Skip to content

Oprah Tries Veganism as a “Cleanse”

Kathy Freston has a new book, Quantum Wellness, wherein she writes of the importance of "Conscious Eating," which sounds very much like part of Right Action from The Eightfold Path mixed with The Four Noble Truths. The book made Oprah consider vegetarianism and she’s doing a 21-day "cleanse," which will include no animal products (or at least that’s the goal) and no alcohol, caffeine, sugar or gluten.

As you might imagine, the audience was shocked as Oprah introduced welcomed Ms. Freston and her "radical approach to eating."

Not a good start.

Oprah asks Ms. Freston, "Are you nuts now? Have you gone to the nuts’ side?"

Again, not good.

Did she do it all at once? "If I tried to get to where I am right now I’d be out of my mind! It’s just too radical."

"You don’t even wear leather."


Oprah will be blogging each day during her cleanse, and she’s also asking for stories.

Here are my concerns:

  • Oprah asks (and this one might not be an exact quote but it’s very close), "What if we’re really nice to them and treat them humanely and we tell them they’re beautiful and we pet them [and she motions the petting and everyone laughs, including Ms. Freston] and then we give them a shot and they pass on to the other side, then can we eat them? Ms. Freston does nothing but giggle, and then they cut to a commercial. The difficult questions are never asked, never addressed. There is no talk about justice or violence, although there is an allusion to karma when Ms. Freston speaks of eating the energy of another’s suffering.
  • What caught Oprah’s attention was the idea of being conscious about where your food comes from and "how the animals were treated." My prediction is that if she makes it the 21 days, she will indeed be transformed and will be a proud consumer of animal products that are allegedly produced more humanely and might even be labeled "Certified Humane." I don’t think that’s cynical of me; I think it’s realistic.
  • When you call something a "cleanse," that spells deprivation. In fact, Oprah warns that when attempting any kind of cleanse or fast, you should consult your doctor first. When you do a cleanse or a fast, implied is that you will stop doing it at some point, and hopefully not go back to how you used to eat. You’ll transition from the fast (extreme deprivation) to a new way of eating. But it won’t be like what you did during the cleanse or the fast. The message is that veganism is a strategy to be used for a short period to achieve a certain result. I’ve fasted for several weeks at a time (anyone know Dr. Doug Graham?), with no intake other than distilled water. Transitioning out was fruit for a week, and then to raw food only. My experience of cleanses and fasts is that they’re not fun. You can’t work 12 hour days. You shouldn’t exercise heavily. You feel terrible as your body purges itself of toxins. You’re exhausted. And that’s if you go into it as a vegan! Imagine going into a cleanse as an omnivore! I wouldn’t call what Oprah’s doing a cleanse; she’ll just be eating better. The question now becomes: What’s next? Once 21-days of veganism is over–and it has an ethical component around the concept of welfare–does the veganism disappear to be replaced with "humanely" slaughtered sentient beings?

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. If Kathy Freston is Oprah’s teacher and will help her transition to a more healthy, ethical way of approaching her life, that’s fabulous. And if one viewer looks into veganism (a word mentioned once) and stops using animals as a result of the show, that’s great.

I look forward to reading about Oprah’s journey. I suggest writing her and perhaps proposing a show featuring vegans from all walks of life to put a non-"nuts" face on what we do in the name of justice and nonviolence. And of course, send her all of your favorite books.

I hope that during this experiment of Oprah’s she is exposed to the idea of abolition, and the connection between nonviolence and eating, as well as social justice and eating. If this becomes all about suffering (which is how it started) it will lead straight to happy meat. Please write encouraging notes to Oprah, perhaps even on the discussion board (which you have to register for). And remember your audience. They already have the words "nuts" and "radical" in their minds. Don’t give them cause to ridicule us further (and don’t think I’m not going to jump in there when I get five minutes today for some kind, articulate deconstruction).

I wish that all of the people who broke down in tears during Oprah’s puppy mill show make the connection between dogs and cows and humans, and alter their lives accordingly.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Porphyry #

    This setup doesn’t bode well at all.
    Hopefully we probably won’t have to hear about “how pale” Oprah gets after 21 days. But we’ll certainly hear about how a “vegan diet” made her feel weak.

    Once again we see the usual foibles of health veganism. Everything gets said except what should be said in a chance to get someone to stop eating animals and be more receptive to the point of it all later.

    The outcome here just doesn’t seem likely to produce positive results. It’s a perfect setup to create another outspoken opponent of veganism, “I was vegan once, it was difficult, I didn’t feel good, it doesn’t work.”

    Veganism would be far better off if Gary Francione was on Oprah. His “radical” vegan message is at least relevant.

    I’ll be delighted to be proven wrong.

    We’ll see…

    May 21, 2008
  2. Here's the comment I posted. I couldn't use my name, as someone already had (that happens frequently), and I couldn't use Animal Person, which I think was too long, so I used mmartinphd. The comment is on page 20. There are a couple of vegans who appear to be keeping track and posting often, which is great, but there is no abolitionist message, so I added one . . .

    I think it's great that Oprah is giving up eating animal products. As a linguist, however, I am concerned about the language of "cleanse." A cleanse usually involves extreme deprivation (even Oprah used it in a sentence with "fast," and consulting your doctor), and it's for a short period, after which the person stops the extreme behavior and hopefully transitions to a more healthy way of life.

    Veganism isn't extreme deprivation, though. I'm a vegan, as is my husband, and we eat few soy products, we enjoy eating, we are fit and healthy, and our food is easy-to-find and inexpensive. Oprah's menus look nothing like a traditional cleanse; she's just eating much better than she used to. I think that by calling it a cleanse, it confuses the issue.

    Finally, though the suffering of animals, people and the planet are all equally upsetting, for many vegans the premise is more one of nonviolence and social justice. The creation of beings who can feel pain, pleasure, boredom, frustration and terror–just like we do–for the sole purpose of killing them when we don't need to, is not just. Oprah, like most people, wanted to know if it's okay to kill animals if we treat them humanely and give them a good death. The reality is, though, that if you're killing someone without necessity (we don't need to eat them), how can you call that humane? You're taking away their freedom and their choices, and then slaughtering them, all in the service of something that isn't necessary. When you think critically about everything that goes into "producing" meat, eggs, and dairy, you are left with no choice but to accept that the system is violent, oppressive and unjust. For some of us, that's why we choose not to use or consume animal products.

    May 21, 2008
  3. Fredrik Fält #

    I came upon Oprah's meal plan, which actually doesn't sound too bad. I just hope Oprah eats enough. I don't want to hear her complain about being hungry all the time.

    However, once finished with her 21 day vegan cleansing, Oprah will, most likely, immediately go back to eating animal products. She seems concerned with suffering, which may lead her to become a "happy meat" proponent, but I doubt she'll go vegan or even vegetarian this way. This is sad since this Oprah stunt is our biggest outreach chance in many years. There is no way we could reach this audience, and in such numbers, any other way.

    I hope Kathy Freston is charismatic enough to keep the interest alive for more than 21 days…

    May 21, 2008
  4. Porphyry #

    Oprah is the worst candidate for lifestyle change that will stick, especially with the given approach.

    Remember her marathon? Does she run anymore? Remember her weight-loss? She wouldn’t stop talking about her new outlook on healthy lifestyle and then she gained it all back and then some.

    When Howard Lyman was on her show back in 1996 she said she wouldn’t eat another hamburger. We’ll never know if she kept this flippant vow or not since the Texas Cattlemen sued her and lost, but it was a long battle and she’s not likely to mention anything about meat publicly again. My guess is she avoids hamburger when convenient but won’t say no to steak.

    But here we are, 2008, and Oprah is still “considering” vegetarianism and is experimenting with some plant-based diet with the premise that it is unsustainable in the long term.

    Instead of:

    “Ways of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practical, all forms of exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”
    Vegan Society


    "It is the position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada that appropriately planned vegetarian diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.

    A vegetarian, including vegan, diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients.”
    American Dietetic Association

    The nation witnesses the vegan woo diet with the lifestyle yo-yo queen.

    May 21, 2008
  5. Porphyry,

    Several weeks ago, she had Billy Joel's wife on the show, and she made her meatloaf recipe, for which ground beef is the main ingredient, and Oprah ate it on the show. At no point did she allude to her vow not to eat hamburgers (let's face it, meatloaf is hamburger plus eggs plus some other stuff).

    I'm dreadfully afraid that this whole thing is going to backfire. She should at least try to have some vegans from all walks of life on the show after the 21 days.

    May 21, 2008
  6. I agree that this is a teachable moment. However, actually getting through to Oprah is like (harder?) getting through to the president.

    That said, her personal chef for these 21 days is Tal Ronnen, who is in-freakin'-credible. I'm not worried about her giving the usual ex-vegan answers about not feeling well, etc., though maybe she *will* miss crap food. I think her interest in conscious eating is sincere, though, so the main concern is to hope the doesn't find a way to rationalize eating "happy meat".

    Also, one concern with Tal being her chef is that, despite how perfect he is for a big celeb like Oprah, your average Joe, including me, is not likely to go through as much effort as some of his suggested recipes require. I'm a pretty lazy vegan in the kitchen, and prefer recipes from books like Robin Robertson's Quick-Fix Vegetarian (all-vegan).

    I did take a moment to send my comments, congratulating her on giving it a try, and remind her that part of being conscious about this process is to remember that veganism is about more than eating.

    Thanks for covering this, Mary. All the other coverage I've seen has lacked the insight and angling into an abolitionist approach that we need to see in order to leverage this sort of thing to the extent possible.

    May 21, 2008
  7. Thanks, Eric.

    Here's what I think after an entire day of friends and family e-mailing and calling me, several of whom do have Oprah connections . . .

    As it turns out, her APs read every single e-mail, as well as every single post on the discussion board. Regardless of how it goes for Oprah, and though I hope for the best I see her next birthday party with "humane" foie gras (her 50th was foie gras and filet mignon), at least she can have a show about veganism.

    So all of you creative types should propose something as an alternative to what happens with her (or a complement–who knows?). Perhaps vegans from all over the country or the world, and from all walks of life, and all ages, describing what their lives are like (we do appear to be aliens to much of the country), and what they eat. From the gourmet vegan or raw types, to people who eat faux meats, and everyone in between. We're not all skinny and pale (most people are surprised to hear I'm a vegan because I'm not skinny and pale), and we're not all radical politically. I'd like to see conservative Republicans, people born vegan, the whole spectrum. And of course a discussion about abolition. Oprah's black, for heaven's sake! Oh, and I don't want that discussion to be monopolized by PeTA people, as if their version of abolition is the only one.

    That's my two cents.

    Though this isn't looking promising, I'm committed to at least trying to turn it around. I might even write Ellen and ask her to visit Peaceful Prairie. I might even volunteer to pay for her trip and go with her. Oh, and suggest that Oprah go to Peaceful Prairie. And include Michele on a list of must-have guests for the vegan show!

    The ideas are endless. And maybe one of them will stick–you never know. If you have the right experience, you can even volunteer to help produce the segment or write it. Why not?

    May 21, 2008
  8. Dan #

    I must chime in with Porphyry here and agree that Oprah is a just a teeny-weeny bit fickle (flakey would also fit well here, but I’ll try to be nice) and the chance of her permanently going vegan is hopelessly nil. On the other hand, the chance of her taking more ignorant cheap shots at vegans is very high. This is all about damage control for vegans. She’s the quintessential pop culture icon in one of the dumbest pop culture environments that humanity has ever seen (i.e. early 21st century American pop culture). I’m glad to see veganism getting some press, but unfortunately, it will likely be a “neutral event”, at best, from an advocacy standpoint. Oprah has almost the same degree of cultural prejudice against nonhuman persons as John C. Calhoun had against certain human persons in the antebellum American South. Might makes right and blind tradition: same moral blindness; different “other”.

    I must say, Gary Francione would be awesome on Oprah. If that and only that came out of this potential nightmare, it would make it worth it.

    May 21, 2008
  9. I too don't think Oprah's "fast" is meant to be much more than a temporary "cleanse" – The worst possible outcome as has been mentioned is that she fails miserably and denounces the whole vegan premise – never touching much on the ethics of killing animals. That's the bad scenario –

    But stranger things have happened – maybe she'll investigate the mora side of this injustice (?) – maybe she'll see that puppymills can be compared to livestock (which is also an active discussion)…. maybe – enough vegans will post and write letters to encourage her to explore more deeply (?)…. I don't know, it's so hard not to be enthusiastic, so much is possible.

    Now: mmartinphd – I finally found your post on her message board,
    Trouble is there are too many topics, "threads" (whatever), regarding this show. Some are in "health", some in "spirituality", some in "fitness" -"food", etc. There are rants and debates about the 21 Day Cleanse in nearly everyone of them – I was sidetracked myself and left a thought on the "Should We Eat Animals?" board…. my name is: imvegan2

    To be most effective, I'm assuming the one with the most activity is where we should all direct ourselves to? As a counter-measure – I may even start a topic: Why we Shouldn't Eat Animals –

    Gary Francione on Oprah! – We vegans are never satisfied are we???

    May 21, 2008
  10. Well, I sent her a letter suggesting she have more vegan guests and I also posted in the messageboards in various threads leaving pro-vegan messages and recipes.

    It's not just about Oprah, it's about her audience.

    May 21, 2008
  11. Mary, my comment more or less covered the ground you suggested, and I am glad that someone is reading them, even if only for a good laugh before hitting the delete key.

    "I might even write Ellen…" I think Rory Freedman is supposed to be on her show today.

    May 22, 2008
  12. Rory is tomorrow, and I think that's fantastic. Despite all of the problems with this exposure, if we keep at it with the critical analysis and chiming into discussions with information and clarification, if even a couple of people go vegan, that's great.

    Ellen is the perfect person (unlike Oprah) for the vegan message because she talks so frequently about her love of animals. It would seem that it's just a matter of time before she gets it. I wouldn't think that the Skinny Bitches would be a good match for her, but then again I wouldn't have said: Gee, Oprah really needs to talk to Kathy Freston.

    May 22, 2008

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS