Last night I watched the DVR of Oprah's vegan show. As you may know, or have read elsewhere, Oprah and a bunch of her staff and crew spent a week being vegan and the episode featuring this aired a couple days ago. I have read a couple of blogs discussing this, so I decided to watch for myself last night (as opposed to so many other shows I record, which just sit in my DVR until they are deleted).
I actually did a ten-day vegan experiment myself two years ago. I wrote a great post about it here (please read, it's very good!). (My posts were much more interesting back then, I really need to kick it up!) My reasons for dabbling in veganism were basically diet-related, as an effort to clean up my diet and purge my treat-addiction after the holiday season. (Most "treats" have animal products in the form of eggs, dairy, etc.) I did find that it was much easier to shun a cookie because it was made with eggs or butter, than to resist the sweet temptation simply for diet reasons.
Of course, the reason most vegans choose to be so (I assume) is because of the perceived cruelty in raising and slaughtering animals for food. On the show, Lisa Ling visited a meat producer where the cattle are presumably slaughtered "humanely"; even so, it is somewhat disturbing to think about.
Oprah's primary guest was the rather amazing Michael Pollan, author, food activist, and omnivore. I was impressed enough to order several of his books immediately. (Hopefully none of them are already in my "purchased, not yet read" stacks!) Michael Pollan is not a vegetarian, he says he eats meat a couple times a week, but he is a big advocate of knowing where your food comes from.
It was entertaining to watch scenes of various vegan participants try to reform their eating habits. Oprah had Kathy Freston, vegan author (who happens to have a book just coming out) advising them on ideas. Perhaps unfortunately, she did so by showing them "substitutes" for many of the animal products they would otherwise eat, particularly cheese and meats. In my (numbered) vegan days, I was happy simply using non-animal foods rather than going to fake cheese and meat, which are never going to taste as good as the real thing!
For example, one dish they made was pasta with a sauce including ground-up vegan sausage. Seriously? It is so easy to make a wonderful pasta sauce with no meat at all. You can buy a jar of great non-meat pasta sauce! When I make pasta I often don't use any meat. Sometimes I put beans in for protein. But I mostly like to use lots of vegetables, especially eggplant and mushrooms (both of which provide a very "meaty" texture).
I think the reason I could never seriously entertain a long-term vegan diet is that I honestly don't believe eating animal products is a bad thing. Even if you remove all meat (because of the slaughtering issue), eggs and dairy do not require harming animals. You can make efforts to buy products where the producers are housed in more humane situations (though I know it is hard to know what is really happening in the hen house).
I am also addicted to fish and seafood, and I'm sorry, I will never accept that it is cruel to kill a fish or a shrimp. I think having grown up living on the water (and my family has some roots in the fishing business), I just can't believe that fish have feelings. However, I think there is a big issue with sustainable fishing that I hope I am sensitive to in my shopping.
And finally, there is honey. The idea that you should not eat honey because it comes from bees... well, that's just a little too much for me to swallow. (Or should I say, "that really stings....")
I have no criticism of vegans for their beliefs, but I do feel that it would be very difficult--for me or anyone--to embrace a lifestyle that eliminates entire categories of food. I prefer to view food in a more friendly manner. Other than a very few foods that I just don't like (and it's hard to even think of one), I don't think there's any kind of food that I would completely rule out eating on some occasion. There are a number of foods I rarely eat, but I might, under the right circumstances. (Confession: last week I ate a handful of pork rinds. And they were tasty! But I don't intend to eat them regularly.)
I enjoyed the Oprah episode, and I look forward to reading Michael Pollan's books. I even added Kathy Freston's book to my Amazon order, because I don't mind reading about other perspectives. I also believe, though I will never be vegan, that I will continue to eat a wide variety of foods (mostly plants, actually) and some of them will be, by chance, vegan-friendly. Some of them will not.