Oprah, Kevin Rose, and the Vegan “Challenge”

So Oprah Winfrey’s joined the list of celebs taking the vegan challenge.

From the PETA files:

Inspired by the book Quantum Wellness, by Kathy Freston, Oprah’s going to be cutting all the meat, dairy, and eggs out of her diet in an effort to live a healthy, cruelty-free lifestyle.

According to Peta (the original quote’s now gone from Oprah.com), she said:

How can you say you’re trying to spiritually evolve, without even a thought about what happens to the animals whose lives are sacrificed in the name of gluttony?

Excellent question. I think it’s great that Oprah will bring visibility to veganism, and it’ll be nice to stop being so frustrated by hearing her talk about health, consciousness raising, and spirituality while serving veal and foie gras.

But I wonder if she’ll fare better than Kevin Rose of Digg, who announced on Twitter he was going vegan for two weeks and then never mentioned it again.

Kevin Rose

A few weeks later, DiggNation was all about “50 new uses for Bacon.” Ugh.

I’m encouraged that people are open to trying to understand veganism, but I think this whole “challenge” approach is the wrong one. Going vegan isn’t a challenge. It’s a decision. To quote the wise yoda:

Do, or do not. There is no try.

If veganism is something you try on like a new diet, you won’t commit, you won’t take it seriously, and you will likely fail. This isn’t the Pepsi Challenge, it’s an ethical lifestyle based on a fundamental philosophical orientation. I can see easing into it, starting by reducing consumption of animal products over time, but I don’t think it should be seen as a contest.

I am not a religious person, but I think it would be odd to speak of “trying” to be a Christian for 2 weeks, or taking “the Islam challenge.” Or could you ask someone to try “the Atheism challenge” and try to go three weeks without believing in God?

It makes it seem like veganism is about deprivation. People often ask me “so you can’t have cheese?” and I always answer “I choose not to, because I don’t want to sponsor animal cruelty.”

Do you ever think to yourself “I can’t have puppy for dinner?” No, you would be horrified at the thought.

Veganism isn’t about depriving yourself of things you want to eat, it is about celebrating your ability to eat only the things you want to eat, where those things are all free of animal cruelty. I no longer have to try to suppress the knowledge that every time I order I meal I’m paying other people to abuse animals.

That’s something to celebrate, not a be challenged by.

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  1. Sharon

    I know people who have gone ‘Jewish’ for a couple of weeks. Sure, it’s a tad silly; but the point is, if they learn and are more educated about something, then more power to em methinks.

    Of course Oprah won’t become vegan. Of course many of her viewers won’t become vegan either. But if they learn more about what veganism is, I would consider that a good thing. Additionally, if they choose to eat meat, eggs, dairy, perhaps then in that choice they will pay more attention to the meat and think about where is came from; that would also be a good thing.

    Current omnivore by choice, former vegetarian and macrobiotic.

  2. You beat me to the punch. I was just going to blog about it. I just read this Oprah Vegan thing and really became pissed on so many levels. I am grateful for positive influences, particularly when it comes to health, wellbeing, spiritually, socially and ethically. I have struggled for so long to obtain a better relationship with food. My choices for changing the way I eat have nothing to do with a social cause or popularity, but health and my inner core. I have recipes featured on my blog but with the premise that it is a life choice and personal. I have started with asking for my family recipes, translate them into the first step in healthy eating. Then the idea is to proceed to the next step at your pace. Not just follow some recipes on a site. Call yourself what you want. But be responsible to your audience. I understand veganism, vegetarianism and what I call seagetarianism. I use this term because I still ingest fish and dairy. This makes me not a vegetarian and certainly not vegan. I am working towards the next level. It is a personal choice.

    Will this become another failed “diet” trend for such an important celebrity? This is a celebrity we have seen gain and lose. Has she been living in such an ivory tower for so long as to have lost track of the cost of food. Many cannot just start this lifestyle nor can they afford it.

    I challenge her instead of taking road trips with Gail, take a road trip and live with family her and see how they do not have money for food. Why not teach people how to be a vegan with a budgeted life. This will instill in a new generation, purchasing local product, budgeting skills and a long healthy life.

    I have probably gone on for too long and there is so much more to say on the subject. Thanks for the soapbox platform.

  3. In my experience, it seems that many people don’t adopt a vegan diet because they think it’s a lot of work, or they don’t want to change their diet because it will present too much of a big change. In small communities for example, it is difficult to get enough fresh food to last. Many people are also very well integrated in their social circles, where it is mainstream and acceptable to eat meat, dairy, eggs, etc. Going vegan in that case could prove to be much more difficult and could place the person on the outer circle of friends (ie. wings night with no wings??).
    I have been vegetarian for over a year with a desire to go vegan, and have found it challenging at times, but worth it. My family is for the most part supportive and that has made a great deal of difference. It is a choice, and it is not a deprivation, but it takes more care and planning and a willingness to accept other people’s viewpoints without being defensive of your own habits or judgemental of others.