Your Thoughts Thursday: Vegan On Oprah

February 3, 2011 by Keri

It’s been so long since I’ve done a YTT, and I really miss the conversation!

In case you missed the episode or haven’t read one of the million other recaps, Oprah’s vegan episode consisted of a short slaughterhouse tour, a conversation between herself, Kathy Freston, Michael Pollan, and a Cargill representative, Kathy Freston taking one of Oprah’s staffers vegan grocery shopping, and the staff going vegan for a week with a few of their testimonials. The conversation left a lot of people questioning why Michael Pollan was on the panel, but most speculate he was there to cover Oprah’s behind from getting sued by the meat industry again.  And while many don’t like the “sugar-coated” veganism in the media, others feel any step towards bringing the vegan conversation into homes is a step in the right direction. Okay, let’s be honest, many are just glad to see us portray in any other light than “crazy”.  So my question is, what were your thoughts on the vegan Oprah episode?

  • If you watched, did you think the show provided good information for those wanting to try veganism?
  • Do you think Oprah is a good platform for this conversation?
  • Were you concerned with the portrayal of processed “fake” meats and cheeses as a dietary staple?
  • Did you think the slaughterhouse tour was sugar-coated?
  • Who would you put on your vegan discussion panel?
  • What recipes would you have made or suggested for the featured vegan challenge staffer and her family?
  • Were you happy to see so many positive staffer testimonials and interest in sticking with veganism?
  • Do you worry veganism is turning into “the next fad diet”?

I know this discussion has been covered all over the blogs, so feel free to repost your response from elsewhere or direct me to your blog post on the topic.

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I Eat Trees is a blog featuring my adventures in all things vegan. My favorite recipes, snack food finds, and restaurant trials are all on the menu so enjoy!


  1. Lisa says:

    I watched it at 2AM, because the regular time slot was filled with foul weather coverage in my area, and found it interesting enough to stay awake for the entire show 🙂 I thought it was interesting to watch the various reactions to vegan eating, and really, it was Oprah, so I wasn’t expecting vegan perfection.

    Fake meats and cheeses: it’s good to let people know they’re out there, but I think this is very much like people who heard about Atkins on television, and just went off and started eating what they thought was correct. I would have liked more emphasis on the vegan food pyramid, and on how to plan simple, healthy, nutritious meals that don’t include processed foods.

    The slaughterhouse: I think they showed what could be shown on daytime network television. Frankly, I had to avert my eyes from that section. I found the sound of the bolt being shot disturbing, and I really didn’t want to see animals being skinned, or their hooves being chopped off. Head buried in pillow for most of this.

    I wondered, in a company so large, if there weren’t people who were already vegan working for O—I would have liked to hear from them. I would have liked to have seen some real, everyday vegans, cooking real, everyday meals. If I had put this show together, I would have sent Isa Chandra over to that family of four, to cook real vegan fare for them, and to help them veganize their favorite meals.

  2. I have so much to say about your questions that it’s probably better to direct you to the post I wrote yesterday about it 🙂

    In short, Oprah had a huge opportunity to educate millions of people about veganism and I think she missed the mark. I know that some vegans are just happy to have gotten the air time on a major tv show, but it wasn’t necessarily the best publicity… I was disappointed.

  3. Tamar says:

    Sarah – that was really well said – a great post. I agree with basically everything you said. I will add just a couple of comments: The entire tone of the show seemed to suggest that being vegan is so hard – i.e. the “challenge” aspect. Oprah had the opportunity to say – even a sentence – like “You may already be eating vegan sometimes without even realizing it” to underscore that it doesn’t have to be so difficult. A couple other things stuck out for me that, frankly, were really frustrating.

    The Cargill representative saying that while she wouldn’t ridicule anyone who chooses to not eat meat, that she believes that eating meat is the natural order of things. I would have liked SOMEONE on the show – Freston, Oprah, or someone else, to ask her whether feeding cows corn instead of letting them graze on grass in order to fatten them up by 3 lbs PER DAY is the natural order of things? That’s just a flat out lie. And Pollan, of all people, with all of his research in the Omnivore’s Dilemma could have addressed this. But he was there to be pro-meat industry, obviously.

    Which brings me to the end of the show when people were talking about the benefits they felt after eating vegan, I felt like Pollan had to throw in some BS about it being a “vegan revival.” And that there’s nothing inherently wrong about eating meat. I lost so much respect for Pollan at that point. I think he writes one thing and says and does another. I am totally disappointed by him. The fact that he points to Cargill as a good feedlot is such a fallacy. He also said himself that he doesn’t eat feedlot meat. Even though I would have appreciated more information on the environmental impact, there also could’ve been mention of some of the information in his books. But, then, of course, the conclusion would be that eating grass fed organic beef isn’t sustainable or scalable. Because it isn’t. And Pollan can’t argue with that.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

  4. Regina says:

    I didn’t watch the episode since I don’t have cable where I’m currently located, but I did read some of the staffer’s results on Oprah’s website.

    I was impressed to find out some people were interested in sticking to a vegan lifestyle post-Oprah’s challenge. I think those who stick to it will see tremendous changes in their health. I hope some people choose to educate themselves more about being vegan, so they can balance their diet in the best way.

    In a way, I do think Oprah was a good platform for this issue in the sense that she has SO many viewers and fans. For whatever reason, what she says can strike a chord with some people. I counted at least three of my Facebook friends who claimed they were going to try veganism after the show aired. Whether they do or not, or just try being vegetarian, is to be determined. With that said, I can kind of see veganism being a fad diet in the near future, to which I have mixed feelings. I think a major aspect of being vegan is the compassion for animals, but people see it as a way to lose weight. I am all for people getting a grasp on their health and being as healthy as they can be, but I also think there’s more to it than just losing some pounds. So, I really feel it’s more necessary for people to read and educate themselves before making the switch so they can see there are way more benefits than just losing the extra weight.

    Sorry if I rambled into complete incoherency.

    I really liked John Robbins’s book, so I’d def stick him on my panel of experts.
    As a side note, I looked at last night, and Kathy Freston’s book was #1 haha! So yes, Oprah is a pretty powerful platform.

  5. bitt says:

    I wrote up some of my thoughts on my blog but I’ll answer a few here too:
    # f you watched, did you think the show provided good information for those wanting to try veganism? no, it was too processed!
    # Do you think Oprah is a good platform for this conversation? she is well watched and powerful but i think she candy-coated some issues.
    # Were you concerned with the portrayal of processed “fake” meats and cheeses as a dietary staple? yes! i don’t find those very tasty.
    # Did you think the slaughterhouse tour was sugar-coated? yes! but hopefully some sensitive souls will still make connections and not want to eat meat.
    # Who would you put on your vegan discussion panel? gary francione, howard lyman (heard him speak), carol adams, paul shapiro (HSUS)
    # What recipes would you have made or suggested for the featured vegan challenge staffer and her family? a bean taco or burrito–my family loves these, plain pasta without meat, a bean chili, an asian noodle or tofu dish, a vegan lasagne (all stuff I’ve made for omnivores)
    # Were you happy to see so many positive staffer testimonials and interest in sticking with veganism? yes!
    # Do you worry veganism is turning into “the next fad diet”? probably but if it helps animals i’ll go with it.

  6. Jess - The Domestic Vegan says:

    I know this convo is from yesterday, but I have to chime in! Basically, my main gripes with the show are that the factory farm part was TOTALLY whitewashed. You think that was a typical day at Cargill? Um, no. They knew the cameras were coming so you BET they cleaned up their act. Additionally, didn’t Oprah say that something like 20 other slaughterhouses denied the show access? I wish that Kathy (or someone) would have discussed the reasons why.

    Dreena Burton wrote a recap on her blog that I totally agree with, and here is the comment I left there… Some of the comments left by other people made me reconsider some of my gripes (some said that if the show was “more vegan,” they wouldn’t have watched). I guess you have to consider the audience. I suppose if the show wasn’t promoted as a “vegan show,” I wouldn’t have been as disappointed. It wasn’t really a vegan show; it was more of a “conscious eating” show, with an emphasis on meat eating…

    I loved when Michael Pollan said that he didn’t mean to squash the excitement about weight loss & Kathy said, “Then don’t!!!” – but overall, I have to say that I was mostly unimpressed with her. It was like she was too afraid to 100% stand up for her convictions & didn’t want to ruffle Michael’s (and the viewers’) feathers too much… Like she couldn’t be TOO vegan, you know? I was frustrated that when Michael said there’s “nothing wrong” with eating meat, she touched his arm & said, “Oh, I agree!” She then explained that it just doesn’t sit well with her to eat another living creature, which was GREAT – but why did she have to say “I agree” so much??? You DON’T agree, which is why you’re vegan – duh!

    Michael Pollan is always yapping his trap all over, and veganism gets MUCH less play than this “happy meat” crap, so I just wished that Kathy was able to speak with more conviction. I also wondered why Michael (and that Cargill rep) were even there (was it so Oprah wouldn’t get sued again?). If it was going to be a vegan show, it should have been a vegan show. Michael was on a year ago & was allowed to wax poetic about meat eating the entire time. He didn’t need to be given a platform to do it again.

    I don’t mean to be negative, as overall, I think it was done fairly well. I think it’s amazing that this show was even done at all, and I know it will create some positive changes for people. I just hope that next time, Michael stays at home & there is a larger, more well-rounded vegan panel.

  7. chrysta says:

    I didnt watch the episode but I did have a few thoughts when others told me about it. I agree that the slaughterhouses and other practices in the U.S definently need alot more laws and strict guidelines to follow. I also think that overall the US as a whole needs to eat less meat. Even if you are not a vegan I really think meat should be considered a side dish and majority of your food should come from plants and fruit. Our consumption of dairy as a whole is way out of control as well.

    I actually used to be vegan for about 10 years and was brought up a vegan. (As my mother is) It was way back in the day when it wasnt cool to be vegan and there wasnt as many products as there are now on the market. My mom just home cooked everything and we ate tons and tons of plants. Now Im not vegan anymore (but thats a whole other conversation, ha!) But I do honestly just keep meat as a side dish or a once in a while affair.

    I have a few friends that are going vegan in order to “lose some weight” so in that respect I am afraid that it will be the next fad. I think people dont realize you can eat just as unhealthfully as a vegan as you can a meat eater. Trust me, there is some AMAZING vegan junkfood out there that is hard to resist! So like all food, just because its vegan doesnt automatically mean its healthy to eat.

    But on the flip side I am so happy that there is a movement towards veganism. When I was a child I can remember people calling my mom a “child abuser” because she didnt feed us meat and cheese. But I guarentee you we ate so much better than they did! So to bring about a tolerance and an acceptance would be amazing. I just think that no matter what route you chose, meat or no just have to be conscious about what you put into your body. Eating majority of your foods from fruits, veggies and whole grains is the way to go. And then how you choose your protein source, whether it be meat, seafood, beans, tofu or seitan it doesn’t matter. Its a personal choice.

    Overall I think we just have to focus on eating more vegetables. I know I sound like a broken record saying that but I believe in it so much. Not only will our country be healthier but our environment will thank us as well!

    I could go on and on! haha, but I will stop myself. GREAT topic though and keep on rockin with your amazing site!!!