Friday, March 12, 2010

The Difference Between Ellen and Oprah

Not being a big fan of either Ellen Degeneres or Oprah Winfrey, I still watched both their shows this week (Ellen on Wednesday, Oprah on Thursday) because both were partially (Ellen) or totally (Oprah) devoted to current food issues. I noted in a Wednesday post how Ellen, a vegan, featured Jonathan Safran Foer and discussed his book, Eating Animals.

Not to be outdone (is this coincidence, or do these daytime divas keep up with each others' productions schedules?), Oprah devoted her entire Thursday show to "food." Her guests were Michael Pollan (omnivore), Alicia Silverstone (vegan), and Steve Ells (omnivore), founder of the 900-location Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain.

Pollan took his predictable position atop the political fence by continuing to promote an omnivorous diet (he knows better), along with Ells (not surprising—though he is noted for refusing to buy animal products from factory farms, which is good for the animals right up until their throats are cut, as one observer has noted). Silverstone was funny, winsome, and focused without being preachy—I was impressed with her. (I haven't read her new book, The Kind Diet).

What amazed me the most was Oprah's continuing role of not taking a stand. She dramatized her ongoing fear of the meat industry by refusing to comment on eating meat—a reference to the high-profile suit brought against her several years ago by the cattle industry for saying on her show she would never eat another burger in light of the fear of Mad Cow Disease (in a conversation with guest Howard Lyman), a suit which she won, by the way. She has received the best information on diet and health available through a variety of vegan guests, and even went on a 21-day vegan cleansing regimen vis-a-vis Kathy Freston, but still won't commit to a diet that is best for her, for animals, and the planet. It sort of calls into question her commitment to "live your best life now."

I understand her role as "all things to all people," but that doesn't mean not taking a stand and choosing what is best instead of being afraid to offend. When the apostle Paul declared his desire to "be all things to all people" it was in order "that he might save some" (1 Corinthians 9:22). By contrast, Alicia Silverstone was a good example of a person with a focused, unwavering position who was able to present it in a way that respected others' views without compromising her own.

In this week's face-off, I give the nod to Ellen for her willingness to use her show to encourage her vegan point of view instead of presenting a buffet of views to the audience and telling them to make up their own mind, à la Oprah.

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