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Why veganism is not a diet

The year 2011 is shaping up to be the year of the vegans. First, Oprah had a vegan show. Now the queen of how to truss and baste a turkey, Martha Stewart, debuted her vegan show on March 30. To which this vegan says: It's about time!

Of all the vegan celebrities, activists and authors, it's surprising that both Martha and Oprah chose to feature the same one: author and 7-year vegan Kathy Freston of Veganist: Lose Weight, Get Healthy, Change the World. Freston guided Oprah and her staff through a 1-week vegan challenge, which included meals heavy with meat substitutes.

Hold the meat, but give me meat

What bothers me about this approach to veganism, while beneficial at first for a lot of people (baby steps), is that one comes to expect that she will be able to eat nearly the same foods as she was before. Trial vegans are horribly put off by meat lookalikes that don't taste anything like they're used to – hence complaints by some of Oprah's staff (especially one employee who had it out for soy cheese).

No sausage? Try tofu links! No beef tacos? How about some soy crumbles! These "substitutes" really shouldn't be called substitutes at all, because it sets up the expectation that they taste like their meat counterparts. They should be appreciated for the foods that they are, not hovering in shadows they clearly can't compete with. Ironically, what recipe did Martha cook along with vegan and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone? Seitan bourguignon.

(An aside: I'm not against meat substitutes, although I do include them rarely in my diet because I simply enjoy how I feel when I eat less processed foods. And that seitan sure looked tasty.)

No one expects a low-sodium soup to taste like the original. Vegan "meats" definitely don't either, and why should they? If you're only giving up meat solely to be healthier, chances are you aren't thinking about how the meat gets to your plate in the first place. (Lose weight, get healthy… then change the world.)

This is why veganism is not simply a diet. It's a lifestyle.

The majority of vegans I know are vegans for multiple reasons – prime among them distaste for the way animals are treated before they become our lunch. For this reason, many vegans not only don't eat meat or dairy, but also avoid honey, leather and other animal byproducts that show up in products such as cosmetics or shoes.

I'm happy that The Martha Stewart Show latched onto the movement that speaks to veganism's roots: cruelty to animals. By promoting a vegan lifestyle, Martha may take a sales hit on a multitude of cookbooks and products, the vast majority of which are devoted to omnivores. Still, she invited Farm Sanctuary President and Co-Founder Gene Baur to the show to speak about the suffering endured by animals raised for food on factory farms.

In a press release promoting the show, Baur said, "with 9 billion animals annually being subjected to abuses so horrifying they cannot be shown on daytime television, I hope viewers will come away inspired to embrace a compassionate lifestyle. We want to show that protecting animals from cruelty is as simple – and delicious – as choosing to eat plant-based foods."

However someone comes to or is motivated to try veganism is just fine by me. But it's even more delicious when consciousness for our food supply is involved.

Did you watch either of these shows? What did you think?


Check out my top 12 vegan picks from Expo West

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