Articles / Is Veganism an Impossible Standard?

Is Veganism an Impossible Standard?

Published August 17, 2022

Deep talk with two of the smartest “less meat” advocates around

“Sometimes when we get into the philosophy of veganism, it just feels like an impossible standard, even for a person that is trying really hard. And if veganism means doing the best that you possibly can, then how often can you fail and still be part of that movement? That’s why the term vegan never worked for me — because in no area in my life did I ever feel like I reached the height of what some people feel when they identify as vegan.” — Brian Kateman

“There’s a real discrepancy between people just loving to hear about what elephants are doing, and not being so open to hear about the animals on their plate having a good day or a bad day or being really smart or really thinking. And that’s what I’m working to change, to bring forward what science is telling us about these animals.”
— Barbara King

Wow. Welcome to what is definitely one of our most thought-provoking episodes yet. Today on Food with Mark Bittman, we welcome anthropologist Barbara King and reducetarian Brian Kateman.

Barbara has focused much of her esteemed career on the “inner lives” of intelligent animals like primates, octopuses, squid, pigs, and dolphins, arguing that humanity should consider how best to communicate and accommodate these species’ lives without anthropomorphization or exploitation.

Brian coined the term “reducetarian” to describe a person who is deliberately reducing their consumption of meat, and is the cofounder and president of the Reducetarian Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing consumption of animal products.

Clearly, the work that Barbara, Brian, and I do intersects in meaningful ways, and this conversation reflects that beautifully, if I do say so myself. Interestingly, none of us is a vegan, but veganism and all of its implications do play a big role in our chat. Can’t wait to hear what you all think…

Please listen, subscribe, and review. And we’d love to hear your food-related questions, as we’d like to start doing live Q&A: Email us: [email protected]. The recipe featured in today’s episode — Pasta with Peas, Prosciutto, and Lettuce — is below.

Thank you, as always. — Mark

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Pasta with Peas, Prosciutto, and Lettuce

Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes

For a long time now, I’ve experimented with using small amounts of meat in ways that exploit its flavor without making it central to the dish. In this recipe — pasta with spring vegetables — the meat is literally a garnish, but one with huge impact.

That meat is prosciutto, and it’s briefly cooked in a bit of oil, which accomplishes two things: It intensifies the ham’s salty, meaty flavor, and it makes the prosciutto crisp, turning it into a nice textural foil for the tender pasta, peas and lettuce.


  • Salt

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 to 3 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips

  • 1 pound pasta

  • 2 tablespoons butter

  • 1 shallot, minced

  • Black pepper to taste

  • 2 cups peas, fresh or frozen

  • 1 head Bibb or Boston lettuce (about 6 ounces), cored, leaves cut into 3/4-inch slices

  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock or dry white wine, more as needed

  • 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese


1. Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it. Meanwhile, put one tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the prosciutto and cook, turning occasionally and adjusting the heat so the pieces crisp without burning, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the prosciutto from the pan with a slotted spoon and return the skillet to medium heat.

2. When water boils, add pasta and cook until just tender; drain pasta, reserving some cooking liquid. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet. Add the shallot and sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook, stirring once in a while, until the shallot begins to soften, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the peas, lettuce and stock or wine to skillet and cook until peas turn bright green and lettuce is wilted, about 5 minutes. Add the pasta to pan and continue cooking and stirring until everything is just heated through, adding extra stock or some reserved cooking liquid if needed to moisten. Toss with Parmesan cheese, adjust seasoning to taste and serve, garnished with the prosciutto.

— Recipe from The New York Times

Pasta With Peas, Prosciutto, And Lettuce
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