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Oprah’s Vegan “Cleanse,” Part Deux

I started replying to some comments then decided to post my response as a post instead, hoping more people would see.

It’s 6am and I just reviewed the latest comments on Oprah’s discussion board about her "Look 10 years younger" show (wherein she introduced the idea of the 21-Day Cleanse), and I think there’s one other abolitionist one in addition to the one I left yesterday. The idea is ignored. No surprise there. There’s a lot of talk from farmers who want everyone to see how well the animals are treated, to a dozen people who say: What’s wrong with cheese and eggs? (despite people telling them what’s wrong), to talk of God (blessing farmers and such). Thankfully, a couple of people have listed books–they’re probably PCRM people from the look of the lists. And there are links to the Pew study, Livestock’s Longshadow and the University of Chicago Study–so that’s great. One person, katybkaty, whom I think does not have a job, has been on the board since it started and is a reasonable, educated person who has been providing a steady stream of useful information, though none of it abolitionist in nature.

There’s a fair amount of ranting, however, and I think that, in addition to Oprah perhaps going the way of happy meat, will indeed create a situation in need of damage control (as Dan commented yesterday). And it’s simply up to Oprah and her producers to decide whether they want to present a different story. That’s why I suggest designing a show and sending your ideas in. Someone suggested katybkaty be a guest on Oprah because she’s been so helpful, and after all of the people recommending certain authors and doctors, I can’t imagine them not doing a show on veganism. It’s begging to be done and it would take very little effort as an enormous amount of research has been handed to the producers through the comments on the boards.

Now, Bea directed me to all of the other threads that have developed, including "frustorated [sic] miss understood eating meat," by a farmer who wants to see Michael Pollan on the show (that was inevitable), and "21 days toward better health," which informs us that Erik Marcus will be doing a podcast every day during the 21 days. I think that’s a great idea (though I do disagree with his welfarism).

Here’s the best we can hope for:

  • The producers do a show on where your food comes from or on veganism. Michael Pollan is a given for the former show, and I’d assume that Ingrid Newkirk is a given for the latter, as PeTA is the largest "animal rights" organization in the country.
  • For where your food comes from, the upshot is happy meat and SOLE (sustainable, organic, local and/or ethical, and ethical means happy meat).
  • For veganism, there are myriad points of entry as well as many perspectives, and as you know abolitionists are a minuscule percentage. I’d at least want a voice that tells the world what abolition is, and compares it to past struggles for justice. My pick would have to be Gary Francione as he is an academic and has written books about this topic. Someone needs to plant a seed that isn’t about suffering. My other pick would be Rae Sikora, whom I think would be better received (not to mention she is within Oprah’s demographic), and whose style I greatly admire. I’d love to see Dr. Steven Best on the show, but I don’t think the world is ready for him. Dr. Kerrie Saunders would be perfect for the health perspective, as she also is within the demographic AND she had a successful vegan pregnancy and has a healthy vegan child. From the cooking camp, I’d choose Colleen from Compassionate Cooks. Sistah Vegan would be required, in my perfect world. Jeffrey Masson would be fabulous as he has a great story of evolution to veganism and abolition, and he’s a best-selling author and has a new book coming out next year called THE FACE ON YOUR PLATE. This year’s release of Peaceable Kingdom would be a great tie-in, as well.

Again, I suggest all of you creative types dig into whatever bag of tricks you use to develop a show idea (and submit it here, and keep it to 2000 characters). We may never get another opportunity to do this, so let’s at least do our best to be heard. And I don’t like raising this topic, but remember that television is a visual medium and remember who Oprah’s audience is. You don’t want to alienate her viewers. Furthermore, you want to provide them with alternatives to the image they have in their minds–right or wrong–about who vegans are, what we look like and how we present ourselves to the world.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Okay, either I'm reading this wrong, or I would basically be signing over my intellectual property rights as soon as I hit the submit button:

    "Harpo shall exclusively own all known or later existing rights to the Submissions worldwide and shall be entitled to the unrestricted use of the Submissions for any purpose without compensation to the provider of Submissions."

    I suppose if I can concoct some great idea for an Oprah episode in which I have no vested interest, I will hit that page again, in the meantime, there's no way I'm posting ideas that I would like to be able to pursue on my own without worrying whether Harpo can lay claim to them. I LOVE this business!

    PS – I tried to visit the forums yesterday, but received an error page for several minutes. I wasn't able to get back to it, due to work on my recent blog post, and as soon as I'm done here, I'm back to an article I'm writing for publication. But I will definitely try to visit in the near future. Thanks for monitoring the situation, Mary.

    May 22, 2008
  2. Thanks for that, Eric. I'm going to look into it. I got an error message too a couple of times. Maybe the site was too busy, which is a great sign.

    May 22, 2008
  3. kim #

    I like a lot of your suggestions for guests, especially Colleen, but truly did laugh out loud at Gary Francione, in light of your admonition that we need to remember her viewers and the importance opf not alienating them. He alienates pretty much everyone! Writing academic books on theory doesn't necessarily translate into personability, especially in his case. IMO, obviously.

    May 22, 2008
  4. Actually, my dream panel would have to include none other than Mary Martin herself. Articulate, knowledgeable, and convincing – (blush)

    And just to throw something out – coming from the(mis)informed PETA pack: The newest arrival in their campaign arsenal is Oprah who is going "vegetarian".

    Talk about distortion and compromise! Leave it to PETA to mis-represent, alienate and disappoint yet one more time….

    May 22, 2008
  5. Kim,
    I haven't seen Gary Francione speak live or on television, so I can't say. I can't imagine Rae Sikora would be anything but spectacular, though, and she is an abolitionist that I believe Oprah's audience could relate to.

    You're sweet, Bea, thanks. And because you KNOW that PeTA will be on the show on Day 22 (or whatever follow-up show), that's why I'm so persistent about people writing. We have to let the audience know that there's an alternative that doesn't share PeTA's beliefs or tactics.

    May 23, 2008
  6. Roger #

    People can make their minds up about Francione here:

    This is a 2hr audio recorded about a week ago.



    May 23, 2008
  7. kim #

    I've heard GF speak, and it's a combination of him often sounding condescending, and focusing primarily on what's wrong with the "movement" and his issues with individuals, that doesn't seem a good fit for an Oprah audience. Of course he could refrain from some of that, but I can think of lots of people who already do an excellent job of connecting with the uninitiated general public.

    As far as PETA, at first it hit me wrong that they said "vegetarian diet" as opposed to vegan. But technically she's not going "vegan" if she's only changing her diet, a distinction that sometimes is overlooked. When I talk about what I eat in specific conversations, I often say strict vegetarian. When I talk about my total life choices, I say I am a vegan. It varies somehow on the situation, but there is a lot of confusion out there.

    May 23, 2008
  8. Just to be clear, I've HEARD Francione speak, but I haven't SEEN him. Television is different. Add to that the fact that it wouldn't be a debate, but just different people giving their views, and each person ordinarily gets just a couple of sound bites, particularly if they're not the majority opinion.

    Kathy Freston is a beautiful woman and presents fantastically on television, yet on the discussion boards, people criticized her appearance (frequently), which is of course mean-spirited and unfair. Of course they then followed that ridicule with negative thoughts about veganism. We see ad hominem attacks all the time, which is why I thought we should choose people (like Jeffrey Masson, Kerrie Saunders and Rae Sikora) who might make that less likely.

    It's shallow and ridiculous, but the audience is mainstream American women, and they don't appear to mind.

    May 23, 2008
  9. Kim…. that's a good point – about "vegan" and life choices…. Certainly for me it's been a spiritual awakening rather than just a "diet". And Oprah has indicated a desire for "spiritual" connection through this "cleanse"….. In this light of a deeper intent, beyond just a "diet", it seems "vegan" is the correct term – doesn't it?

    Mary, you are right about the mean-spirited comments regarding Kathy. I see most vegans are steering away from the negativity and try to get subjects back on track to wellbeing & the animals.

    Agreed unless something is done to counter the inevitable fiasco with PETA – there will be months of damage control.

    May 23, 2008
  10. Of my few "virtues" is my ability to fess up when I'm wrong….. After so quickly (mis)judging "PETA" – I'd like to retract my criticism based on listening to these two recent podcasts:

    Why Animal Rights? and Effective Animal Advocacy:

    I know, I know….. I keep hearing Gary Franceon's words in his interview on Vegan Freak radio: "Forget about PETA" "Forget about PETA" – But their message is abolition too – and I'm not so certain the Animal Rights movement is in a position to "cull" its "un-desirables" just yet. At least I'm not.

    Yes, I will be disappointed if PETA is the only voice heard on behalf of the animals. But, I no longer see it as a "dead-end missed opportunity" (or an inevitable fiaso). But rather – just another view with it's sights on a different road heading toward the same goal.

    May 31, 2008
  11. Great post. Out of curiosity, what do you disagree with about Erik Marcus's "welfarism"?

    June 10, 2008
  12. Hi Michelle.

    It just so happens that I've been posting about whether welfare reforms are worth campaigning for, and whether they would or could lead to not using animals. Marcus believes they are worth campaigning for and he also thinks they will lead to not using animals. This is what Francione calls "new welfare." Though I think the name is perfect and appropriate and concise, I don't use it anymore because it became clear that those who believe welfare reforms will lead to abolition often call themselves abolitionists, and experience "new welfare" as an insult. If I insult anyone, I'd rather insult animal exploiters. Check out these recent posts for more on welfare and rights:
    And if you haven't heard the Marcus-Francione debate, you can read the transcript here:

    I hope some of that helps.

    June 11, 2008
  13. Dan #

    I’m just catching up now on these comments. About Gary Francione, I think he’d be awesome on Oprah, but I doubt O would have him on, particularly because he is extremely articulate on a topic to which most people simply shut their ears and eyes. I’ve heard Gary speak many times and have chatted with him in person. Despite the fact that he has no time for people who insist on new welfarism, his personality is very likable. Perhaps his strongest characteristic is that he is quick witted and unequivocal about his message, which does wonders in our fast-paced, sound-bite radio and TV media.

    About “new welfarism” being taken as an insult by those who think welfare reform is a way to abolition: sorry, but if the shoe fits… If I believed in welfare reform as a means to abolition, I certainly would NOT be offended by the term “new welfarist”; rather, I’d embrace it. To view it as an insult seems to show how embarrassing it must be to be called on contradictory positions (choose happy meat versus go vegan). At any rate, I like the distinction, and invite all new welfarists to become abolitionists; we need more money, time, and energy spent on vegan education and less on the meat-eaters’ cause of abusing animals in “better” (i.e. more profitable; less guilt-ridden) ways.

    BTW, I’ve posted the latest abolitionist vegan education essay:

    June 12, 2008

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