On “Cheating” and Cookbook Authors
There was nothing surprising about Oprah's most recent show about food. It was full of Michael Pollan, Food Inc., the way we treat animals, and the way we turn food into food facsimiles with unusually long shelf lives. Recommendations included: know the people who produced your food, get out of the supermarket (go to a farmer's market), and cook at home more (especially junk food, as if you had to make your own french fries you'd eat a lot fewer of them). Nothing wrong with any of that.
You wouldn't expect Pollan or Oprah to deliver a vegan or animal rights message and they didn't. Fine.
Alicia Silverstone was on the show as a spokesperson for the health benefits and other benefits of veganism. She had one perfect opportunity to present herself as pro-animal rights when Oprah (laughingly) asked: But what if the cows and the chickens are treated really, really nicely . . . (would you eat them)?
Alicia (laughing): Well, I'd have to see the cows and the chickens.
First of all, I don't see what's so funny. But I get that this is entertainment and the mood was light. And people often giggle when speaking of things that make them feel uncomfortable. It's true that there was a tiny opening for a real message, and we'd all like to think that in a similar position, we'd be able to articulate one. Silverstone let the moment pass her by.
The more controversial moment was when Oprah asked Silverstone if she ever cheats and Silverstone admitted to eating some cheese. Why is that an issue? First of all, she's not evil because she eats some cheese. That's not the point. And I won't say she's not a "real vegan," as I'm not the vegan police. (Also, her response seemed like the eating of cheese was sort of an accident anyway–she didn't order something with cheese.)
This moment was significant because if you "cheat," it is presumed that it's either very difficult or very unappealing to be a vegan. There's so much sacrifice or bad analogs or whatever that lead you to crave and succumb to "the real thing." It's largely about willpower, cheating tells me, and once in a while it's too much to expect yourself to not want to eat (fill-in-the-blank) while you're on the diet known as veganism. And that's not a message I want to send the millions of people who watch Oprah.
In addition, talk of cheating creates a space for omnivores to pounce, "A-ha! I knew she couldn't do it! Even the great vegan cookbook author/actress can't go without cheese!" And a similar pouncing has come from some vegans. It was all just an unfortunate moment in an unscripted interview.
I enjoyed every recipe I tried from Silverstone's The Kind Diet and though I might not be a fan of the way she does her activism (PeTA, etc…), a book by a vegan that helps other people go vegan (she recommends taking baby steps and calls it "flirting," which I suppose could be viewed as an innocuous, fun way of easing into veganism) can't be a liability for vegans or veganism. Or can it? I'd imagine that the more resources available to the mainstream about going vegan and cooking/preparing vegan food, the better the odds that more people will go vegan.
I am aware that many vegans won't buy Silverstone's book because they don't agree with her on some important issues.
What do you think? Are there vegan cookbooks you won't purchase or vegan food bloggers you don't support because you don't agree with them on issues other than veganism?