Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Supersized Vegucation

My wife has about 16 different food-related documentaries on her Netflix queue.  So last week we watched one of them, Vegucated.  We mostly chose it because it's only one hour and 16 minutes, and we didn't have a lot of time.
The premise of the movie is that the writer/director/star, Marisa Miller Wolfson (it just now occurs to me what an ironic last name she has), recruits three New Yorkers to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks, and films the results.

If this plot sound familiar, it's because it is.  It's the exact opposite experiment that Morgan Spurlock does in his famous documentary Supersize Me, where he eats nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days, and shows how quickly his body turns into secret sauce.

Even the tone of Vegucated reminded me of Supersize Me, with cartoons and graphs and self-deprecating jokes about how much fun this experiment will be. 

But where Supersize Me entertains and informs, and lets the experiment speak for itself, Vegucated veers off in a different direction that feels too much like propaganda and preaching.  At one point, one of Wolfson's vegan friends counsels one of the participants that she doesn't have to eat vegan all that time, that veganism isn't a religion. But that's exactly what it feels like in this movie: Vegans trying to create converts.  The original tone of "let's see what happens if we go vegan" turns into something else. 

I didn't learn anything from this movie that I didn't already know, but the three participants in the study were amazed (and disgusted) by what they learned about factory farming.  Some of the things that horrified them, however, were just normal things that happen on a family farm.  It's a good illustration of how far removed most people are these days from where their food comes from. 

The tone and premise of the movie seemed so much like a knock-off of Supersize Me that I wondered if the writer/director/star Wolfson wasn't Morgan Spurlock's girlfriend.   I remembered that in Supersize Me Spurlock's girlfriend was a vegan who was repulsed by his experiment.

So I looked it up.  Wolfson is not Spurlock's girlfriend, but my search brought up some interesting findings.


Spurlock's "then-girlfriend (now ex-wife)" (Wikipedia) is Alexandra Jamieson, a chef who ended up writing a book about the detox diet she created for Spurlock after his McDonald's experiment.

Jamieson was a very public vegan, but then this blog post of hers from February of this year caught my attention: I'm Not Vegan Anymore.  

The post is a confession, a coming out, a revelation of a personal struggle.  She's been craving animal products for over a year, trying to suppress it, sneaking around, hiding it from her friends, but realizing that her body needs what it needs.  She is what she is: an omnivore.  The parallels to a closeted gay person-- the guilt, the confusion, the denial-- are probably a rhetorical flourish, but they work well.  Aside from the annoying amount of one-sentence paragraphs, it's really a great read.

Reading this confession reminds me of something I read in a social science book recently.  The author talked about how for many social revolutions, the original proponents of civil rights go a little bit overboard, go out of their way to drastically break from the norm.  As the social issue becomes more mainstream, objections to the previous social norm come more back to the center. For example, the first proponents of women's rights wanted to get rid of marriage altogether as a misogynistic institution.  But instead of getting rid of it, the mainstream has redefined gender roles within it.

That's what I see happening with veganism.  There are tons of (admittedly anecdotal) stories of people who used to be vegan or vegetarian coming back to an omnivorous diet.  Usually they're still more conscious of eating responsibly than before their vegan awakening, but they're not as militant about it.  The best part of Jamieson's post is the end where she writes a personal credo of what she believes:       

I believe there is a middle way. There is no ONE way that everyone should live or eat. People can still love animals and care about protecting the environment AND honor their own animal bodies and consume the foods that they need.

I believe there are many paths to health.

I believe you can love and care about animal welfare and still consume them.

I believe that a vegan, whole-foods diet saved my life and is a delicious, valid, healthy style of eating for many people.

I believe that a vegan diet should be promoted as one of many possible ways to get the body and life that people crave.

I believe most people should be eating more vegetables and less processed, chemicalized, processed junk food.

I believe we should restructure the way animals are raised so that they live in more natural, comfortable, humane surroundings and stop force-feeding them 80% of all antibiotics used in the US.

I believe humans are animals. And some animals need to eat other animals to be healthy. Some do not.

And I believe in the innate kindness of people. And that by having compassion for each other, no matter how we eat, we are creating a new food culture, and a better world.

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