Oprah and 378 Staffers Go Vegan For A Week

by Angela (Oh She Glows) on February 1, 2011

If you caught the Oprah show today, you may have been surprised to see that Oprah and her staff- some 378 men and women- participated in Oprah’s Vegan Challenge. For 1 week, they left behind their usual fare of dairy, eggs, butter, meat, fish, and all other animal products and even the HARPO cafeteria started serving some vegan options. I thought I was dreaming when I saw the preview for this show because I did not expect this, but I was so proud of Oprah and her staff for bringing attention to this topic. I took some notes to share with you because I know many of you were not able to watch the episode.

Journalist and food expert Michael Pollan, vegan author Kathy Freston, and journalist Lisa Ling were invited onto the show to talk about veganism and being conscious of where our food comes from. Oprah was clear in stating that everyone needs to make the choice for themselves and the show was neither pro-vegetarian nor pro-vegan, but pro-education, much like her show with Pollan several months ago.

Oprah claims that many of us are ‘disconnected’ from the animals, meat industry, and the food we eat each day. As reported by the USDA, 10 billion animals are killed in the US each year for consumption. With such a staggering number, it is important to question how our food gets to our plates.

Michael Pollan thought the Vegan Challenge was fun because it makes people conscious of what they eat. I had to agree with this because when I became a vegan, for the first time in my life, I started reading the ingredients that were in my food. I was shocked to find out that I didn’t know what half of the ingredients were and I still find myself looking up mystery ingredients on a weekly basis.

Oprah’s staff member, Jill, emptied out every item in her fridge that had an animal product in it. By the time Jill went through her fridge, it was virtually empty. She was shocked how much food contains animal products.

Pollan admits to eating meat 1-2 times per week, but states that he doesn’t eat industrial or feed-lot meat and he supports small-scale, local farmers that do not feed the animals grain (i.e. corn or corn by products). Michael’s goal is to REFORM the meat industry, not eliminate it. While I would love to see a meat-free society some day, I do realize that Michael’s approach is probably the most realistic.

As a rare look inside a meat farm, Lisa Ling travelled to Cargill Meat Solutions– one of the largest meat companies in the US. This part of the episode was the most emotional for me to watch. They described the process that each cow goes through from the feed lot to the slaughtering to the processing. Each cow at Cargill spends 200 days at the feed lot where they are fed corn and corn by products. This is to fatten up the cattle where they gain about 3 pounds per day. Each day, 4,500 cattle are sent to the slaughterhouse where they will be guided through maze-like pathways for 2 hours to calm down prior to slaughter. I could almost feel the chill in the air as I watched this somber part of the clip.

It was extremely hard for me to watch the animals looking into the camera, just moments before death. Kathy Freston described how I was feeling when she said, ‘watching the animals in the slaughterhouse didn’t sit right with my soul.’  I could not have described my own emotions any better. It is one thing to read something from a book, but to actually see it happening is very real.

Not surprisingly, the episode did not show the 4 inch bolt that is shot through every cow’s head during slaughter. They did, however, show the pain on Lisa Ling’s face as she watched the slaughtering. The carcasses then go through the process of skin removal, sawing, and chopping/grinding the parts. This part was very graphic, but I was happy that they did show this behind the scenes look because I think it is important to connect ourselves to what we eat. The most shocking thing about this slaughterhouse was that it was supposed to be one of the ‘better ones’ and that many, unfortunately are much, much worse than was portrayed.

The show ended with vegan author, Kathy Freston who served as the vegan guide for Oprah and her staff members during the vegan challenge. Kathy took staff member Jill to Whole Foods to show her examples of vegan foods she could cook for her family. I expected Kathy to show her beans, legumes, lentils, vegetables, fruits, nuts, or seeds, but sadly, Kathy showed her a plethora of packaged fake meats, fake mayonnaise, fake cheese, and fake ice cream sandwiches. I strongly believe that a vegan diet does not need to rely on processed, imitation products, so I was disappointed to see this focus. When I first went vegan, I tried all the fake meat products because that is what I thought I was supposed to eat, but my real satisfaction with veganism only came when I experimented with non-processed foods like grains, beans, lentils, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. That is when it all clicked for me and I knew that I could do it long term.

Oprah and her staff member’s reactions to The Vegan Challenge were very interesting to watch. One of Oprah’s staff members, Joe, said he felt so amazing that he was going to convert to a vegan diet. Oprah, said it was definitely ‘doable’ to eat a vegan diet, but she would be ‘veganish’ from now on, meaning that she will think more about the food she eats and try to eat more animal-free foods. Her partner, Stedman, wants to continue the vegan challenge because he enjoyed it so much. Other staff members admitted that they wouldn’t be converting any time soon, but they did admit that it made them think about what they eat each day. Out of 379 participants, they lost a total of 444 pounds and gained a total of 84 pounds. Some participants said they gained weight because they relied on ‘vegan junk food’ too much. I thought it was great that they showed both sides of the story because it is just as easy to eat unhealthy on a vegan diet as it is a non-vegan diet! I don’t like the portrayal that veganism is some kind of weight-loss diet though.

To end the show, Oprah and staff members at HARPO announced that they will be holding a Meatless Monday each week in honour of this challenge. I think this is a great idea and it shows that no matter what kind of diet you do chose eat, you can always make changes, big or small, to impact the system.

If you are interested, there are a bunch of video clips from today’s show on the Oprah website.

Did you see Oprah’s Vegan Challenge show? What did you think? Do you ever go meat/animal-product free or participate in Meatless Monday?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

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[email protected] February 2, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I am so glad that Oprah – with her gazillion viewers – is bringing attention so such an important issue. I think for some people, it requires baby steps – like Meatless Mondays. And that is fine, but I think everyone needs to do something – even if it starts with buying meats from a small local farmer. And I love Michael Pollan.
The fake meat thing is a whole other controversy in itself. I do like Yves Sun Dried Tomato veggie sausage, but it contains organic tofu, and no soy byproducts, so I feel comfortable with eating them.
Anyway, great post, kudos to Oprah for putting it out there.


[email protected] February 2, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I didn’t get to see it, but thanks for the recap :)


Kelly- Shiny Happy Vegan February 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Hi Angela! I think this is the first time I’ve commented on your blog. It was nice to read your review of the show. I did one as well, although I think my reaction to it was a little less positive than yours. I am glad that Oprah devoted a show to the topic of being vegan, I just don’t think there was enough time to really explain it the way it in the way that it should have been. I too, really connected to Freston’s comment about it just not sitting right with her soul but got angry with Oprah’s follow-up comment that the animals weren’t made to suffer!


Pure2raw twins February 2, 2011 at 10:18 pm

I did not catch Oprah, but have heard a lot about it. I agree with you, vegan foods does not always mean fake, replacement stuff. Well I guess at least vegan diet is getting attention, hopefully will become more positive in the views of others.


Kath February 2, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I was really disappointed that Kathy showed all of those processed fake meats too. I was like “Where’s the real food!?”

And Michael Pollan is my hero :)


Andrew Lowry February 2, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Thanks for the post. I enjoyed that. It is good to read that Oprah treated it as education rather than promotion of a particular POV. I agree with avoiding faux vegan products. There are so many wonderful foods for vegetarian or vegans without imitating meat dishes. Again thanks.


Tracy @ Commit To Fit February 2, 2011 at 11:58 pm

I didn’t see the show, but checked out the recap online and will be participating in the Vegan Challenge hosted by Morgan at Life After Bagels. I think it will be a great experiment. To be more mindful of how and what we eat is a great lesson, whether you are vegan or not. I am looking forward to sharing my progress!


Jolene (www.everydayfoodie.ca) February 3, 2011 at 12:31 am

I am really sad I missed this show – I am going to try to find it on-line.


Zestful Lou February 3, 2011 at 2:13 am

I watched it and loved it! I am going to start Meatless Monday and I’m going to go vegan for Lent and my boyfriend is going to go vegetarian (a big deal for him!) I’m not catholic, but it’s been something that’s been on my heart the past few months and it’s time to just give it a go.


Salina February 3, 2011 at 2:45 am

Wow, this is really interesting! When my Grandmother was a young girl, the town where she lived had an abbotoir (Australian for slaughterhouse). She said that the men whose job it was to kill the animals (they did it by hand back then, not sure about now…) all went a little funny in the head.. Not crazy exactly, but a little.. off. I am proud of Australia though, after watching FOOD INC, I don’t think I can bring myself to eat a piece of american produce, but we do treat our animals a lot more humanely.


Misty February 3, 2011 at 9:17 am

I did watch the show and thought it was okay. A couple tings are bothering me though. I myself am a vegetarian and although I tend to lead to veganism I don’t call myself a vegan because I don’t think I have the right. Simply put I have so much respect for the true vegans who avoid all animals’ products 100%. I myself know I’m not in a place at the moment to be able to do this. I know I may go out to dinner and have a slice of bread with my meal which may have egg in it, etc., etc. Therefore even if I cut out all the eggs and cheese at home (I already drink soy or rice milk and love it) I couldn’t always avoid them in public: I live in Muskoka and the option of eating at raw or vegan or even vegetarian places is very limited.

The number one thing that bothered me about this show and in general is that everyone assumes your some kind of radical Peta supporter who stopped waiting meat because you don’t want to be a part of the death of an animal. Although this is one of my reason for sure (after researching farm factories – which everyone should do!), it wasn’t my first reason. My first reason was for the sake of my own health. Since 12 years old I have had high cholesterol, after going veggie I no longer had that issue. (And I was not an obese child at all!) Yes, I lost weight but that was because going veggie sent me into the whole of health foods!! Of eating better and staying away from packaged dressed up (“only 100 cals!”) junk food. This also wasn’t the easiest decision because frankly, I loved meat, but after starting to read books like “Skinny Bitch” and “Eating Animals” or watch documentaries like “Food Inc.” I was disgusted by not only what is being to these animals, BUT what is being done to our own bodies. Heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol are all on the rise in North America. Not to mention the effects of these farms and grain fed cows are having on our environment. It’s shocking. It bothered me that the Oprah show didn’t highlight these facts enough. Nor did they really go into the fact that you don’t know sitting at a restaurant eating your burger if that beef came from that one “humane” slaughterhouse or not.
I think what’s also important to mention is that although my boyfriend isn’t a vegetarian he eats veggie with my 3/4 of the time. He’s open to this. However, he’s a hunter and fisher. And I don’t have any problems with this because I know how much respect he has for animals and how he gives thanks and how he himself (weather permitting) cleans and butchers the animal himself. I know this animal truly did live a wild life beforehand and wasn’t breed and force fed. So in my world even a hunter and a vegetarian can live together peacefully and happily. With mutual love and respect.
Also I agree with Angela and the other who said it’s a shame the focused so much on processed foods and, although great, one of the most expensive grocery stores (also not available until I drive 2 hours south from where I am)
One last thing. Nothing irks me more when some so called “vegans” or “vegetarians” claim to have had to go back to eating meat and because they were not getting enough iron or protein. Just means to me you were being lazy, there is no reason why someone shouldn’t be able to sustain on a true blue healthy veggie or vegan diet.
Much love and respect. Thanks Angela as always!


Kris February 3, 2011 at 9:34 am

I recorded this episode and just watched it last night. It is definitely a real eye opener for so many people. Although I eat meat, I am much more educated on my selections now than I was even a year ago.

I love that Oprah puts these kind of shows out there. The exposure she gets is second to none and I am sure this episode has changed so many people’s views on their diet. A lot of people may not go vegan, but may reduce their meat intake after seeing this and be more mindful about what they select to eat which I think is a wonderful step in the right direction.


Lauri (RedHeadrecipes.com) February 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm


I really enjoyed reading your review of the show! I thought the show made a lot of good points and I actually agree 100% with a lot of what Michael Pollan had to say. If you are interested, you can read my review here–> http://redheadrecipes.com/?p=10911



[email protected] February 4, 2011 at 7:24 am

We had an ice storm here in Indy and they did 24 hour news coverage of the ice and didn’t show Oprah…of all days! I am hoping she replays it!


Tracey February 4, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I watched the Oprah episode and I couldn’t agree with you more. I think it’s great that she chose to take a stance of just creating awareness about where our food comes from. I also agree that the focus of going vegan shouldn’t have been on buying every processed, fake meat alternative. I would have liked to see them focus on whole food, healthy options. During the transition phase it is normal for people to turn to meat alternatives, but people should know that there is a whole plethora of real food options to be eaten that are even more delicious and create healthier, more nutritious meals. Thanks for doing the recap!


Bess @ I Dream of Greenie February 5, 2011 at 3:10 pm

While I share your frustration over the overly processed “junk” foods shown at the Whole Foods trip, I have to respectfully disagree with this statement of yours: “it is just as easy to eat unhealthy on a vegan diet as it is a non-vegan diet!”

Do I agree that us vegans sometimes make use of the readily available products that are veganized versions of nutrient light foods? Yes. But does that form the crux of most vegans’ diets? No.

I have repeatedly shared meals with a high number of vegans and can count on less than 2 hands (probably even 1) the number of them who rely solely on foods similar to those pictured on the Oprah episode.

Rather, whole grains, legumes, vegetable based soups, fresh produce and healthy fats (nuts, avocado, flax, grapeseed oil, etc) generally form the crux of the diets of most vegans I know.

To be clear, my qualm is definitely directed more at Oprah for implying that the vegan diet is generally cruelty free versions of conventional junk food. But I just wanted to illustrate that not all vegans make use of the unhealthy eats around the clock.


Dan M. February 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm

I love being vegan! I’m a marathon runner and weightlifter and it’s really been great with it. I feel better, and can still enjoy the sports I love.

Plus, it’s better for the animals! Go here to find out why: meatvideo.com


Marcy February 18, 2011 at 8:42 am

Great article. I just ate vegan for a week and really liked it. It will have an impact on my regular diet. I loved what you said about all the fake meat products. I didn’t see the Oprah episode, but my friend who suggested the challenge to me decided to go vegetarian for the week because veganism looked so expensive and radical from the episode. I found it to be very affordable–not much is cheaper than beans and grains, but the extra fresh produce was pricey. I wrote about me week here: http://tootimidandsqueamish.blogspot.com/2011/02/vegan-for-week-part-one.html


Scott February 10, 2016 at 1:16 am

Thanks for this post. This Oprah episode connected with my wife (even though I have pushed her to be vegan for some time) more so than any other veg facts I have shown her. I highly recommend checking this out via YouTube. Go team Veg!


Toya Good June 22, 2016 at 2:31 am

I agree with you Angela its okay to start off eating vegan processed foods as an introduction to veganism but the whole places should be on a vegan whole food plant based diet.


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