Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Oprah on Veganism


I’ve had a lot of e-mails asking me what I thought about Oprah’s show on… I’m not sure what to call it really, I can’t say a show on being vegan, perhaps a show discussing veganism along with the arguments against it. But non the less, I’ve had a lot of questions. I’ve also had a lot of folks asking about the book “Veganist” and my contribution to it and my feelings about the book, Kathy, the show and what they did or did not focus on. So I thought I’d just answer some of those questions, and tell you what you did not see on the show.

So here are somethings you did not see on the show.

1. A good portrayal of what a healthy vegan diet looks like.

In fact, I’d say it was a good portrayal of what an unhealthy vegan diet looks like. The thing is that for mainstream media, eating vegetables only is so over the top and so insane, that they feel the need to focus on things that look and (almost) taste just like what Americans are currently eating. People in large part want to know what to replace their current addictions with, the show highlighted slightly more ethical replacements, rather than very healthy replacements.

I have mixed feelings about this, because I understand that we live in a nation in which advertisers control most of what we see on TV, and honestly, kale and apples are not going to bring in advertising bucks. However, the name brands? They do.

So we did not see a healthy vegan diet portrayed.

2. The health benefits of a healthy plant-based diet.

Now here is something that might shock you… I was happy they didn’t focus too much on the health benefits of a plant-strong diet. Why? Because they did not focus on a healthy diet. I feel that if they had focused on some vegan junk foods along with a message that simply eating meat replacements will do things like reverse heart disease and diabetes, it would have sent a mixed message.

If they were to focus on the health benefits of a plant-based diet they would have had to have an completely different show. They could not have had Pollan on, they could not have had the beef industry on, they could not have advertised for some of the companies they did, and they would have been sued, again. Which is to say, the show would not have happened. Some of you might not know, but Oprah has said of her last vegan show, where she went vegan for 21 days the backlash and being sued by the cattle industry was one of the hardest things she has gone through. The sad reality is that the business of eating animal and consuming their secretions is a highly political and financial industry. If you say something against those industries and you are Oprah, you go through hell for it. I’m not saying that it is an excuse, I am saying that very few of us know what it is like to be attacked on that kind of level, and it is hard to pass judgements on a show that is mainstream with a host that struggles with her own addictions to food in a very public kind of way.

3. The truth about factory farming.

I could not stand to watch the part of the show with the factory farm, I kept turning my eyes away from it. I thought the segment was horrific and shocking, and honestly could not believe that anyone could want to consume animals after watching all of that. What they showed was a very watered down, very factory farm friendly segment. There were so many lies in that little segment, it is hard to know where to begin. They did not show the horrible lives these cows lead before what Pollan had the audacity to say was “one bad day”. They did not show the antibiotics they are given to kill disease that are caused by their poor living conditions. They did not show how the cows are branded and tagged. They did not show the actual slaughter and how they DO feel pain. If a dog was shot in the head on national tv we’d all be outside of Oprah’s studio, we’d all be outraged, but because we’ve been told that cows are food, hardly anyone flinches. The truth is that even in what they called “humane” slaughter (which is about the worst thing you could ever call slaughter) not every cow dies right away, some have to be shot multiple times. And what they showed on TV? Was to appease the American public and to make the American public feel good about causing the death of another creature.

And, that was the “good” one. What they did not show were the 1000′s of farms in which torture, abuse and horrific killing is done on a daily basis. I’ll make it clear, there is NEVER a time where killing is humane. And factories in which killing is their business do not make the lives of the animals a good life at all. Why? Because they are taught that these animals are just food and nothing more than that. They are not treated like living, breathing creatures, they are treated like slaves who are allowed to be killed for absolutely no reason.

I’ve had my issues with Michael Pollan over the years, but his statement that “animals have just one bad day” was even shocking for him. He should know better, and he has been supposedly researching all of this for a long time, and should be educated enough to know that what he said was an absolute lie. This could not be further from the truth. And there was no mention of the horrors of chicken farms, or the absolute horrors of what goes on in dairy farms. They did  not cover how animals are raped and tortured over and over and over again,  or how they are forced to stand in their own waste, just so a few people can enjoy one meal.

I could go about this segment, but instead I will let you do some research on the truth of factory farming, and I am going to suggest watching the movie “Earthlings” . You can watch it for free online. I will warn you, it is a hard and painful movie to even watch a little of. But if you are truly seeking the truth, and you really want to see what animals are treated like? It is a movie that must be watched.

4. People who love going vegan.

While there were a few staff members at Oprah who said they enjoyed their vegan week, I felt that they focused on the negative rather than the positive. The truth is, MOST people who make the change enjoy the change and thrive and love the food. There are some who will definitely hate it their first few weeks, but that is not because of the lack of food or the poor tasting food, it is a testament to how bad their addictions are. I’ve helped many people make the change, and with very few exceptions, I’ve had very little complaints. And when someone is really struggling and not enjoying anything they eat, it is almost ALWAYS because of food addiction. I know, because I struggled with food addiction for a very long time.

5. A good cooking segment.

There are SO many vegan chefs and cookbook authors, that they would have had NO problem having a few of them join the Oprah staff for the week and cook for them. They also could have easily had a vegan cooking segment on the show itself. Most people need a visual to understand how food is prepared. Most Americans do not spend anytime in the kitchen anymore, and even the thought of preparing processed vegan food is scary. If it’s not coming through a drive through window for many, it becomes complicated. What they could have shown is how EASY it is to prepare a simple vegan meal that focuses on healthy and tasty foods.

So that is what we did not see (well some of what we did not see, I could probably write an entire book on what we did not see).

What we did see on Oprah:

1. Kathy Freston.

I’ve been able to talk to Kathy a couple of times and what I can tell you is that she is one of the most compassionate people on the planet. I want to be like her when I grow up – seriously. She is poised and does not get angry easily. She seeks to understand people and to meet them where they are at, not where she wishes they would end up. While I would love for people to go vegan overnight, she understands that for some it is a journey, and every step is a good step. I think she was encouraging and kind and did not make it as scary for many people to just start somewhere.

She had a TOUGH thing to do, she had to go up against some of the top defenders of the meat industry, and that is not an easy thing to do. I think you should send her a tweet just saying thanks for what she did. Her book is number one on Amazon today, and that means 1000′s of people are learning about being vegan now, because of her contribution to the show.

2. Mentioning addiction.

I was so glad that addiction was mentioned. So many people do not see their strong addictions to food, until that food is taken away. It was nice to see Kathy address that and hopefully people watching understood that sometimes those first few days are hard because of addictions, not because it is actually hard.

3. Meatless Monday’s and having one vegan option for lunch.

I was really glad to see this step being taken by Oprah’s company. Most companies do not have meatless Monday’s or any decent vegan options in the lunch room. What I HOPE that will happen is that other companies will think this is a good thing to try as well. And the more people who love the vegan options or meatless Monday’s, the more days of the week that could become vegan days.

4. Animal slaughter.

Although they had a g rated segment, they did have SOMETHING and for many that was enough. I have had so many e-mails in the past few days because of that short segment, so for some, it was enough, and for that I’m glad.

5. The preview for Forks Over Knives on Oprah’s website.

While, all of the health segments got cut from the show, the preview for Forks Over Knives did end up on Oprah’s website, and that is a great thing.

Veganist. I might be slightly biased about this – but I am absolutely LOVING the book, and it’s not just because my story starts on page 81

There will be so many people reading this book, and that is because of Kathy’s exposure on Oprah.

Why there is hope for Veganism:

I was upset after watching the show. I thought they could have done a much better job overall. And then I got an e-mail from someone and I’ll share it (with permission).

“I’ve been following you for a little while, but I never wanted to go vegan, just get some healthier meal options on occasion. I love Oprah, and watch her every single day, and I watched the show today about going vegan, right after the show I ordered Kathy’s book and I started looking up more sites on going vegan.

The show totally shocked me, I couldn’t even watch the part with the farm, and I thought that if I couldn’t watch that, maybe it’s time I seriously considering becoming vegan.

I’m writing, because I really want to start off on the right foot, and I’m hoping you can help me. “

The thing is, I’ve had almost 100 e-mails from people since Tuesday expressing their interest in becoming vegan after watching Oprah. What I think most of us tend to forget, is that there was a day before we became vegan.

For everyone it is something different on how they started out on the journey to veganism. For some it was the connection they make between their dogs and cats and how they are no different from pigs and cows. For some it is a health scare, and they start to see how dangerous foods that come from animals are for the body. For some it is a desire to not waste resources, and to not make such a negative impact on this planet. For some it is seeing the truth of factory farming.

For me it was one friend just mentioning that I should look at food as medicine. That was all it took for me to start on this incredible journey.

For some, it was watching Oprah on Tuesday. There are 1000′s who will decide to start the journey to becoming vegan because of the show, and because they ordered Kathy’s book.

We can never except ONE person, one show, one book, or one way of thinking to change the minds of everyone. It will never be 100% the way we want it to be either.

That is not a bad thing, it is something to have hope about – not everyone is the same, and for that we should be thankful.

What we can only hope for is that a few minds will be changed, and those few will find other ways to communicate to more people in ways that will resonate with them. In the meantime, the best course of action is to be completely positive, loving and peaceful towards those who express interest and those seeking help in making some pretty big changes in their lives.

So rather than being upset with Oprah or the show or the producers, why not send encouraging notes, why not thank them for what they DID do, rather than what they did not.

And at the end of the day, still – it is not Oprah who is going to make the biggest difference in this world, it is YOU. You might be the only vegan someone knows, you might be the only vegan in your company or your family. And you can help to change this world, even if you don’t have a tv audience to do it with.


  1. Rachel

    Thank you so much for this post!! I think a lot of people were surprised to see so much processed vegan food being promoted on the show, but hopefully as people eat less meat they realize these are transition foods into a vegan diet and that veggies is where it’s really at 🙂

    I was so disappointed in Michael Pollan. I realize he has never promoted a fully vegan diet, but to say even animals on “humane” farms have “one bad day” was shocking to me as well. It was a very flippant comment and then to have Kathy’s graceful, compassionate responses made it even more of a contrast.

  2. Rob

    I remember Oprah as one of the news anchors at Channel 13, a local TV station, when I was a kid. I’m not a huge fan of her talk show, but want to suggest that we move away from this “right and wrong” thinking and consider a new perspective.

    It’s important for us to remember one of the most important rules of successful communication: speak in terms your audience understands. Oprah’s show was clearly designed to make omnivores find something alien to them – a vegan lifestyle – more approachable. It succeeded in doing do; Kathy’s book is selling huge numbers, and lots of people, vegan and omnivore, are talking about the show. The end result is that tens of thousands of people have now been exposed to the vegan message, and many of them have been inspired to buy the book and learn more. For that we should be grateful.

    The show was not meant to be an expose. It was not meant to support points we already know. It was not meant to further our agendas. As a long-term vegan myself I know that much more could have been said, and that many things that were said could have been said differently. But remember – the show was not written for us. The show was written for people who are comfortable buying meat and dairy, who think it’s healthy and nourishing, who may have cultural and family traditions surrounding its consumption, and who are probably addicted – just as we once were. To have inspired such an audience to learn more and possibly to take action I applaud Oprah.

    The show didn’t need to inspire us to somehow become more vegan. The show needed to inspire omnivores to take their first chance on something very different, and it has succeeded in doing that. At some point when the rest of us have reached such celebrity status maybe some action of ours will inspire tens of thousands of people to buy a book about veganism. Even then, we vegans will have to speak in terms that the omnivores understand.

  3. Andrea

    Thank you for writing this. So many vegan writers saw only the negative side of the show, and completely missed the fact that Oprah wasn’t trying to appeal to vegans. She’s a master at what she does, and knows her audience very well. She had a guest (Kathy) who would not antagonize people, but as you said, meet them where they are and encourage them to take the first steps towards a new way of viewing food.

    I cried during the animal slaughter scenes and had to leave the room, even as I knew it was the g-rated version, and I’ve seen it before. Opera did mention that this was the only processing plant that would allow her crew inside to film, and maybe that registered with viewers. And the scenes and descriptions of animals being slaughtered may have been enough to galvanize a large segment of her audience to think about what they eat, learn more about the food industry, and take steps towards changing their diets.

    Oprah can make a book into a best seller in an hour. If Kathy’s book becomes extremely popular, as it appears to be doing, a lot of people may be encouraged to start moving towards a plant-based diet.

    Oprah offered people encouragement to try a plant-based diet. Even if the steps taken are baby steps, they are still steps. People listen to Oprah, trust her, and try what she suggests. She’s an influential woman, and I’m happy she used her influence to encourage so many people to think about what they eat.

  4. Veggie

    Really thorough breakdown- you bring up so many important points! The one thing that really left a bad taste in my mouth was encouraging America to switch from meat to processed mock meats. I mean, they’re allright in moderation, but should not be made to represent a vegan/vegetarian diet (but as you said, I understand from a marketing perspective why this happened).

    Thankfully many more worksites are about to do programs like Meatless Monday. Check out this news from major corporate feeder Sodexo:

    Change is in the air! I think Oprah would have taken a more agressive stance if Cargill wasn’t breathing down her next, but she at least put the idea out there to her 40 million weekly viewers 🙂

  5. may

    Well put. Kudos on your understanding and compassion to people as well as animals. Your comments were right on target to my way of thinking.

  6. Mary

    Deep breath. I still feel so emotional about that show, for all the reasons you outlined above. Thank you for writing about it so eloquently.

  7. Nicola

    Unfortunately ,most people just do not care about factory farming .They want there nicely packaged meat with no resemblance to any animal.
    And what is so difficult to comprehend is that the same people who no doubt have domesticated animals and think they are animal lovers.What a joke
    My children are the only two children in the school who are vegetarians and i am always been told that they need meat for protein,etc etc
    even though they are fit and healthy , much healthier than their meat eating friends!
    I find most meat eaters turn a blind eye to where their meat has come from and are selfish hypocrites and have bad karma.

I went on a plant based diet after diabetes almost took my life. Now, almost 2 years later not only have I reduced my type 2 diabetes symptoms, I have lost close to 200 pounds (and still losing). This is a place where I write about my journey as I continue the quest for health, and living a good life for today, and long into the future. Get hold of me on nat@cleanseplan.com

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