Bittman Bashing Butter: And Beyond: A Re-Buttal

NOTE:  Since the article reviewed here, (i.e. 2 years later) Bittman reversed his views, to support butter and saturated fat, based on analysis of the data, “when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.)”   The reversal can be found here:  Mark Bittman, “Butter is Back,” New York Times, 3/25/14, online, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/opinion/bittman-butter-is-back.html;  print edition, 3/36/14, p. A23 of the New York edition, (same title).


This is a response to a twitter response I got suggesting that the facts about cholesterol and saturated fats are well known.  That followed a response about a web site, (mistaken as my home page,) as follows.  It “shows a family that is happy because they eat butter. I can’t take you seriously.”  My opinion is people are overconfident in bashing butter and milk, in that they’ve never been exposed to the kind of arguments, (and the evidence behind them,) that I’ve briefly presented below.

One purpose of this blog, therefore, is to introduce another side of this issue to people who have may never have heard of it, let alone studied it. This exposure, I hope, will make people more receptive to taking “seriously,” not just these health issues, but the most acute and the biggest, (but hidden,) farm bill justice issues:  the dairy crisis, and the larger, six-decade, multitrillion-dollar exploitation of US farmers by the agribusiness-output and input-complexes.

The Bittman Blog

This is a brief, partial review of:  Mark Bittman, “Got Milk? You Don’t Need It,” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/got-milk-you-dont-need-it/

Mark Bittman of the New York Times bashes saturated fats and other aspects of nutrition, along the way to giving a one sided attack on milk.  That’s really a low blow, given the fact that the dairy crisis is the most severe current farm bill injustice.  I usually don’t blog on nutrition issues, but Bittman’s tragic misunderstandings, combined with his overconfidence (apparent arrogance?) and high status as a food movement leader, have prompted me to this access to these ideas. 

(Bittman also gives a false understanding of dairy subsidies in the context of the farm bill, thereby supporting cheap milk, [you know, like cheap corn,] for the agribusiness-industrial-dairy-complex, against it’s victims, dairy farmers.  Bittman’s farm bill mythology, which he elsewhere also applies to commodity crops like corn and soybeans, will be rebutted by the hard data in a separate blog.  In both cases his policy bottom line strongly contradicts his own obvious good intentions and values, (meaning that I believe he intends to support farm bill justice).  Tragically, we often find reverse advocacy along these lines among food movement leaders.) 

Bittman Blog:  Not very “Wise?”

My philosophy is rooted in a specific operational definition of “wisdom” as an effective managing, balancing or especially reconciling of dilemmas.  Below I emphasize how Bittman, and the sources he cites, seem to grab the bull mostly by only one horn.  I see this as being in sharp contrast to the sources I recommend.  My opinion is that views like Bittman’s are widespread, (ie. in mainstream media,) while the arguments and evidence that rebut these views are amost always unknown.  At the very least, learning this other set of arguments and evidence should at least balance out, and caution people against, Bittman’s very mainstream, very confident-looking postion.  Beyond that, I hope that those who have never heard of any of this, will re-think their views about diary in general, and look into the massive oppression of dairy farmers over the decades by the agribusiness-industrial-complex.  (See activists sources for directly confronting agribusiness on dairy issues, below.)

In general, in his discussion of milk and health, Bittman really gives very little significant information about the positive benefits of milk to nutrition, but rather slants almost everything toward extremes and against milk.  His bottom line seems quite clear:  drink water, not milk.

By way of contrast, I pulled out my copy of “Nourishing Traditions,” by Sally Fallon with Mary G. Enig, PhD.  It has a fairly sophisticated nutritional section as an introduction. A comparison of the section on “Milk and Milk Products,” (3 big pages of summary,) with Bittman’s piece is revealing.  Fallon and Enig address many of Bittman’s concerns, such as lactose intolerance, but do so in a much more balanced and moderate way, coming out in favor of the many nutritional benefits of dairy products, but including a number of qualifications for certain contexts.  They avoid giving 1 blanket recommendation for virtually everyone, and instead tell how to work the system we find around us today

They also place the problems of industrial dairy into a specific context, (ie. farming methods, pasturization, homogenization,) thus avoiding the blanket bashing of dairy that characterizes Bittman’s piece, and instead signficantly supporting good dairy farming and marketing.

Another contrast is in the respective discussions of dairy consumption globally and historically.  Here again Bittman strongly emphasizes only negatives for milk, while Fallon and Enig present conclusions from studies of “Healthy Milk Drinking populations” by of Weston A. Price, (studies which remain largely unknown today).  (See more on this history and geography of health in the Jerry Brunetti video, cited below.)

Saturated Fats Vs. the Transfat Agribusines Complex

Bittman’s criticizes saturated as part of his overall argument, offering no qualifications to his thesis.  In so doing he regurgitates the one  side of the position of the Transfat Agribusiness Complex, but surely has no idea that he is doing so. (The other side is their claim of health benefits for transfats.)

Let’s face it, in spite of this huge, nutritionally-minded food movement, bashing transfats remains the dominant viewpoint in mainstream media and in progressive circles (and shouldn’t that be taken as an anomaly to the new foodie paradigm?).  I’m convinced that few persons in the food movement know the history behind this, which is one purpose behind this blog. 

When did saturated fat bashing emerge?  According to Mary Enig, a key point is with the 1977 McGovern Committee.  She was there, working on it back then.  That seems to be where the transfat complex really came forth and won over government support against saturated fats.  And for transfats. (See “Mary Enig– a lone whistle blower against trans fats,” cited below.) 

Enig analysed the same data as the committee, but:

“reached the opposite conclusions.   She found:

  • A strong positive correlation between cancer deaths and total fat consumption as well as vegetable fat comsumption

  • A essentially strong negative correlation or no correlation between cancer deaths and animal fat consumption.

  • In other words, Mary Enig discovered that the consumption of vegetable oils seemed to increase the risks of cancer, while the consumption of animal fats seemed to protect against cancer.”

I recommend this article for placing the (animal and other) saturated fat vs. (vegetable) transfat discussion into a much better scientific and political context.

Comparing Saturated Fats like Butter with Transfats like Margarine

The Weston A. Price Foundation has an introductory brochure (cited below) that lists 6 key comparisons between transfats and saturated fats. These are 6 ways that saturated fats are good, but transfats are bad.  It’s the exact opposite of the claims of the Transfat complex which have come to dominate mainstream media.    The conclusion is that, in a number of specific ways, transfats contribute to heart disease, immunity problems, asthma, weight gain, cancer and fertility problems, while saturated fats tend to do the opposite.  (See the brochure.)

Jerry Brunetti Videos

Jerry Brunetti concisely provides a great taste of the importance of animal fats in human health in an online video, “Jerry Brunetti on pasture-fed beef.”  Saturated are key carriers for essential fat soluble nutrients.  Bittman includes nothing of this.  Brunetti places this in a balanced context, both on the farm and in the human diets (ie. with fruits and vegetables).  This is a great corrective to those bashing dairy and saturated fats generally, and much more of it can be found in other Jerry Brunetti videos at YouTube and elsewhere.

Another piece of the issue that Bittman apparently misses is that, as Brunetti puts it in another video, “Low fat is not good fat.”  That makes sense based upon the points made above (and note also Brunetti’s discussion of cholesterol issues, see link below).  Like Fallon and Enig, Brunetti’s approach is holistic and balanced, including the whole farm, as well as the whole diet.  Bittman intends to achieve the same, but is one-sided and fails.

What About Soy Milk, like Dean Foods Silk?

Bittman also gives a plug to soy milk, suggesting that it’s better than real milk.  That raises issues on another side, soy vs health.  Here I note that, for decades, there have been a lot of studies finding problems with soy ().

Bittman’s Anecdotal Arguments.

Perhaps because of his self confidence, Bittman doesn’t appear to be overly concerned about evidence.  In fact, a good chunk of this dairy bashing blog is given over to anecdotal examples, including his own experience. 

In contrast, I’m reminded of some other anecdotal evidence I’ve encountered recently. I’ve been listening to a biography of Steve Jobs, a prominent vegetarian who died of cancer.  Jobs was very strong minded and confident in his vegetarianism and veganism, and refused to eat meat when his doctors recommended it. If you pair the Jobs story with Brunetti’s first video, then you have an idea of how Jobs might have been missing some very powerful nutrients, and missing some of the key, cancer fighting nutrients, including those that turn down the fires of inflamation (a point Brunetti repeatedly emphasizes).

Finally, note also Bittman’s anecdotes about his own, (and others’) “chronic upset stomach,” in light of this whole other set of arguments about alternative nutrition.  Jerry Brunetti says, “My opening comments often times are related to … ‘how many people are taking … rolaids or tums….’”  To Brunetti these problems are part of very common general health issues that must be viewed holistically.  It seems that this would involve a whole different (and holistic) analysis of Bittman’s anecdote.


As stated above, the purpose of this blog is to sum up a few pieces of an alternative perspective that few people know about. Elsewhere I’ve described all of this as a category of “Eight Myths” that “Block Dairy Farm Justice.”  Without question, this is the most acute US farm injustice in the US 2012 farm bill.   It’s a tragedy that the food movement hasn’t understood this crisis, and has left out of their activisms, the specific policies that can fix it (SB 1640, cited below).

For More Information (This is all intended merely to introduce new topics)

“Mary Enig– a lone whistle blower against trans fats,” Stop Transfats, http://www.stop-trans-fat.com/mary-enig.html.

“All About Transfats,” brochure, Weston A. Price Foundation, 2 pp., http://www.westonaprice.org/images/pdfs/trifold-transfats2010.pdf.

“Studies Showing Adverse Effects of Dietary Soy, 1939-2008,” Weston A. Price Foundation, http://www.westonaprice.org/soy-alert/studies-showing-adverse-effects-of-soy.

Sally Fallon Morell, Twenty-Two Reasons Not to Go Vegetarian, Weston A. Price Foundation,

http://www.westonaprice.org/vegetarianism-and-plant-foods/not-to-go-vegetarian.  This is a rebuttal to: “22 Reasons to Go Vegetarian.” Vegetarian Times, 1999.

Jerry Brunetti on pasture-fed beef, YouTube, JaneMilburn,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JX1BTmvmig

“Jerry Brunetti Food as Medicine” – Low fat is not Good Fat,” YouTube, farmingsecrets, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2DTSRGSXus.  

Find Brunetti’s comments on heartburn in video here, at about 2 minutes and 15 seconds:  “A Few Things You Should Know About Cholesterol,” YouTube, alucich,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqCjP-UfOa8&feature=related.

Brad Wilson, “Eight Myths Block Dairy Farm Justice,” ZSpace, 8/8/12, http://www.zcomm.org/eight-myths-block-dairy-farm-justice-by-brad-wilson.

Farm Bill RESOURCES to Give Dairy A Chance:  

Make Agribusiness Pay, To Eliminate the Need for Subsidies

Brad Wilson, “Fact Sheet: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill, http://www.zcomm.org/fact-sheet-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson5/11/12.

Brad Wilson, “Primer: Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill,” ZSpace, 5/11/12, http://www.zcomm.org/primer-farm-justice-proposals-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson

Brad Wilson, “Talking Points for the 2012 Farm Bill, ZSpace, 5/13/12, http://www.zcomm.org/talking-points-for-the-2012-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson

Brad Wilson, “Slides: The Dairy Crisis and the Farm Bill,” ZSpace, 6/14/12, http://www.zcomm.org/slides-the-dairy-crisis-and-the-farm-bill-by-brad-wilson.

Brad Wilson, “The Hidden Farm Bill: Secret Trillions for Agribusiness,” ZSpace, 6/16/12, http://www.zcomm.org/the-hidden-farm-bill-secret-trillions-for-agribusiness-by-brad-wilson.

Brad Wilson, “Philpott & Bittman are wrong about Tim Wise,” La Vida Locavore, 4/12/11, http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/4651/philpott-bittman-are-wrong-about-tim-wise.  Note, the footnotes add others who are also wrong about what causes below cost gains that provide defacto subsidies to CAFOs, (such as Dan Imhoff and Anna Lappe).

Alan Watson, Illustrated History of Heart Disease 1825-2015, Diet Heart News, 8/19/12, http://dietheartnews.com/2012/08/illustrated-history-of-heart-disease-1825-2015/.  It gives history of these issues, including transfat complex impact and summary of McGovern hearings.

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