Saturday, March 19, 2011

Oprah's Vegan Challenge: Reasons and Results

"I choose not to think about that." The common answer I get if I ask someone what they think about the vast amounts of factory farmed animal food in their diet. Laughter often follows, on their part, not mine.

I think of a Mad Men scene (yes, I know it's not Monday yet!) where Don Draper mentions his wife to one of his mistresses and she asks him why he would bring her up and he's making her feel cruel. Isn't it odd how we rationalize if we put it out of our minds, it's morally alright? Isn't part of the advertising environment that so shapes our decisions - to make you feel good about your choices, no matter the consequences to others.

I respect everyone's right to eat what they want, but to me it's reprehensible the conditions animals are raised in, like filthy wire cages for egg-laying hens, or gestation crates for pregnant sows who cannot even turn around. Learn more about factory farming from Farm Sanctuary. Who wants to regularly consume eggs that came out of a hen crammed in a filthy wire cage with 5 other chickens who can't even spread their wings in a dark warehouse? I firmly believe in our Internet age with widespread availability of knowledge in so many cases the question is not a matter of not knowing, it's a matter of knowing, and not caring. Have we become so desensitized by corporations and marketers that people really don't care? A scarier answer to "I choose not to think about it" is "I don't care." An addition to my favorite four letter words list: care.

I gave up eating meat, chicken and fish when I was around 14, ate some fish in my late 20s, and went toward a vegan diet for a few years. I went back to vegetarianism because I tired of not being able to eat something with touch of honey, couldn't have a vegetarian pasta salad that had cheese at an office luncheon, or a piece of cheese at a picnic in the park. But I've been overindulging in cheese and sweets, so I did Oprah's one week vegan challenge back in February.

Since people always asked me what I ate as a vegan, and even as a vegetarian, here, readers, is what I ate all week. I usually take Trader Joe's soy creamer and sugar in my coffee or tea.

Breakfast: Amy's Kitchen breakfast burrito, Whole Foods Market organic orange/banana/pineapple juice, coffee
Snack: Silk vanilla soy yogurt with bananas, Twinings chai tea
Lunch: half a vegetable panini (River Edge Diner leftover), carrots, potato chips, seltzer with lemon
Snack: celery with organic Trader Joe's peanut butter
Dinner: Salad (romaine) with chickpeas, Amy's Kitchen non-dairy vegetable pot pie, a Woodchuck pear cider
Dessert: Almond breeze cappuccino swirl ice cream.
Passed on: homemade brownies at work in the morning, and a leftover cookie tray from a meeting in the afternoon

Breakfast: Nature's Path organic homestyle waffles with strawberries and kiwi, a slice of Yves meatless Canadian bacon, juice, coffee
Snack: soy yogurt with blueberries, handful of pecans, Teavana Earl Grey creme tea
Lunch: Salad (romaine with carrots), lentil vegetable soup (from a catered lunch), Whole Foods Market roasted red pepper hummus and 365 brand vegetable crackers
Snack: apple, chamomile tea
Dinner: at Alice's Tea Cup: grilled vegetable sandwich on pumpernickel (hold the cheese, sub hummus) with salad with ginger dressing, chocolate chai tea with soy creamer.
Passed on: cookies at a weekly Tuesday tea afternoon tea break, and trying my friend's banana nutella scone at Alice's Tea Cup. That was tough! They sometimes have vegan scones, but their baker wasn't in that day, blast.

Breakfast: Trader Joe's maple and brown sugar oatmeal, half a grapefruit, English breakfast tea
Snack: Soy yogurt with frozen strawberries; handful of pecans, tea
Lunch: a slice of cheeseless veggie pizza and salad (iceberg/olives/tomatoes/). We have pizza/salad luncheons every Wednesday at work.
Snack: peanut butter/celery; a pear
Dinner: Salad with avocado, red beans and rice, scoop of Ciao Bella banana mango sorbet
Passed on: white cheese pizza

Breakfast: Veg "McMuffn": SoyBoy smoked tofu, vegan Cheddar cheese and a slice of Yves Canadian bacon on a Whole Foods wheat English muffin, orange/pineapple/banana juice, coffee
Snack: soy yogurt with blueberries, pecans, Twinings Irish breakfast tea
Lunch: 365 (Whole Foods private label) vegetarian chili with half an avocado, veggie chips and roasted red pepper hummus
Snack: a pear, dates
Dinner: spaghetti with 365 organic marinara sauce and Trader Joe's meatless
meatballs; red leaf lettuce salad, a Tofutti cutie.
Passed on: Betty Crocker German chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. I really wanted this! My sister kept saying, "Can't you pretend that it's a commercial on Oprah and you've gone to commercial break?"

Breakfast: soy yogurt with sliced bananas, half a grapefruit, coffee
Snack: half a pumpernickel bagel with tofu dill cream cheese and a blood orange. We get free bagels and they have tofu spreads every Friday. We're an office that likes to eat!
Lunch: Rising Moon Organics garlic and basil gnocchi, a romaine salad with shredded carrots and chickpeas
Snack: celery with peanut butter.
After work happy hour at Stecchino. Champagne with a shot of chambord (raspberry liquor), grilled bread and olives.
When I got home: a pear and hummus and chips (too tired to cook!)
Passed on: a cheese platter at the happy hour.

Breakfast: Peanut butter and jelly waffles, slice of Yves Canadian bacon, juice and coffee
Snack: dates
Lunch: grilled soy cheese on whole wheat bread and my mom's homemade vegetable soup. There was some honey in the whole wheat bread.
Snack: I went to commercial break. I had a piece of the cake. :-(
Dinner: red leaf lettuce salad, Yves lemon chicken skewers over Spanish rice.
Passed on: picking up any sweets from my trip to local farms (muffins, pies, etc.)

Breakfast: Trader Joe's organic corn flakes with almond milk, coffee, juice
Snack: yogurt with sliced bananas
Lunch: At Rutherford Pancake House, shared quesadillas with roasted red peppers, mushrooms, spinach and Daiya vegan cheese with sweet potato fries, vegan "sliders" (mini veg burgers), a root beer
Indulgence: splitting a chocolate raspberry cupcake at Sweet Avenue Bake Shop (best vegan bakery!)
Dinner: Leftover gnocchio with a red leaf lettuce salad.
Passed on: sweets at the church coffee hour. There was also a bake sale held by the kids raising money for a retreat. I did buy some cookies to share with coworkers.

My verdict: I generally feel much better (morally and health wise) eating vegan, but accept I, like most people, don't have the willpower to pass on every non-vegan item that comes their way, especially in our abundant food culture. The cake at my mom's house was huge and I remembered hating having to obsess over every single food choice when I was doing veganism strictly all the time.

I'm an advocate of eating as much as a plant-based diet as possible (the more, the better) but don't believe strict veganism is something achievable for the masses. Eating smaller portions and wasting less food is something we should all be doing. I'm not an advocate of perfectionism, but do think we should take ownership for our choices and how it impacts others (the animals, the workers, the environment of the people with factory farms in their communities). I hope that's a challenge you'll join me on. Let's leave the laughter out of feigning ignorance.

How do you feel about your diet, and about the conditions animals are raised in? Would you be able to gather the eggs from those chickens in battery cages? Or slaughter an animal? Do you feel okay about others doing it for you? Food for thought - literally.


  1. So neat to see all of your vegan meals for a week!

    I'm always horrified when I get the "I just don't think about it" response from people in regards to factory farming. Jason's mom is super fond of that one (especially if he ever tries to describe a specific practice to her, at which point she looks grossed out and sad), and I find that pretty horrifying in and of itself. If she were really that grossed out/sad about it, she wouldn't buy that stuff! Thankfully, she's gotten much better about that sort of thing.

    Ignoring things doesn't make them go away.

  2. Oh! And I forgot to mention a few things. I would not feel comfortable participating in any kind of factory farming, which is why I don't eat those products. I would feel comfortable gathering eggs, milking cows, and slaughtering animals under humane conditions. Would I LIKE the slaughtering part? No, definitely not! But I think I could do it. (For what are probably obvious reasons, I have never had the chance to actually prove it, which is something I'm mildly grateful for.)

  3. Thanks! I did take a lot of help from the store. I'm sure you'd do far better making it even more wholesome from scratch. You'd never think I used to work in a French restaurant (where I had to prepare very un-vegan food).

    Believe me- I face a lot of that too. Or it's...I have no money for more expensive organic and free range goods, but let me show you my latest flat screen television (or insert other recently acquired material object). I wish we would revere life - of animals, our fellow man, our ecosystem - the way we do possessions.

    I try and ask myself, how much suffering is my diet causing? That's a question it wouldn't hurt all of us to ask ourselves. I'm not perfect myself, but it's a continuing journey to become better.