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food for thought: some perspectives on the Oprah vegan show

3 Feb

Anyone catch Oprah on Tuesday?

I do like Oprah and will always watch her if I happen to be home. Thankfully, I saw a preview for this particular show so I was able to set the DVR.  The show was about the one week vegan challenge that many Harpo staff had just completed. With my upcoming vegan lent, it was perfect timing! My pals, Meghan and Willa, who are also doing vegan lent, were over last night for dinner, so Oprah was our entertainment. It led to a lot of discussion and I just knew I had to blog about it. Anne saw the show as well and she and I were e-mailing about it today. Like us, she had lots to say about it.

So….I have for you ALL of our thoughts from a few different perspectives.You are so lucky!

First, more background on the show. (I’m going to be pretty brief in my overview. For a more detailed account, Angela over at Oh She Glows did a great recap of the entire show.)

378 Harpo staff members volunteered (it was not mandatory) to go vegan for 7 days. That meant no meat, no fish, no milk, no eggs—nothing that comes from an animal. The charge was led by author Kathy Freston, who has sworn by a vegan lifestyle for seven years and just happens to have a new book out (shocker!).  The O cafeteria offered vegan fare and Kathy was there to offer suggestions and help educate people on being vegan.  Kathy was on the show talking about how to “lean-in” to being a vegan and about the benefits it can have.

Michael Pollan (swoon) was also on the show talking about how the food system in general needs to be reformed, not just ignored. He advocates more for being picky about your meat and knowing where it comes from. He doesn’t believe in turning our backs on the farmers that are doing it right. He believes that reform needs to happen to change the overall food system and how we think about it.

The other main part of the show was a trip to a Cargill slaughterhouse. Lisa Ling went inside and they didn’t leave much to the imagination.They described the process that each cow goes through from the feed lot to the slaughtering to the processing.  The only thing they didn’t show was the 4 inch bolt that is shot into the cow’s head to make sure he/she is brain dead and can’t feel pain. I must say, I’m glad they showed this process. You should know how the meat gets to your table. Period.

They profiled many of the staff members and how it affected them. There was a lot of talk about withdrawal from fast food, bowel movements (fun topic!), and what kind of foods they were now eating.

The thing that we all noticed immediately was the lack of fruits and vegetables. There was so much talk and hype about fake meat products (tofurkey anyone?) and how to turn meat dishes you like vegan by using substitute products. They took one woman who was doing the challenge with her family of four to Whole Foods to help her learn how to shop as a vegan. The only aisles they showed were processed foods! Willa asked, “when are they going to talk about shopping the perimeter of the store – starting with produce?”. The answer? Never. It was a bit disheartening.

Overall, we all were glad the show was on. People are now talking (the twitter world was quite a buzz) about food like crazy and that’s a great thing. Anything that can start a conversation about food and where it comes from is fantastic in my book. I doubt there has been this much talk about a vegan lifestyle….ever. That Oprah. She’s got a serious reach.

I gathered the thoughts of my fellow Oprah watchers and thought I would share our different perspectives.

Anne (meat eater and mother of two):

-They made such a big deal about going vegan and eating all this different food, but everything they talked about was packaged/processed!! So you’re replacing animal products with…chemicals?! They didn’t shop for one fruit or vegetable on that little shopping trip to Whole Foods. (Also- um, imagine how much that cart of packaged vegan foods COST??)  You could have prepared your own vegan entrees with fresh ingredients for less, and much tastier I’m sure.

-What is Michael Pollan’s mantra? Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants?  I was just sitting there waiting WAITING for him to say this to Oprah and that vegan woman (with the facelift!! Seriously!) but he didn’t say anything!! That sort of shocked me.

-And I can’t not mention Cargill. I was impressed they let the crew in to their meat packing plant, given that most companies have denied access in the past. I thought the whole process was pretty yucky, but not so much that I’d give up beef:) Oh, and the bolt to the cow’s head? I’ll always think of No Country for Old Men.

Note: Anne was eating puppy chow while watching the show. Just thought you should know. :)

Meghan (a long-time vegetarian and future vegan lent participant):

Meet people where they are at. Period. Yes I find it sad and, dare I say, irresponsible that the show had ZERO mention of shopping the perimeter of the grocery store and focusing on incorporating veggies and fruits into your diet. But I get it. Many of the people who were watching that show can’t even begin to comprehend getting any form of fruit or vegetable in their lives aside from lettuce and tomato on a bun. So for the purpose of the general public I like that she highlighted meat alternatives for pretty much everything as well as a cheese alternative. While all of these processed foods freak me out-they certainly have their place in many people’s lives and a non-meat brat is better for your cholesterol than a real one-I suppose. After being vegetarian for nearly 20 years I look at fake meat products as my junk food and grains and veggies as my real food. Can you imagine if even 10% of Americans could say that. It would have a profound impact on the health of our nation.

Michael Pollan is my hero. In some ways at least. He keeps it real. He keeps it simple. We need to talk about reforming our emotions, beliefs, ideals etc. surrounding food not just ditch everything and turn vegan. That show sensationalized it a wee bit much to the point where it will be a fad for many of the viewers and well… we all know-fads fade. We just need to think about where it ALL comes from. ALL OF IT. Who cares if Cargill goes broke? But I care when we see farmers losing their livelihoods because Betty Crocker says just pour, mix and bake. There are safe, healthy, sustainable ways to eat all of the foods you love… so give it a shot.

Those of you reading this blog get it…. But for those who don’t, if we can make any difference in their lives… baby steps… baby steps…. Baby steps…. If we can just get people to think about what they are eating-it would be huge.

I can go on and on as a vegetarian and one who works for the American Heart Association but alas I will sush-good on ya to everyone who gives a healthier lifestyle a shot! At the end of the day I love my cheese, ice cream and eggs. And I make poor food choices knowingly and often. It’s just awesome to know what goes in your body. So the unhealthy things are choices. Yummy, yummy choices!

Willa (recovering vegetarian, current meat eater, future vegan lent participant):

I definitely differ with Meghan on the point of meat vs. processed vegetarian products. From a health standpoint I think you are better off eating a grass fed free range rib eye steak than a tofu pup, in my humble opinion.  But I understand where she is coming from.

The main points that stuck with me after watching the show were:

  • Know where your food comes from. Cows and chickens are not born in seran wrapped packages. If you can, check out your local farmer’s market or visit a farm. These people are the fabric of our society.
  • There was little to no talk about the importance of eating a balanced, plant based diet. The focus was overwhelmingly on processed, convenience foods. So, don’t replace bad with bad.
  • They seemed to avoid the discussion about the cost of food. Good food does cost more, but it is worth it. You pay now or you pay later. And, it is easier to pay more for food when you meet the people who grow it; to make that connection of how hard they work for this.
  • Take baby steps, like Meghan said – meatless Monday is a good idea. Or, maybe do something like Mark Bittman (He’s vegan until dinner). Or be a vegan at home. But, you don’t have to go vegan to make a change in the system,  the environment, or your health. We don’t want to put the good farmers out of business. We just need to revamp our relationship with food.
  • People don’t like to work at anything. If it takes thought/consideration, they generally want nothing to do with it. This really isn’t that hard but there is so much resistance. Like Meghan said, I suppose we have to meet people where they are at.

Jen (part-time vegetarian, future vegan lent participant, married to a hunter):

I agree with many of the points that my pals above noted. While I get Meghan’s point about meeting people where they are at, I struggle with suggesting processed fake meat and other processed products. Once in awhile? Sure. To try something different? Great. But vegan or not, can we talk about the importance of produce?!  On Monday, the USDA published the latest dietary guidelines. One thing I was super excited to see was their push on vegetables. In fact, they suggest making sure half of your plate is made up of vegetables. YES! That’s what I’m talking about. Vegetables are nutrient dense (lots of good stuff for not a lot of calories) and dare I say tasty?  (By the way, my pal Heather in CO did a great post on the guidelines. She’s a Registered Dietician so I trust her. :)) The fact that vegetables or fruit was not talked about AT ALL on Oprah drove me crazy. I think it’s one of the most appealing parts of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.  I was also bummed that Michael Pollan didn’t say anything (or if he did, it didn’t make the cut).  Sorry Michael, I love ya, but I wanted you to speak up more.

Not once did anyone talk about the cost of being a vegan. They way they shopped at Whole Foods (with all their processed fake stuff), the cost would have been enormous. I’m all for spending more on food. Our mindset of cheap food = good bothers me. However, I don’t think you need to break the bank. In fact, eating a vegan diet can be incredibly thrifty. No Meat Athlete recently did a great post on this. Great meals don’t have to be spendy and they can include vegetables and yummy sources of protein. And they include all things you’ve hear d of.

I’ve seen the meat processing plants before (in Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation) and it certainly changed the way I think about meat. I’m very picky about where mine comes from. Most of what we eat at home comes from things that Brette has brought home from hunting expeditions. I know everything there is to know about how it got to my plate. I can live with that. I also have gotten to know a few farmers at the Farmer’s Market and I love being able to support them and what they are doing. Many of those farmer’s have their meat available at the Seward co-op here in town, which is also a major bonus. However, I don’t eat a lot of meat, maybe a couple times a week. Just like Michael. (sorry, I love him, what can I say?)

The day after this show aired, Mark Bittman’s first op-ed piece in the New York Times was published. It offers more food for thought along with some suggestions on how to actually reform our system. It’s definitely worth a read.

So, I’m curious of other’s thoughts. If you saw the episode, what did you think? If you didn’t, what do you think about living vegan for a week? Would that be a challenge? Did you agree or disagree with any of our thoughts?


meatless monday: root vegetable hash

22 Nov

I haven’t met a root vegetable I don’t like. Potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and beets are all welcome in my kitchen. It just so happens we are in the prime of root vegetable season. I have been celebrating!

When I came across this recipe in my coveted Moosewood cookbook, I knew I would enjoy it. I liked that it was a bit different preparation than my go-to roasted root vegetables. This would not require the oven at all, which makes it a great side dish if your oven is full of other things….like a giant turkey.

We opted to have our hash with a poached egg on top, since everything is better with an egg on top. The runny yolk combined with the herby vegetables was a perfect match. You could also serve it along a green salad and a slice of your favorite hearty bread.

The options for the leftovers are endless. Of course you could eat them as they are and be perfectly content. They’d also make a great breakfast with scrambled eggs and toast. Or you could add them to a pot of simmering vegetable stock with some brown rice and kale and have a delicious soup.

Root Vegetable Hash

adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

Note: you can use any combination of root vegetables as long as it adds up to 8 cups. The original recipe calls for beets (for the color), but since Brette doesn’t eat beets, they got the axe. I’m sure they would be fantastic and would create an eye-popping platter. I went with what I had on hand and thought it was delicious. I threw in a half of a red pepper because it was in the fridge. I liked the color it added to the mix.


1 teaspoon dried rosemary

2 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Stir together seasoning ingredients in a small bowl.


3 Tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 cups chopped onions

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups carrots, cut into 1/2 inch dice

2 cups sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice

2 cups yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice

2 cups turnips, cut into 1/2 inch dice

1/2 red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch dice (optional)

3 tablespoons water

In a large skillet on medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add all of the vegetables and stir well. Sprinkle with seasoning mixture and water and stir well. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring every 10 minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender, about 30-40 minutes. Add water if it is getting to dry or stuck to the skillet.

While the hash is cooking you can prepare your other components; a salad, eggs or whatever else sounds good to you.

Do you have a favorite preparation for root vegetables?

One year ago: Anne wordled our blog!

meatless monday: tuscan vegetable soup

15 Nov

I have a go-to soup that I like to make quite often. Yup- surprise, surprise- it’s an Ellie Krieger recipe! It’s in her cookbook The Food You Crave. I just made it the other day, and looky here I even managed to take a couple pictures before the baby woke up screaming and the other kid garlic-pressed garlic all over my opened cookbook.

Tuscan Vegetable Soup– Ellie Krieger


  • 1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 carrots, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced, (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 small zucchini, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can no salt added diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups chopped baby spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan, optional


In a small bowl mash half of the beans with a masher or the back of a spoon, and set aside. {I like to leave more than half of the beans whole.} Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery, zucchini, garlic, thyme, sage, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and cook stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

{raw veggies just added to the pot}

{here are the veggies once they’ve cooked. I always cook them awhile longer than it says here to be sure they’re tender. I find you could use a little more oil, too.}

Add the broth and tomatoes with the juice and bring to a boil. Add the mashed and whole beans and the spinach leaves and cook until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes more.

{I’ve always made this recipe with the ingredients listed, but you could definitely substitute different veggies. This time I didn’t have any spinach so I used cabbage instead. It was a heartier touch than the spinach usually is. Oh, and I’ve always used chicken broth in mine.}

{the finished soup}

Serve topped with Parmesan, if desired.

{I always serve mine topped with parmesan, and with a side of crusty bread.}


Last year on this date: bullet point Sunday by Anne

meatless monday: quinoa with roasted brussels sprouts and pecans

8 Nov

Did you know that Meatless Monday is a movement?

Yep, sure is! It’s in effort to improve our health and the health of our planet. You can find all sorts of information (and recipes) at There are a lot of bloggers on board with this movement along with the likes of Bob Harper, Simon Cowell, Al Gore, Yoko Ono and even Mario Batali!

Since everyone else is doing it, we figured we should too. So, we’ll now be featuring meat-free recipes every Monday.  I love this idea. Ever since my vegetarian summer, I eat considerably less meat and am always on the hunt for great recipes. Hopefully we can inspire you to incorporate some meatfree goodness into your weekly menu as well.

Tonight’s dish was recommended by my friend, Meghan, and comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health”. This was the perfect dish as I had the last of my brussels sprout crop from the garden to use.

So, I know there are a lot of brussels sprouts haters out there. I do believe that some people just don’t like them and I’m fine with that. I also think there is a population of people that think they don’t like them, but either have never actually tried them or have had them prepared badly (think mushy). I have now made brussels sprouts in a variety of ways that might convince some skeptics that they are not so bad…if not quite awesome. This would be one of those ways.

Brette claimed it one of his favorite preparations for brussels sprouts and I agree. The mustard in the dish really gives it some snap. It calls for dijon, but I’m now wondering how a whole grain mustard might taste. I might have to give that a whirl next time. The dressing was super delicious.

I served it over some quinoa to bulk up the protein and make it a complete meal. It would also make a great side dish for Thanksgiving or any other occasion when you want to impress people.

Quinoa with Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

Serves 3-4

Brussels Sprouts from Moosewood Restaurant Cooking for Health

Note: the quinoa and the brussels sprouts take about the same amount of time to cook. This meal takes about 30 minutes total to put together, making it a snap for a weeknight.

For the quinoa:

2 cups veggie stock or water (the stock gives it a lot more flavor)
1 cup quinoa, rinsed

Bring the stock or water and quinoa to a boil in a sauce pan. Lower heat, cover, and let simmer until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

For the sprouts:

1 pound brussels sprouts

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt


2 tablespoons minced red onion or shallot

1 teaspoon dijon mustard

1 tabelspoon lemon juice

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

salt and pepper

1/2 cup toasted pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 375.

Cut off the bottoms of the sprouts and remove any yellow or dry outer leaves. Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise and toss with the olive oil and salt. Place them cut side down on a lightly oiled or sprayed baking sheet. Bake until just tender and lightly browned on the cut side, 12-18 minutes depending on the size of the sprouts.

While the sprouts are roasting, make the dressing: In a serving bowl, whisk together the red onions, mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil. Stir in the roasted sprouts and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with toasted nuts right before serving.

Do you participate in meatless Mondays? Are you a brussels sprouts enthusiast?

One Year ago: Cloth Napkins