Food & Drink Magazine

Oprah's Vegan Show: Hit Or Miss?

By Dreenaburton @dreenaburton
I haven't followed any of the discussions that have been bubbling online after Oprah's vegan show yesterday.  I watched it, you bet, and thought I'd open up dialogue here, starting with my thoughts on the feature.
First, I am grateful, that after being vegan for over 15 years, vegan topics are being discussed on mainstream media, and on arguably the most influential, powerful show on television.  But, I qualify this, because I was underwhelmed, and at times frustrated by the show.  Here's why:
It wasn't vegan enough!  Sorry, but a vegan show needed more vegan experts!  I enjoyed Kathy Freston's appearance and her perspective, and she should have been teamed up with other like-minded people, with the interest of representing veganism.  People like Dr. Neal Barnard, Vesanto Melina, Will Tuttle, Jonathan Safran Foer, John Robbins, Ingrid Newkirk, Dr. T. Colin Campbell.  Several of these guests could have provided more insight, education, and experience about the vegan diet than Michael Pollan.  I understand why Oprah had Michael Pollan on the show, but I think it did a disservice to the topic of veganism, because he continued to interject about eating meat, and "organic meat", which brings me to my next point.
Oprah and Michael too focused on choosing organic, free-range, "happy meat".  Obviously it's a better choice than the drug-and-chemical-ridden-value-pack meats at Costco, but here's the thing, folks: organic, free-range meat is really not accessible or affordable for most people, and it isn't sustainable to feed the population we have with the current consumption of meat.  And, organic and free-range can mean very little in the world of animal agriculture, especially where chickens are concerned.  Oprah remarked once about being able to eat the organic, free-range options, saying "well, I can".  Yes, she can!  But that wasn't supposed to be the point of the show, that if you are living large you can choose the happy meat, but if you are an average American, well... sorry.  I didn't appreciate that, even though I know it was meant to be humorous.
Next, I thought the coverage of the factory farm was white-washed.  If you are going to show a factory farm - SHOW IT!  Yes, show the killing, that's what we need to do to eat animals - kill them.  Don't sanitize it for public viewing.  That's what we already do to meat - sanitize it, make it look pristine and unlike any part of the animal.  And, while you're at it, show the average factory farm, not the "ideal" model which is hardly representative of most factory farms in North America.  I know that the other factory farms wouldn't participate (obviously).  But, that's the message right there!  They don't want to show people what's going on because it IS horrific.  They aren't gently guiding the cows down dark quiet paths, trying to minimize stress and torture.  Truth is factory farm workers are skinning and scalding chickens alive, prodding pigs in their anuses, and castrating cows without anesthetic. Hard to read?  Exactly, that's what we don't want to face.  And, remember 99% of meat comes from factory farms, not "happy farms".
Here's what I did like about the show... in fact, here's what I loved about it:  The real-life results and accounts from people that ate vegan forjust one week and already began to feel better than ever!  That's it, folks.  Eat a wholesome plant-based diet, get the processed junk food out of your diet, and sludge of meat and dairy out of your system, and you'll feel a hell of a lot better.  I could see the conviction in the one man's face that had lost weight and stopped taking antacids.  It was that kind of experience we as viewers needed to hear more of.  I would love to see Oprah follow-up with some of the people who made lasting dietary changes, but with this being her last season, I'm doubtful that will happen. 
To sum up, I think the show was a step.  It has probably helped broaden general awareness about eating vegan, and is giving people a reason to explore their own ways to eat more vegan food, and that's a good step.  I'm generally not one to look for a reason to criticize, instead I try to look for the overall benefits of media covering vegan topics.  But, I think we could have heard less about how some factory farms are becoming more compassionate, had less promotion of meat production, and instead focus more of the discussion on how to truly eat compassionately - and benefit our health and the environment in the process.   The show was supposed to be about eating vegan, after all.

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