Veganism, Oprah and Kathy Freston. Helpful or Not?

As you may have seen or heard, last month Oprah featured a show detailing how hundreds of her staffers went vegan for a week. They were helped out by Kathy Freston, author of Veganist. If you’re a vegan and you read a lot of blogs or Twitter, you may have seen a lot of rants about how Kathy loaded the staffers up with Gardein, Daiya, and Tofurkey products. This angered a lot of vegans, because it makes up look like we’re all eating a vegan version of the Standard American Diet (SAD), eschewing fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

Kathy wrote an article for the Huffington Post a few days ago, defending her use of processed vegan products as an important part of the transitional diet. The gist of her reasoning is that she was trying to get those people to be able to eat as close to their omnivorous diet as possible, with vegan substitutes, to make it easier and make people more likely to stick with a vegan diet. After all, it’s still healthier (mostly true) and still prevents animal cruelty (very true). However, I disagree with her doing this- it’s still going to scare the average Oprah viewer off of veganism.

Why?

Any idea how expensive those vegan substitutes are?????

At my local Whole Foods, the cheapest place around to buy frozen Gardein and Daiya, the Gardein costs between $5-$6 per package. At local health food stores, Gardein regularly comes in between $6.50-$7.50 per package. Most packages have 2-3 servings, which means you’ll have to buy two packages to feed a family of four. In addition, if you’re really just copying the SAD, you’ll likely need twice that amount. $12-$30 on faux meat for one meal just isn’t economical- and that’s not including the rest of the meal.

That’s exactly why people say it’s expensive to eat vegan, or even just “healthy.”

Some refrigerated Gardein products can also be found at Trader Joe’s sold under the house label, and are cheaper than at Whole Foods. I’ve not seen frozen Gardein at Trader Joe’s.

I’m not saying that these processed products should be avoided entirely, but the shopping cart that was shown on Oprah had to have had several hundred dollars worth of vegan food in it- for a week’s worth of food. If you’re a viewer sitting at home, how is that in any way, shape or form going to encourage you to go vegan? Oprah’s staffers clearly got quite a bit of free food products as shown during the episode, which is awesome for those people, but not realistic for the rest of us.

Gardein’s not bad for you- it is made from whole grains and legumes, but eating those healthy things in a processed form every night isn’t all that good for you, either.

Here’s a couple of ways I’ve had it:

Daiya is very, very, tasty and made from “all-natural” ingredients, but is basically a source of fat and calories with no nutritional benefit. Don’t get me wrong- I love Daiya, but I’m also not the best model for healthy eating.

Vegan Pizza covered in Daiya!

I’m sure that the episode was good marketing for Gardein and Daiya and Tofurkey. Good for them- I support these companies and want them to stick around. I’m sure that some viewers will increase their animal-free meals because Oprah encouraged them to do so, but I don’t think it was good for veganism in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re looking for more economical ways to be a healthy eater, all I can say is : greens, beans, and whole grains. They’re tasty, they’ll fill you up and not wear out your wallet. Some of the recipes on my blog (but not all) are in this vein. A really good blog for cheap vegan eats is Melomeals: Vegan for $3.33 a day. There are tons of healthy, tasty, fast and economical vegan foods out there. Why not try some of those?

If you’re interested in reading more about a whole foods non-processed diet (the cheapest way to eat vegan), consider reading The China Study. I’m reading it right now. And it made President Bill Clinton go mostly vegan!

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5 Responses to Veganism, Oprah and Kathy Freston. Helpful or Not?

  1. I think you really hit the nail on the head with the problems a lot of vegans have with the recent show. I personally didn’t see the show, but I’ve read a lot of information about it since it aired. You seem to have the most succinct, well-reasoned response from the vegan side.

  2. Jodie says:

    I suspect that Jen’s comment is a troll post, but I’ll bite. Briefly. Jen, all I can respond about your personal attack is that perhaps you missed the several places where I said “I like these products,” “I eat these products,” and “I’m glad that these products exist.” If you’re eating cheaper because you’re eating less, more power to you.

  3. jodie says:

    The post does nothing to attack any particular person and does not look down on anyone for using vegan substitutes. As you stated, I make a point that I believe the tactic (a person’s actions, not the person) was not helpful to the overall furthering of veganism, due to the expense of the products she promotes. The “average” Oprah viewer does not have that kind of disposable income to spend on food. If you do, or you’re finding that you eat less when you eat this way, so it is not more expensive, as I said, more power to you. That’s a good thing.

    On the other hand, would you make the comments you’re making if you had to identify yourself to the world? This exchange is making me seriously consider switching my comments to a system where comments are tied to someone’s identity, as Farhad Manjoo discussed this week in Slate. I’ve noticed a lot of bloggers writing about all different kinds of things are using it, and I’m beginning to think it’s a good thing.

  4. Stephen Bielinski says:

    Nice site. Lots of info. Transition vrs conversion is a tough discussion. My observation Jodie, is that Jen has put a lot of effort into her conversation and she raises points that are worth condsidering, even if they are not in agreement with your view. Two decades of public “vegan” consciouness have gone by with little general public compliance with healthier eating styles. That tells us we have to ratchet up the effort and probably consider alternative approaches. I suspect that the solution lies more with motivation and less with information.

  5. eeka says:

    Yeah, the approach really depends on people’s lifestyles, and it would have been nice if they’d showed the variety of vegan diets that are possible.

    The vegan version of the SAD is somewhat healthier than the non-vegan version, and might be the only thing that would work for people who have the money but are pretty set in eating processed foods and a meat-and-cheese sort of cuisine. But yeah, it’s going to turn off people who don’t have that kind of cash, or people who don’t like to eat foods that aren’t immediately recognizable.

    This approach also makes it sound like you have to do a lot of research to figure out what to use and where to get it. I would think it would be more appealing for a lot of people to point out how really easy it can be to eat vegan (food deserts etc. aside) for people who enjoy a variety of foods, since a lot of Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin, etc. food already has tons of healthy vegan options. A lot of Asian and Mediterranean salads and spreads and things are affordable, easy, and already really popular among mainstream omnivore sorts, and people don’t even realize that a lot of their meals are vegan or vegan plus small amounts of dairy.