Oprah’s Vegan Challenge

February 12, 2011

(Photo: Oprah.com)

I finally got around to watching last week’s taping of Oprah’s Vegan Challenge episode. She and her entire staff went vegan for one week. When I first heard about this, my initial reaction was, awesome, just what the world needs, for one of America’s most influential people to promote veganism. Well, that was the first rational thought. Luckily, when I watched it, I didn’t feel like Oprah was trying to convert the world to veganism (that was the job of her guest, Kathy Freston). The other guest Michael Pollan helped create some balance, although he himself apparently only eats meat a couple times a week. Anyways, my thoughts…

It’s hard to save the planet when you’re malnourished.

There was no real mention of nutrition throughout the whole hour. If this was a Primal or Paleo Challenge, once our Primal Guest got through the obligatory caveman/re-enactment stuff (hopefully kept to as much of a minimum as the producers would allow), I’m pretty sure Primal Guest would steer the conversation towards nutrition / health / our bodies as much as humanly possible. That would be the main argument – human health.

But how dare you be responsible for the death of an animal?

Instead, the only argument presented was an ethical one. This was the go-to response to naysayers. When one Oprah staffer stated that the food tasted like crap, Freston asked her, “Do you care where the meat comes from? Honestly…” It’s quite an effective argument, especially in a public forum. How can you argue anything when you’re practically being accused of murder?

Be a dine-out vegan and dine-in omnivore.

Of course, not everyone will agree that eating meat is unethical, some will say that’s just the nature of things. So the argument turns to the ethical slaughter of animals, and that most animals are not slaughtered humanely. Agreed. And I would be fully supportive of someone refusing to eat meat from an unknown source. But why stop eating meat altogether? As Pollan pointed out, there are plenty of farmers who pride themselves in their treatment of animals, and these farmers need our support. So why not just eat all the animal products you want at home, and eat “veganish” while out?

How the heck do you make cheese from tapioca?!

Back to the “food.”  I was pretty amused that the entire vegan diet, other than fruits/vegetables, is basically an official list of foods that I avoid. As for taste, no wonder that woman was complaining, in fact, I didn’t really hear any positive comments about any of the food. At best, people commented along the lines of being able to tolerate it. And even the usually exuberant Oprah didn’t offer much in the way of enthusiasm. Perhaps it’s because it seems that to emulate meat, the vegan diet consists of over-processed franken-foods. Check out this ingredient list on “Daiya Deliciously Dairy Free Cheddar Style Shreds”:

Filtered water, tapioca and/or arrowroot flours, non-GMO expeller pressed canola and /or non-GMO expeller pressed safflower oil, coconut oil, pea protein, salt, inactive yeast, vegan natural flavours, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor), annatto.

Mmmm. I could totally see how this could be a great weight-loss diet – I don’t see myself craving Cheddar Style Shreds. And here’s some “meat” – vegans sure seem to enjoy their vegetable oils:

Gardein™ chick’n: water, soy protein, vital wheat gluten, ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet and kamut®), natural flavors (from plant sources), potato starch, expeller pressed canola oil and/or safflower oil, pea protein, modified vegetable gum, carrot fiber, organic beet root fiber, organic evaporated cane juice, yeast extract, sea salt. rub: spices, red bell pepper flakes.

“I immediately felt better after going vegan…”

Of course you did. That’s what happens when you stop inhaling corn dogs and Twinkies. Harpo’s cafeteria was serving the lunches, meaning catered food such as salads, whole grains, tofu, etc. – i.e. not fast food and processed simple carbs. I couldn’t stop rolling my eyes at all the testimonials of health improvements attributed to going vegan. It’s called not eating crap. If you stop eating crap, you’ll feel better. Has nothing to do with going vegan. Which you’ll probably find out if you stay vegan long enough. /rant

Conscious eating

The only positive outcome is that at least the show made people more aware of what they put in their mouths. It’s too bad that rather than emphasizing natural, whole, foods, and ethically produced meat, the vegan route demonized all animal products and induced guilt. Whenever ethics/morals are introduced, things get dicey – and it’s unfortunate that this seems to be the vegan trump card. Hopefully at least some of the viewing public can see past this. Now, if only we could get Oprah to do a Primal / Paleo Challenge…

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