Oprah Takes a Vegan Challenge

Monday, February 07, 2011

Did you see the episode of Oprah last week about her vegan challenge? What did you think?

Oprah and 378 of her staff elected to participate in a challenge to eat vegan for one week. I have had a little time to reflect on the show and I wanted to share my thoughts.

My thoughts on the show:

First, I applaud Oprah for bringing attention to this subject. I also commend her and her staff for stepping out of their comfort zones to try out vegan eating. I think Kathy Freston did a good job of mentoring Oprah's staff through their food challenges. She helped to demystify "vegan food" just a little bit by gracefully answering the ubiquitous "where do you get your protein" question. I would have liked more focus on whole foods and less emphasis on meat substitutes (more on that below). Oprah did not take a pro-vegan or non-vegan stance and the staffer interviews were reflective of their individual experiences with this challenge (some loved it, some did not).

  • Michael Pollan: I love Michael Pollan. His "Food Rules" are so accessible and non-radical and everything that he recommends makes sense. He is not vegetarian but consumes animal products in an informed way. His desire is to reform rather than eliminate the meat industry. I hope that, by his being on this episode, people will begin to think about where their food comes from and give some consideration to the chain of events in which they are participating by purchasing and eating these foods.
  • Slaughterhouse footage: I loved that Oprah shared Lisa Ling's story on the Cargill slaughter house. It is important for people to know how their food gets to their grocery store so that they can make intelligent choices about what they eat. Whether you were horrified or undeterred by this footage, your choice to act on or not act on this information, in my opinion, is very personal.
  • "Fake meat": People who eat a "Standard American Diet" (as well as many vegetarians) are skeptical of meat and dairy substitutes. These products offer a similar look and feel to their animal-derived counterparts, but they really don't taste the same and they can be highly processed. I don't use many of these products at home because I prefer to eat whole and unprocessed foods. Some people may recommend them as "transition foods" for people making the switch to a vegetarian diet. I hesitate to agree with this because it sets the expectation that they will taste like the meat that people are used to. These products are not representative of what a vegetarian or vegan diet can be. Eating a diet of whole and unprocessed foods is far more delicious and satisfying than simply replacing the animal-based ingredients of a non-veg meal with something that looks (but doesn't taste) like the "real" thing.
  • The mystery of "vegan food": I liked that this show brought to light the need to make conscious choices about what we put into our meals. From the comments and discussions that I've seen, though, there is still a misconception that "vegan food" is mysterious, complicated, and expensive. By sharing recipes, tips, and information, I hope that this is something that I and my fellow vegan/vegetarian/healthy living bloggers can help to make less bewildering. I love that this is getting more mainstream media attention- let's keep it up!
Why I've chosen to be vegan:
I don't eat meat but I don't think that makes me special. It is what I have chosen for myself. Based on everything that I know, this is the healthiest way for me to live. I eat this way for my health, for how I feel- like I'm burning clean fuel, and because I don't want to participate in the business of factory farming by consuming animal products. I'm in it for me, for the animals, and for the environment. I am 100% convinced that I am drastically reducing my risk for heart disease and cancer. I have great energy and my skin glows. My body agrees with my mind and my heart on this choice.

Some advice for those considering the switch:
Changing your diet does not have to be all or nothing or "cold turkey". Eat what feels right to you. Honor your own values and needs. Try Meatless Mondays or challenge yourself to try a new vegan recipe once a week. Focus on all of the wonderful abundance of whole foods that you can add to your weekly meals and not on what you are removing.

A resource:
Kathy Freston did a great job of putting together some vegan FAQs, here and a Vegan Starter Kit, here.

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