Our worlds have finally collided and I am in California visiting The Other Sarah! For the first time since we started the blog, we are face to face brainstorming ideas and making plans to take over the world. As a result, I haven't had much time to write and am reposting a post I wrote last year after an Oprah show on veganism. The Oprah Show is long gone (sniff!) but the debate surroudning veganism rages on. Enjoy!
As a former vegetarian and Michael Pollan groupie, I could not wait for yesterday's Oprah. Oprah and 368 of her staffers went vegan for a week and they had Pollan and The Veganist Kathy Freston on the show to discuss the results. For those of you who don't know me personally and therefore have not been forced to read The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan is a food writer and activist. Using his food rules - "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." - he promotes a greater awareness about where our food comes from and what that process means to all of us. He is also responsible for ending my five years of vegetarianism.
Freston is a passionate supporter of the vegan lifestyle and shepherded Oprah and her staff through a week of no meat, dairy, eggs, or animal product of any kind. The point of this exercise and the discussion generally was to promote greater consciousness about the food we put in our bodies.
This awareness is something about which I am very passionate. We eat three meals a day and every single meal has environmental, societal, and political consequences, not to mention psychological and physical impact. This passion is why I have a real beef (ha! pun intended!) with Freston and her advocacy of veganism.
Full disclosure: I did Kathy Freston’s detox diet about three years ago. I gave up dairy, gluten, meat, alcohol, and caffeine. I did it for one reason and one reason only. Oprah asked me to and I generally do anything Oprah asks me, too. I was already a vegetarian with a decently healthy diet. Suddenly, I found myself purchasing gallons of soy milk, meat substitute, and fake cheese. Instead of eating more fruits and vegetables, I felt like I was just eating more soy. After a week all I had to show for my hard work was a missed period and the biggest zit of my life.
On yesterday's show when Pollan raised concerns that vegansim for some could mean more processed food, Freston agreed that one could be vegan while surviving on junk food but that's not what she was promoting. (It was also not what Pollan said, but whatever.) She assured Oprah and her audience that being vegan didn't mean more processed food. THEN, she proceeded to take a producer and her daughter to Whole Foods and fill their carts with meat and cheese substitutes galore. There wasn't a fresh vegetable or whole food in sight.
I'm not sure how Freston defines processed food, but turning soy into something resembling cheese is a PROCESS.
For example, this is the ingredient list for soy-cheese slices: water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, tofu, soy protein, carrageenan, maltodextrin, vinegar, calcium phosphate, potato flakes, salt, guar and carob bean gums, nondairy lactic acid, adipic acid, dairy free American cheese flavor, natural color and potassium sorbate.
This is the ingredient list for the mozzarella string cheese in my fridge: skim milk, cheese culture, salt.
Call me crazy but I find it hard to believe there is not only NO room in my diet for the latter, but that I should base a large portion of my diet on the former.
I'm not arguing that all processed food is alike or even bad. I know a ton of people who would really benefit by replacing the beef in their chili or stews with soy crumbles. However, Freston seems to be replacing one highly processed diet with another. Nutritional science is still in the dark ages and the recommendations change all the time, but what we do know is the more whole food and less processed food you eat the better.
Pollan suggests not eating anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food. I am blessed to still have one of my great-grandmothers. Alive and well at 97, I'm pretty sure Mama Maggie would be pretty dang confused if I tried to explain soy cheese to her - much less convince her to eat it.
~ Sarah Stewart Holland