I love meat.
I also love Oprah. Today she tackled the issue of the American diet, specifically the role of meat and meat products. For those of you who didn't see it, Oprah invited two main guests on the show; one who talked about being a vegan (no animal products), and one who implored people to be educated about where their food comes from. The audience was made up of the HARPO staff who took part in a one week challenge to eat vegan. Apparently, collectively there were over 400 pounds lost, and lots more bathroom tissue used. One woman, embarrassed, announced that she now poops on a daily basis as opposed to the once a week that she was used to. *GASP!* I appreciated the episode because it wasn't preachy, rather it gave a lot of information and encouraged people to make the healthiest choices for themselves - whether they include meat or not.
The show was timely. Last week my roommate was reading Elijah Muhammad's 1967 book How to Eat to Live. It lead to several lively discussions about how insane he was - the white man is the devil, pork is the devil, you only need to eat once every three days - though not really insane given the social-cultural context in which he was writing (black power/civil rights era). Some of our conversations regarding specifically the meat issue focused on the brutal killing of animals: how if they are frightened or scared their bodies release harmful hormones that we then consume OR how if the animals consume a bunch of crap, we by extension are consuming crap. Oprah's first guest Michael Pollan also stated that if you can't watch the slaughter process or look an animal in the eye and know that it's going to be your dinner, you shouldn't eat it. I agree.
It is undeniable that these issues are enough to make you reconsider or be more careful about where you purchase your meat... but to cut it out altogether? I don't know. Of the footage shown on today's show, I watched the carcasses being sawed down the middle and my first thought was "Oooo, steak!" It might be terrible of me to say this, but a cow to me is food, not my friend.
Kathy Freston, the vegan expert Oprah interviewed took time to help one family shop and prepare vegan meals. While shopping in Whole Foods* (I'll come back to this later), Kathy showed them meat product substitutes. There was vegan cheese and other meat substitutes shaped like meat but not made from it. What I noticed as they were giving close ups of the products and piling items in the shopping cart - was that the cart was full of pre-packaged and processed foods. It made me wonder which shopping cart is better: one with fresh fruit, veggies, whole grains and free range meat and dairy? Or processed substitutes? Granted I'm not an expert on veganism and have no kind of research into what these products actually are, but I'd rather not eat what just looks like meat. If the whole idea is to know exactly where our food comes from and how it is prepared (and I would think preferably preparing it ourselves for the best quality control), how does this kind of vegan shopping and cooking do us any good?
*Moreover, what is the cost of all this? I have to say that as a starving artist and member of the working poor that sometimes my food choices are based solely on what I can afford. I need to get the most bang for my few bucks and unfortunately that does not include shopping at Whole Foods regularly and buying organic fruits, veggies, meat and dairy. Thankfully, I lean toward fresh every thing and usually run away from processed/from-the-box/pre-prepared foods like the plague. I've looked in the cabinets of those who can afford better choices and buy everything organic, but they still carb-load like crazy. Considering that (and the fact that I've got a regular BM) I think my diet is pretty good. I make due and try to make the healthiest choices for my income level, but really can poor working class families really afford to be vegan? And if so, what will it take to get these families to make those kinds of food choices?