Having the ability to choose is perhaps one of the greatest joys of living in this country. Too bad choices were few and far between on a recent episode of Oprah as the Most Famous and Influential Woman in the World had her staff of 387 ‘voluntarily’ go vegan for a week (http://www.oprah.com/showinfo/Oprah-and-378-Staffers-Go-Vegan-The-One-Week-Challenge).

First, let me say that I scoff at the concept that her adoring and subservient staff really ever had a choice to refuse the vegan challenge by their boss. That aside, the show began with Oprah’s newest BFF, Kathy Freston, hawking the virtues of veganism.

Freston, a winsome former model with long, blonde hair, skinny jeans and powerful, wealthy people on ‘speed dial,’ is the kind of gal who could sell ice cream to an Eskimo. (Make that, er, tofu yogurt?) Clearly, Freston has ‘sold’ Oprah on the health, spiritual and environmental benefits (as she sees them) of shunning all animal products.

Freston, who only became a vegan a couple years ago, preaches ‘leaning in’ to a meatless lifestyle; in other words…not beating yourself up if you ‘slip’ and have a tuna fish sandwich or a speck of cheese (sigh). But from my perspective as a working mom and farmer’s daughter, there was too much shaming and finger-pointing going on to have this show represent ‘choice’ or a gradual ‘leaning in’ to anything, especially for working women who are already struggling to meet society’s expectations of ‘perfect’ employee, cook, mother, wife and humanitarian.

“It tastes gross; no wonder people lose weight on this stuff,” said one staffer, who mourned her daily burger routine. She was promptly ‘corrected’ by Freston and told her protesting tastebuds and hunger rumblings were because she’s an ‘addict’ going through withdrawal. The rest of the ‘vegan resistors’ were met with similar ‘corrections’ (all on-camera): (http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Struggling-with-the-Vegan-Challenge-Video).

Another guest on Oprah’s Vegan Challenge show was Michael Pollan (author of ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma’ and a devoted critic of modern livestock production). Pollan seemed downright rational compared to Freston (and that’s saying something). There was also a young woman who represented Cargill, the Temple-Grandin-designed meat processing facility, where cows enter and steaks exit. Cargill is proud of their plants and preach the value of keeping animals calm, giving them a dignified, painless death.
But, a slaughterhouse visit is still not an easy thing to stomach for most folks. Many farmers, who spend generations raising livestock with compassion, haven’t been to a slaughter facility. I’ve seen plenty of tough, Iowa farm kids shed a tear when they sell off their 4-H calves during the State Fair, knowing where they’re bound.

The simple truth is a lot of people like eating milk, cheese, eggs and meat. They care how an animal lived its life but may not want a front seat to the ‘end game’. That doesn’t make them bad people. That makes them practical. There are those who want to dictate an animal’s entire life and in this economically-challenged times, sometimes find themselves the subject of a good ole’ Hollywood send-off. Check this out: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2LBICPEK6w).

Tongue-in-cheek aside, in the end, even if Oprah isn’t going to give equal time to livestock farmers on her show, I hope you give equal consideration to the generations of expertise and veterinarian guidance used by today’s responsible livestock farmers. I hope you know how hard Iowa livestock farmers work to take care of their animals, even in the worst of times (http://goo.gl/sAF46).

I really don’t think in these trying times we need to be ‘force fed’ a diet of meat condemnation by former supermodels, whose only credentials are money, an impressive ‘BFF’ and the genetic gift of thinness. As for me, I’ll continue to put plenty of fruit and vegetables on my family’s plates, but I’ll also celebrate the many choices I have at my grocery store’s meat counter. Sure, that kind of balance and common sense probably won’t land me on the NY Times bestseller list or Oprah, but (to borrow Oprah’s mantra) ‘Living My Best Life’ has to be grounded in common sense.

Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.