Food for thought

Did you watch Oprah’s “vegan challenge” episode that aired this week? What did you think?

Her guests included the wonderful Michael Pollan, the plant manager of a Colorado Cargill slaughterhouse, and the big blonde author of “The Veganist”.

Oprah certainly learned her lesson after the infamous lawsuit when she declared she wouldn’t eat beef anymore due to the risk of contracting mad cow disease. I felt the show was fairly balanced, and Michael Pollan injected a lot of reality and moderation into the anti-animal-protein vibe. A few of my comments:

  • I was impressed by Cargill’s slaughterhouse, especially to learn that they were using Temple Grandin’s designs. (HBO’s film about Temple is now in my Netflix queue, btw)
  • I was not impressed by The Veganist’s guide to shopping vegan in a grocery store. Instead of steering the family towards beans, nuts, seeds, etc (= natural plant proteins), she took all their classic meat-based meals and explained that you can just switch out meat-alternatives and keep your traditional meals. Personally, I don’t like this approach. If you’re willing to try a radically different way of eating, you should be willing to try new recipes, instead of expecting to still have pizza and spaghetti bolognese with fake meat/dairy products. They won’t taste the same and you won’t be satisfied. Some of you may remember my encounter with Gimme Lean “ground meat-like” product. It was not good. Why not teach people about making a dish with lots of beans and new whole grains, exposing them to something new? Just a thought. Also… a vegan diet full of processed foods can still be very high in all the crap that you’re trying (or should be) to avoid, so I can’t say you’re much healthier.
  • Also… there is no term “vegan-ish” Oprah. You’re either vegan or you’re not. If you eat some meals with animal products and some without, you’re still a regular old omnivore. Don’t try to be fancy and elitist. (This also applies to a certain staff member at my workplace who is “vegan” but can eat alfredo sauce. mm hmm.)

As a vegetarian, I’m not anti-meat, nor do I think meat is evil. I love Michael Pollan’s recommendation that we all should at least be conscious of what we’re eating and where it’s coming from. He admits to eating meat several times a week, and enjoys it, but does not eat “industrial” or “feedlot” meat. Instead, he chooses to support small, local farms who may or may not produce organic products (sometimes that certification is more than they can afford), but are humanely raising their animals, and feeding them a natural diet.

**A note here – cows should not be eating a corn-based diet. This is not natural. It is a cheap food source (thanks to government subsidies) and fattens them up quickly, which are really the only 2 things that the industrial agriculture system cares about. However, take a step into the cow’s gut (if you are brave) and you’ll see that their innards were not created to handle a grain-based diet. Instead, it causes all kinds of illness and infection (e. coli, anyone?) so it’s a good thing they’re not living very long. Grass-fed beef comes from healthier cows, and is healthier for you, too (there are omega-3 fatty acids that we all love in the grass, but not in corn).

So… if I were to eat meat again, and I’m not saying that I will or won’t anytime soon, I would follow the philosophy of Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver (read this!) and support local family farms that I could trust. And I might just turn into the Portlandia characters that go as far as to ask the waitress about the name of the chicken on the menu and his personality :)

And while I’m still on my sustainable food soapbox, I highly encourage you all to read Mark Bittman’s column in the NYTimes opinion blog on his recommendations to change the US Food System. I would love to see any (and all!) of them come to fruition.

There. That’s a lot of writing for today. And I didn’t even mention that I got a new piece of vintage pyrex today, did I? :)




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