can have a big influence in this debate.

john personna April 28, 2013 at 10:55 am

On the other hand, turkeys are mean, and deserve to die.

kiwi dave April 29, 2013 at 11:14 am

Jonathan Safran Foer makes that argument in his book, saying beef is less bad than chicken (although still wrong) given that a chicken dinner involves a quarter of a death of a sentient being, whereas a beef dinner might be 1% of such a death.

K Webb April 28, 2013 at 9:16 am

I typically wake up, have five or so free hours, go to work, and then go to bed. I typically work the noon to nine shift at a large retailer.

I could, and would prefer, to have my free time after work, but the rest of my household is asleep, so I could not be very loud, and outside traffic noise is enough to wake me up in the mornings, so I could not sleep until a later hour.

Vladimir April 28, 2013 at 9:30 am

I have never heard of a society where you wake up, have five or so hours of free time, head off to work, and then come back home and go right to bed.

Tyler you should occasionally have a chat with people who work the afternoon shift.

prior_approval April 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm

The real joke here is that at GMU, at least in the past, evening classes were utterly routine – many professors used to work such a schedule, either for a semester, or over a number of semesters.

rvman April 29, 2013 at 11:22 am

Both the process of getting a PhD and the process of earning tenure select rather strongly for high self-motivation and high need for cognition types – the very people who are most likely to basically always be working whether they are ‘working’ or not, and the people most likely to adapt to a Noon to 10PM schedule. (The joke about academia is that it is a career which allows you to select which 70 hours per week you work.) From 7AM to noon they aren’t working – not grading, not writing, maybe not even reading journals – but they can’t help but think about their work (typically their research) in that time, anyway.

Ulkutdkutch April 28, 2013 at 1:11 pm

…or talk to the waitstaff/bartenders who serve you dinner and close.

Someone from the other side April 29, 2013 at 3:42 am

It says a society, not sub-group thereof.

john personna April 28, 2013 at 10:57 am

Every body is different, but I find my body runs really well with 3oz of chicken in every meal. I don’t need, and feel better without, the big American meat meals.

Todd Fletcher April 28, 2013 at 11:05 am

” virtuous eating” this is the stupidest combination of words I’ve seen all morning. Sincere humans who want to be virtuous to the earth have the perfect choice before them: kill yourself.

Chuck Currie April 28, 2013 at 11:46 am

Todd Fletcher winner of best comment. Cut and paste to every whinny environmentalist blog/comment.

Virtue is highly over rated.

Cheers

john personna April 28, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Well, either you accept that humans can aspire to virtue in any activity, or that they can aspire in none. (Also note that “the earth” is short-hand for your fellows, and the environmental services they enjoy.)

prior_approval April 28, 2013 at 1:01 pm

‘this is the stupidest combination of words I’ve seen all morning’

And to think you actually not only read them, but actually wrote those words.

The Original D April 28, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Because all of life’s choices are binary and zero sum.

Gordon April 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm

I’m not a vegetarian but I do have far more respect for vegetarians than vegans. Vegans avoid dairy because they wish to avoid exploitation of cows and they avoid honey because they wish to avoid exploitation of bees. If vegans were to be true to their principles, they should avoid all organically grown food. The only allowed fertilizer for such food is manure. Also, they should avoid all fruits which require pollination by bees. The fact that these are not core principles of a vegan diet show that as a lifestyle it lacks any sort of in-depth thinking to make certain it holds to its values. I’ve enjoyed Bittman’s lessons on cooking techniques. But that does not mean he’s worthy of being an advocate of food policy.

eccdogg April 29, 2013 at 10:50 am

Where did you get that the only organic fertilizer is manure? Compost can be totally free of manure and do a great job. And I think wild bees do their job without any negative impact on them (I personally have no problem with bee keeping or honey production).

Milk production is pretty bad, first even though the females are not killed right away the males are pretty much useless and must be killed early to minimize investment in feed. Second milk production can have the same issues as any feedlot where the animals are forced into pretty bad conditions. I actually think eating wild caught fish and even hunting is more humane than milk production. At least in those cases the animals live a decent life in their natural habitat before being killed.

Personally my diet is pretty close to Bittman’s recommendations, I am vegan for about 80% of my meals, vegetarian for about 15%, and eat fish/shellfish for about 5%. I am not perfect. I wear leather shoes and still eat some dairy/eggs/fish, but at least it is a marginal improvement. I have always been an 80/20 guy anyway on most things.

FC April 28, 2013 at 7:07 pm

“As I’ve argued in my own An Economist Gets Lunch, eating less meat is the most socially beneficial change in your dietary habits you can make.”

I’m going to start a petition at the White House website demanding disclosure of Cowen’s V02 max and insulin sensitivity. Open access, yo!

Tom April 28, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I’m a little surprised here, given all the data showing meat consumption going hand in hand with larger incomes(and larger size, eating beans with rice is an inferior way to acquire protein, that’s why societies that depend largely on beans and rice for protein tend to be small in stature), let alone greater height – which is also associated with higher incomes – why and economist would be advocating replacing meat with vegetarianism. Please be advised that the average vegetarian eats plenty of sugary, porcessed junk.

Andrew' April 29, 2013 at 5:55 am

I think you are saying the same thing because environmental damage is equated with human progress.

meat-eating economist April 28, 2013 at 10:38 pm
Andrew' April 29, 2013 at 5:52 am

I was hoping someone would post something like this because I haven’t been sure it is real.

Brock in HK April 29, 2013 at 2:15 am

I haven’t read the book yet, but eating a vegan before 6 is a daunting task. They’re generally tough and wiry, and require braising at low temperatures for a number of hours to achieve optimum tenderness. I end up plating around noon, but can’t finish until about 8pm. Is that still ok with the rules that Mr. Bittman sets forth?

Has anybody tried the recipes yet?

markt May 6, 2013 at 12:10 pm

:-)

o. nate April 29, 2013 at 1:35 pm

For the past year or so I’ve been practicing my own variation on the “VB6″ diet: no more than one meal per day containing meat, no red meat or processed meat, fish is classified a vegetable. It may be arbitrary but it works for me.

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