27 January 2012

Why food networks should add vegan cooking shows to their lineups

On the rare occasions when I am home from school, one of my guilty pleasures is watching food shows with my mother. The personalities range from motherly to high energy, and they have the added bonus of gluttony without the guilt. Still, as much as Paula Deen’s southern accent tickles me, her butter addiction is a little disheartening -- as well as the lack of vegan recipes featured on television. It is frustrating that with all the big show ideas that have emerged over the years, not one is strictly devoted to a plant-based diet. What it comes down to is economics: with such a small population of vegans in the US and UK, would it be worth it to make a show based on the diet? Would it be profitable for the networks? I would answer these questions with a firm yes.

There are four reasons for television programs to feature vegan cooking shows in their lineups.

1. They are losing an audience!

Recently it was found that 2.5% of the US population consumes a plant based diet. Sure, it is not a huge portion, but even that group of people could increase a programs Nielsen ratings. After all, these programs are created to be watched. More vegans would watch if they saw more recipes geared toward their diet. I like to compare a food network to a store like Dick’s Sporting Goods. If a store is specialized in one type of sport, say golf or football, then only individuals who play golf or football will shop there, creating a restricted profit window. However, with a store like Dick’s which covers all sports and recreational gear, their customer make-up is much more diverse which enables them to sell more goods and make more money.

2. Missing the chance to invest in a popular, growing community as well as the opportunity to educate.

Go to amazon.com, check the shelves of your local bookstore or library and you are guaranteed to find vegan cookbooks. All across the country, strictly, or vegan-friendly restaurants and foodcarts are popping up. More vegan products are being introduced every day. With so much going on in the vegan world, why is television not following suit? My theory is that the television industry has some pretty deep ties with the meat, egg, and diary industries. How many commercials have you seen during a food show that boast California cows being the happiest cows, or how eggs provide good, clean protein that will help your family grow big and strong? The best cheeses come from Wisconsin, and on and on. If this is the case, the problem is the mindset of consumers, and what we have been previously taught about our diets which leads me to my next point.

It surprises me that in this day and age, there are still people that do not know what veganism is. It is also frustrating that so many misconceptions exist around the plant-based diet. From my mother, as I’m sure many vegans can relate, I immediately heard "but, where will you get your protein?"  This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the vegan diet; that the lack of protein in our diets leaves us weak and frail. Animal protein is not the only protein on earth. One ounce of cooked meat contains 7 grams of protein on average. Yet, 1/2 cup of black beans contains about 5-7 grams of protein. Black beans and beans in general are a great source of protein, virtually no fat and cholesterol, along with the added bonus of being high in fiber. For those who cannot tolerate beans, there are various meat alternatives. Tofu contains about 8 grams of protein per serving depending on the product. My favorite meat alternative, seitan, has about 14 grams of protein in one serving! Vegans con also obtain protein from nuts, milk alternatives like soy, and grain products. Another argument is that many vegans suffer from B12 deficiencies. Vitamin B12 can be found in many plants such as the green sea plant, spirulina, and can also be found in fortified cereals.

There is so much that can be learned about the vegan diet and much more that fellow vegans can teach one another. Television is a great source for this education and would allow a greater audience to be reached.

3. Actively discriminating against an entire population

I don’t mean to sound melodramatic here, discrimination is a big word. Still, that is the case. Say you go into the grocery store, and you are allergic to peanuts. For whatever ungodly reason, this grocery store does not hold any foods that do not contain peanuts. How would you feel? If you were to go into a restaurant and be refused service because they did not have items that pertained to your diet, wouldn’t you feel singled out and uncomfortable? Some might argue that we couldn’t know if any vegans have pitched shows to food networks, and just didn’t have what the network was looking for. Perhaps vegan chefs aren’t putting themselves out there for fear of rejection. These are all possibilities, but if there was more knowledge about the diet, then this anxiety might disappear.

4. Promoting a cruelty free diet

Many individuals that own pets say that they love their animals, that they are their best friends, and that they would never do anything to hurt them. Yet, some of those same people consume meat and dairy. The problem is that when people think “animal cruelty," they think on the micro level, citing localized cases and small-scale figures (like the Michael Vick incident a few years back). However, the meat and dairy industry is animal cruelty amplified and at the macro level. If more people knew the impact of what they buy at the grocery store or what they order in the drive through, it would change their views on animal cruelty. When I talk to others about my decision to go vegan, and the brochures and videos I’ve seen on animal cruelty and the environmental impact the meat industry has, I often hear that “only the most extreme cases are presented” or “that doesn’t mean it happens everywhere." Cruelty in any circumstance is the “extreme” option, and when it comes to our environment the actions of the individual collected into the society. The earth is our home, and we should treat it as we would our physical houses and homes. Global impact goes beyond turning off the lights when you are not in a room, or biking instead of driving to work. It extends all the way into what you put on your plate, and that is a hard pill for people to swallow.

If food networks featured shows with more vegan chefs, these types of subjects would be brought more into the public eye. There would be more talk about the vegan lifestyle, and it would dispel myths about how hard and expensive it is to transition. From my experience (even as a struggling college student) it is a very accessible and manageable lifestyle, and more media coverage would contribute more proof of this.

Dani Hicks | Blog | Facebook
Pennsylvania Dani was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and is currently a student at Allegheny College studying Creative Writing and Poetry. She has been vegan for seven months now, and was vegetarian for two years prior. Dani's passions are writing, health and fitness, and living a compassionate, cruelty free lifestyle. Her favorite quote is “What will survive of us is love” from a poem by Philip Larkin. It is a reminder that we are not survived by our possessions, but what we give and how much love we put into the world. Give a little more everyday. :-)

Photo credit: Ernesto Ferreyra