Oprah and Her Harpo Staff Going Vegan for 7 Days

Much hoopla was made about Oprah and her staff challenging themselves to live vegan for a week. I just watched the show on my DVR and here are some of my thoughts.

The show opens with a video of last week’s Harpo staff meeting and the challenge to go vegan for a week – that means no meat, eggs, & dairy. Immediately all you see is Kashi logos! Kashi is everywhere, on the bags they’re handing out to staff members, later in her office, Oprah even mentions how much she loves Kashi products. Yuck. Doesn’t anyone realize that Kashi is Kelloggs crap in disguise? sigh. It’s highly processed, sugarly, full of soy! STOP with the Kashi!

Michael Pollan

I loved seeing Michael Pollan. I adore him. He has so many good ideas, and his books “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual” truly changed my life!

So, he advises that it’s okay to eat meat, just don’t eat a lot of it! That is how I am slowly trying to live. (Baby steps, baby steps!) Be a conscience eater! Be aware about where your food is coming from!

Michael states that the American diet is now a catastrophe. 75% of our healthcare spending is on chronic diseases linked to diet and it’s bankrupting us. Too many calories, too much processed food, tons of refined carbs (sugar, white flour).

Unfortunately, the show was interrupted for a few minutes by an important ABC news special report on the situation in Egypt, and I did miss a chunk of Michael’s interview, but I found a video on Oprah’s web site:
http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Michael-Pollan-on-Eating-Meat-Video/topic/oprahshow

Behind the Scenes @ Cargill

Next, was a video segment on how beef is produced. The video starts at Timmerman Feedlot in La Salle, Colorado, where cows eat corn and corn by-products for 200 days until they are fat enough for slaughter. They gain about 3 pounds per day. The video shows the following day at Cargill Meat Solutions in Fort Morgan, Colorado, the largest producer of ground beef in the world.

Cargill was portrayed as a “kind” beef slaughter house (that sounds like an oxymoron) and I immediately recognized the handling system, designed by Temple Grandin to keep the animals calm. I suppose if you have to die, the way they do it seemed to be fairly respectful.

They filmed the process except when the animals were struck with the 4 inch metal bolt and killed. They showed skinning, sawing, and other assorted beef processing.

Unfortunately (as pointed out on the show) a lot of the slaughter houses are not as kind or clean, especially when it comes to poultry. It’s too bad that Oprah didn’t show a poultry plant, but I imagine not many of them were too eager to be filmed.

I would be a hypocrite if I said I never bought feed-lot beef, but it really doesn’t seem like a healthy, happy way for a cow to live for 200 days, stuck in a lot, eating corn. Thankfully, Whole Foods always has freshly ground 100% grass fed beef, so I never have to purchase beef ground in a factory.

The Veganist, Kathy Freston

Oprah’s next guest was Kathy Freston, the “Veganist”, her book “Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World” was just released. Kathy led the week long Vegan challenge, and offered a lot of advice to the staff.

I love the new buzz word “veganish” – that’s a lifestyle that perhaps I can someday see myself living. From the Urban Dictionary: Veganish: An eating practice for people who kinda want to be vegan, but sometimes just need to eat some cheese or chicken.

Michael Pollan voiced a concern about going “all the way vegan”, as opposed to someone that eats meat occasionally: first “these great farmers we have in this country who are doing really good work” going on to say we need to reform the meat system not eliminate it. He also worries that getting off meat entirely that you “end up on a lot of processed foods” and he praised Kathy’s book for warning about this danger.

Sounds promising, you don’t need all that processed “meat and cheese alternative” junk! I like what I’m hearing!

…until a later segment where Kathy’s shown going grocery shopping with Jill, an Oprah producer. What do you think she’s suggesting to them? Processed meat/dairy alternatives!

Shopping For Vegan Friendly Processed Foods

Suggested dairy alternative: Daiya Vegan Cheese Products, made from tapioca. Here’s a list of ingredients:

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, vegan natural flavours, inactive yeast, vegetable glycerin, xanthan gum, citric acid (for flavor).

Still processed, but not too bad; I might actually try this food. I like that they clearly state that there’s no GMO canola or safflower. And they are soy free! And yes, this cheese substitute can be easily frozen!

On the negative side, yeah, there are some ingredients that my grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (Food Rule #2) and there is no calcium, like normal cheese.

Next recommendations are meat substitutes. Did you notice the camera paused effectively on the Kellogg’s Boca Burger package? hmm.

Oprah producer, Jill chooses a box of Hickory Smoked Tofurky Deli Slices. Okay, so it’s made from organic tofu and there’s no GM oils, but nutritionally, what is the difference between that and a package of Hormel turkey slices? Wouldn’t it be better to just tell people to eat a (natural) nut butter and (lower sugar) jelly sandwich, and get off the deli meat all together!?

So, Kathy Freston then recommends Gardein products. Although this product line is not as horrible as the Boca burgers (Kraft) and Morningstar Farms (Kelloggs), it’s still a highly processed food.

Here is the ingredient list from Gardein™ chick’n filets:

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, vinegar, sea salt. rub: spices, red bell pepper flakes.

First, there’s a good chunk of processed soy and processed wheat (TVP) which is probably genetically modified, along with canola/safflower oils and sugar from cane juice. Why do we need sugar in chicken? Hmm, could it be the product tastes so bad, it needs a boost of sugar (and salt) to make it taste better.

“Ancient grains” are on their list of ingredients, but the pessimist in me thinks these buzz word grains are added just so the product looks healthy and “modern”. And sorry, their beef alternative products really look scary!

Non-dairy milk is next. Kathy grabs a carton of Almond Breeze chocolate milk. Okay I have used unsweetened Almond Breeze milk before, but why is she recommending the chocolate flavor? Yeah, of course it tastes great because it’s loaded with sugar!!! Duh! I wish she verbally suggested the SoDelicious unsweetened coconut milk, but at least the camera focused on their products.

Of course veganaise and earth balance are next on her shopping list. I might actually buy the grapeseed veganaise product, because it’s soy and canola free – update: I took a look at the ingredients at the store, and it DOES have soy, so nope, I won’t be purchasing this. I previously considered buying the soy-free Earth Balance, but it still includes canola oil, so I just choose organic whipped butter instead. Simple, fresh, and less fat/calories.

Oprah’s Real Objectives

The problem with shows like Oprah, is they try to nudge people into making choices for a healthier lifestyle, but stop short of revealing the whole picture. Sure, it’s a great idea to eat meatless whenever you can, but to replace meat with highly processed soy products isn’t helping our health or our environment. (Read the “beef vs veggie burger” article at Mother Jones)

The show was supposed to be about being conscience of where your food comes from. Do you know where soy protein and canola oil comes from? Most of us might know how a pea comes to our table, it’s grown in a farm, but how is pea protein created and what impact does the process have on our environment and health?

My guess is they couldn’t really tell the truth because the episode was heavily sponsored by Kelloggs (ending titles credited Kashi with partially funded the show’s production)! So, they left out important details about these processed vegan-friendly foods.

Unfortunately, a lot of Oprah groupies will buy anything that she and her guests’ recommend. I can hear roar at the grocery store, followers stocking up on any and all meat/dairy alternative products without even a glance to the list of ingredients and/or nutritional data. They’ll be replacing their normal processed foods with other processed foods and think they’re making a healthier choice!

All in all, it was a decent show, and it was great to hear the experiences of some of the staff members. But I wish they didn’t put so much emphasis on the processed alternative foods, after all the show was supposed to be about being conscience about where your food comes from. I wanted to see more discussion on whole grains, beans, nuts, fruit and vegetables!