Thank you Ellen, from one vegan to another
Anyone who has been vegan for more than a few years knows “the look”. That expression you get from someone after you mention that you’re vegan. Sort of a confusion combined with discomfort about how one can live without meat… without cheese… without milk and eggs and yogurt and yes, chicken and fish as well.
Lately I’m noticing a difference. Not a difference in how most people eat. But, a change in awareness of what the vegan diet is – and, dare I say it – even some acceptance?
Five years ago the vegan diet was not being discussed in mainstream media. This past year we’ve seen guests like Kathy Freston, Alicia Silverstone, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Jonathan Safran Foer talk about aspects of not eating meat and choosing a plant-based diet on Oprah as well as Ellen.
What Ellen DeGeneres has done differently than Oprah, however, is show that the vegan diet is doable. Sure, she has a personal chef and doesn’t need to cook or shop for her own food. But, she helps to educate her viewers, and invites her chef on her stage to demonstrate that these meals can be prepared by folks at home. The recipes that her chef has cooked are not complicated, and even use some store-bought meat alternatives to help those transitioning from eating animal flesh. When Oprah tried the vegan diet for a month, she also eliminated caffeine, alcohol, and gluten from her diet (following Kathy Freston’s cleanse). This is a daunting dietary overhaul for someone that’s accustomed to eating vegan or vegetarian, let alone someone used to eating meat on a daily basis.
Gordon Ramsay also appeared on Ellen’s cooking stage, and whipped up a vegan stir fry. I never thought I’d see Gordon Ramsay talk about a vegan meal, let alone prepare one. While chef Ramsay was somewhat unoriginal in his meal plan (stir fry falls in the category of ‘what vegans must eat all the time’, along with tofu, sprouts, and fruit for dessert), he did infuse some creativity using sake in his dish.
Ellen has genuine interest and concern for matters connected to consumption of the standard diet. This past week, Jonathan Safran Foer was a guest on her show for the second time (his first interview is here). This time he was joined by three viewers of the Ellen show. One woman, a breast cancer survivor, termed herself a “reformed eater” after watching Ellen’s first interview with Jonathan, and subsequently reading his book. Another viewer decided to stop eating meat after learning the animal suffering involved in today’s farming practices. Other interviews with guests like Kathy Freston and Dr. Neal Barnard have also demystified the idea of a vegan diet, showing there is real merit in this way of eating if we want a life that helps preserve our good health, helps preserve our planet, and of course shows respect for all animals (not just companion animals).
Every week she shares more about the vegan diet, whether through a cooking demo, a guest, a food sample or giveaway for her audience, and through her website. This is mass-market exposure that the vegan diet has never received (in any positive and productive form, at least). I’m noticing more people talking about the vegan diet, asking with real interest about aspects of the diet, and some are even experimenting with eating plant-based foods as a result.
I have always admired and appreciated Ellen, for her humor, talent, resilience, sincerity and her compassionate demeanour. Now, I am also grateful to her. Her celebrity is allowing people to learn about a healthful, responsible, and compassionate plant-based diet.
The vegan population is estimated at only about 0.5%, or 1 million people. The number of lacto-ovo vegetarians is higher at about 10%. So, for now, I’m not expecting to see the shopper next to me eschew their cheddar, eggs, chicken breasts, and frozen yogurt for quinoa, veggie dogs, kale, and rice ice cream. No, I’m not that naive. But, I am optimistic enough to assume that there will be more acceptance of a plant-based diet as healthy, rather than unwise or dangerous. I also expect to see more people opting for a meat-free meal a couple of times a week. And, in another few years, perhaps we’ll see those vegan population statistics rise… and even more significantly in five to ten years.
I do think a dietary revolution is underway. We are beginning to examine our food choices and food sources. What is healthy? What is sustainable? And, what is compassionate? A plant-based diet can answer all those questions.
So, Ellen, while it’s unlikely that you’ll ever read this, I thank you for bringing veganism into the spotlight. Thank you for educating people, for helping to initiate dietary change that could one day result in substantial changes to human health and animal welfare.
(And, thank you for teaching people that we pronounce it ‘vee-gun’, instead of ‘vay-gun’. )