Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Oprah vs. Milk (& Cookies)

Senior and Junior English Midterm Exams:
In the Grade Books!

After grading 119 exams, I got a real treat - a snow day because of the ice storm that hit last night. Gary also had a snow day, so we indulged by watching some programs on our 80% full DVR. First up - Oprah.

Even though we aren't regular Oprah watchers, we taped yesterday's program because it featured one of our favorite "food rock stars" Michael Pollan. The program, however, did not closely examine Pollan's famous "food rules" - instead it followed Oprah and 378 of her staffers as they took a challenge to go vegan for a week (which means no animal products at all - no eggs, cheese, meat, butter etc). The vegan charge was lead by veganist Kathy Freston, a beautiful best-selling author of vegan diet and cook books. Pollan got a couple of words in here and there, but really it was Kathy's show.

The difference between Pollan and Freston is a critical one, although not really discussed on the program. While there are health benefits to vegan and vegetarian diets, just eliminating animal products doesn't necessarily mean that you are following a healthier diet.

For example, a lot of the "meatless alternatives" Freston pushed on the episode are highly processed with unhealthy artificial chemicals and high in sodium. (For more on problems with "meatless" substitutions, read: "3 Things You Should Know Before Going Meatless".) Also, Freston doesn't take into consideration Pollan's motto of "think global, eat local" - the fruits and vegetables a vegan consumes could be shipped from farms thousands of miles away, or from farms that use dangerous chemical pesticides. We are better off eating locally grown, organic, non-processed food rather than just cutting out meat, cheese and eggs all together.

Of course, all this food talk made me hungry, so I went to our kitchen for a little snack of milk and cookies. As I was munching away, I realized that my simple snack was a good illustration the shortcomings of Freston's ideas.

Who Doesn't Like Milk and Cookies?

No one will deny that Girl Scout Cookies are delicious (and irresistible when your next door neighbor's six year old is peddling her wares in a red flyer wagon), but there is really nothing nutritious about them. In fact, the first ingredient is sugar; the other ingredients include: peanuts, enriched flour, vegetable shortening, high fructose corn syrup, cocoa, corn syrup solids, corn starch, leavening, salt, soy lecithin, whey*, artificial color, natural and artificial flavor, sodium. The milk, on the other hand, is organic, from non-hormone, grass fed cows, raised on a family farm in PA. While the milk does contain "bad fats" - it is also packed full of protein and vitamin D.

Now, a vegan could eat the processed, nutritionally void peanut butter patties - but they could not drink the calcium rich milk. Instead, they might turn to a Coke to wash down their cookies, which is a perfectly acceptable vegan product. Do you see where I'm going with this?

At least the conversation is happening though. One thing both Freston and Pollan agree on is that we have a real epidemic on our hands in America - and we are literally nutritionally starving to death while simultaneously becoming obese. Sadly, there is no quick fix or fad diet to correct the last 100 years of changes in the food industry largely responsible for this health crisis, but we can - as Pollan says - "vote with our forks" one meal at a time.

Click Here for Feb 1, 2011 Oprah "Vegan" Show Details.

*A friend just pointed out that technically "whey" would eliminate the cookies for vegans; but I think you get the point - plenty of junk food is both "meatless" and unhealthy.


  1. Actually not to nit-pick too much, but a vegan couldn't eat the cookies either because they contain whey, which is a milk protein. But your point is well taken. My wife and I are both vegetarians/quasi-vegans, and the key to the diet being healthy and pro-environment is fresh, local, and unprocessed foods that also happen not to contain animal products. :)

  2. Wow - who knew whey was milk protein! You are 100% right about the key to eating healthy is choosing fresh, local, unprocessed food. Thanks so much for reading the blog and "whey-ing" in :)

  3. Great post!

    I did hear that Oprah went vegan for a week, but haven't watched in a while. I have never been able to envision going completely vegan because I know that the right kinds of animal products can be a part of a balanced and healthy diet. I've also never been a fan of those processed meat replacements.

    The Michael Pollan books are on hold for me at the library, so I'll hopefully start reading those soon! :-)

  4. Hey no problem - I actually always read your blog, sorry I have never commented before now. I am really interested in how your new nutritional plans go.

  5. It is so funny that you posted this! I posted the same thing yesterday on my blog. I too don't watch oprah on a regular basis but my mom told me about it so I watched. I deciceded to start off going vegan for three days. Just like they said you have to get into it in moderation. I'm trying to not eat too much meat and cut out the sweets. Thanks for the tips!

  6. Hi Sunshine, just read your blog - can't believe you cooked sweets and didn't have any! Good for you :)