There are so many ways to get Oprah into your life. You can read her latest book club recommendation, watch her TV network, and order a bootleg “Oprah for President” bumper sticker. You can purchase her favorite storage solutions and download her favorite apps. Now you can even drink her favorite chai latte, which Oprah herself developed with a “leading teaologist” from Teavana. Oprah is everywhere!
That said, I never cared much about her. For a citizen of 21st century America, Oprah is like water or oxygen: ubiquitous to the point of invisibility, and easy to take for granted. I doubt a month in my life has gone by when I have not been exposed to some form of Oprah, and I was never tempted to participate until the latte came along.
If you’ve ever fallen in love, you know what it’s like to want to physically incorporate another person into your body. (Shakespeare wrote about this a lot.) When Oprah decided to collaborate with Starbucks on a signature Oprah Chai Latte, she was betting that a significant number of Americans would experience some version of this feeling towards her, and that they would answer the urge by spending $3.75 on an Oprah-designed beverage.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz was on the same side of her bet. "I am personally humbled to work with such an inspirational leader and visionary who shares so many of our core values and beliefs,” he said of the partnership, in a dizzying sequence of corporate jargon.
But his point about Oprah remains solid.
Although the Chai Latte is Oprah’s first signature hot beverage, her history with food is well-documented. Like many of us, Oprah loves food, tussles with food, gets annoyed with food. Every year since 2002, she has highlighted foods in her annual Favorite Things round-up. Nearly as often, she has documented her struggles to coexist with food in a way that does not make her feel awful.
The result is a massive spiderweb amount of Oprah-related food data-points spanning every inch of the healthy/unhealthy spectrum. This week, I will try to connect them.
Her normal diet follows a few ground rules, including:
-No fruit juice.
-Not too many carbs.
-Some form of exercise every day.
-Always a mid-morning snack.
Several of these rules conflict with the Favorite Things, and even with Oprah’s own habits (she likes to snack on iced tea and chocolate, for example—both caffeinated). But I will try my hardest to limit conflicts and answer the question at hand: will Oprah’s Favorite Things™ also be Molly’s Favorite Things™? Here, the results of my Oprah Cleanse:
I start the day with a quick refresher on Oprah’s Vegan Cleanse, which chronicles her efforts to eat more consciously. On Day 6 of the diary, Oprah is offered a plate of homemade brownies with marshmallow filling baked by Tom Cruise’s mother. She politely declines the brownies, later admitting that, "I feel like I let Tom's mom down, but I explained that I had agreed to do this cleanse for 21 days." Until now, I’d always assumed that it’s easier for celebrities to stay thin than it is for civilians, because celebrities have every resource in the world: personal chefs, private gyms, and—as a motivating factor—access to sample-sized clothing. But Oprah’s diary reveals an opposing force, which is that celebrities are faced with once-in-a-lifetime food opportunities on a daily basis. Three days after the Tom Cruise brownie incident, Donald Trump mailed Oprah 12 key-lime pies from Florida—which she thoughtfully donated instead of eating. Being famous means being confronted every day with food opportunities that a normie like you or I could never turn down. Oprah’s willpower must be a well-exercised muscle.
Breakfast: I go to Starbucks and get in line for my first Venti Oprah Chai Latte.
“Have a lot of people been ordering this?" I ask the girl at the register.
“Mostly people who are really into Oprah,” she says. “It’s better than the regular chai, though.”
I sip. The latte is frothy and mild, tasting of cinnamon syrup with a faint backdrop of cardamom. Delicious today, but I can already tell it will be hard to drink 20 ounces worth.
Second breakfast: For a solid course, I prepare a small bowl of oatmeal with fruit and gluten-free granola.
Snack: Yogurt with berries and a decaf coffee.
Lunch: Quinoa salad with vegetables from Whole Foods. Must say, I’m not a huge quinoa fan. There are so many alternatives with better flavor: farro, teff, pearl barley, and the Jewish woman’s fallback, kasha. Quinoa is tolerable, but I prefer the nutty end of the flavor spectrum to the grassy end. Not very hungry.
Dinner: My appetite is back and I decide to cook Oprah’s Favorite chicken pot pie! Lacey at ITG was on the fence about letting me take this home earlier today, since it had been sitting in the office fridge for several days instead of being properly frozen. “It looks like there’s some puddles of chicken juice in there,” Lacey had said, poking the plastic. I told her it would be fine, I’ve gotten food poisoning before. ITG readers need me to be brave.
At home I drain off the chicken juice and put the pie in the oven for 90 minutes at 350º. It oozes out of the pie tin and fills the air with buttery steam, which is intriguing because the pie does not contain butter. (Just corn oil, cottonseed oil, and partially hydrogenated soybean and palm oils.)
This is the first sign that Oprah has fucked up.
There are three ways to make a pie crust: with butter, with lard, or with virgin coconut oil (if you’re vegan). Vegetable shortening may be added, but you need at least some butter/lard/coconut oil to make a crust that is flavorful and flaky. A menagerie of B-list oils is not something you want to see on a pie ingredient label. I’m also not sure why “Gluten” is listed as an independent ingredient. Not jazzed to see sugar and maltodextrin in there, either.
By the time the crust is browned, my kitchen smells like a Cup O'Noodles and I feel sad about what I am about to do to my body—not only putting a bad thing in it, but the fact that Oprah wants me to do it. I let the pie cool and scoop out a drippy portion. The crust tastes like Ritz crackers and the chicken is tender. I like chicken that pushes back a little, but this will do.
Bonus: I do not get food poisoning.
Dessert: One Slim-Fast Optima French Vanilla drink. Tastes like barium sulfate (the stuff doctors give you before having a GI x-ray) and has 18 grams of sugar in a serving, which is more than a package of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
I feel: Fine so far.
Quick observation: half of the foods Oprah recommends seem like diet food and the other half like foods engineered for bingeing. Has anyone ever consumed a tube of cookie dough responsibly? Every time I open the fridge and see my two tubes of Oprah-endorsed Sprinkles cookie dough, I wonder if today will be the day I eat 90% of it and feel sick.
Breakfast: I open a jar of Loveless Cafe Peach Preserves and take a little bite—it’s far too sweet, even for jam. The label lists just two ingredients: peaches and sugar. So there’s your problem: it’s always important to have lemon juice (or some other acid) in a jam to cut the sweetness. I empty a few spoonfuls into a thing of Greek yogurt, which palliates the sugariness. The peaches are chunky. Love a chunky preserve.
I throw out the rest of the chicken pot pie.
Snack: Oprah Chai Latte. This time I get a tall with soy milk instead of a venti with whole milk. It comes pre-sweetened with 23 grams of sugar, which is the same amount as a serving of Ben & Jerry’s Mud Pie ice cream. Just saying.
Lunch: Three cups mixed-lettuce salad topped with grilled shrimp, beets, corn, and tomato. Oprah likes roasted red pepper as well, but Chop’t doesn’t have it, so I go without. Normally I get their Smoky Bacon Russian Dressing because it has chunks of actual bacon, but today I get an Oprah-style vinaigrette. The salad is bland.
Snack: I have one pear and one ounce of cheese. Later, one ounce of dark chocolate.
Dinner: Oprah is a fan of gluten-free waffles for breakfast, but I subvert expectations and make them for dinner instead! They are ugly but satisfying.
After dinner I decide to bake Oprah’s Favorite peanut butter pretzel chip cookies. These come in the form of frozen lumps of dough stacked in a cute can. The can says to bake them four inches apart, which means you can only fit three cookies on a sheet at one time. I am unable to hand-flatten the dough as recommended because they keep cracking, but they bake up nicely in their native ball shape.
A single tube includes six cookies and costs $28 with tax and shipping, so you’re definitely getting smoked for what amounts to $4 worth of chocolate chips, peanut butter, pretzels, salt, flour, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, baking powder, baking soda and salt. (If you tinker with that list of ingredients, you can replicate these cookies at home.)
However, if money is no object, order the fucking cookies! They pass Molly’s Ultimate Cookie Test, which means they taste as good as they smell (cookies rarely do), full of butterscotch and bourbon notes. I eat two raw after the waffles, bake ten, and then eat two more. If I were a member of the 1%, I’d keep my freezer stocked at all times with tubes to bake and bring to dinner parties and lie about making from scratch.
There is no nutrition info on the cookies but a loose calculation of ingredients reveals that I’ve eaten almost 100% of Oprah’s 1,700-calorie dietary allowance in cookies alone.
I feel: Sugar-saturated.
Wake up queasy.
Breakfast: Oprah Chai Latte and 2-3 tbsp cashews. (“A small handful” in Oprah’s words, but for that to make sense you’d need really freaking tiny hands.) I feel so nauseous from last night I take a 10-minute nap at my desk.
Midmorning, I drink eight ounces of water flavored with half a lemon and prepare a bowl of Simply Fiber cereal with almond milk and banana coins. Oprah is said to be "a real fiber champion." I also have half a leftover cookie. The sugar has a hair-of-the-dog effect and perks me up.
Lunch: One cup wild rice with two cups broccoli, cauliflower, and red peppers sautéed in two tsp olive oil (with a tiny bit of soy sauce). This is something I’d normally eat and it fills me up.
Snack: One ounce of dark chocolate and a decaf coffee. “You seem like you’re in a bad mood,” said a coworker. I think I am sugar-crashing. Later I go out and get a yogurt with berries, an unsweetened iced tea and a decaf coffee.
Dinner: Loveless Cafe Applewood Smoked Bacon and a bag of sautéed spinach with Urbani white truffle butter. The bacon is unreal. The butter melts in streamlets and emits puffs of truffle-scented steam. This feels like something Oprah would actually eat: equal parts abstemiousness (spinach) and luxury (truffle butter). I am googly-eyed with lust.
After the spinach I eat some truffle butter straight from the carton, using a baby spoon, like a monster. I limit myself to 1/6th of the container and am pleased with my sensible portioning (it's a tiny container). Offer some to the cat, but she declines.
For dessert I eat two leftover cookies and chamomile tea.
I feel: Nauseous again. This diet has a lot of sugar in it.
Today I’m heading down to Washington D.C. for a conference and taking the Oprah diet with me. Her regime is actually precision-designed to work well on the road, since it consists mainly of items that can be purchased anywhere: Yoplait, oatmeal, watermelon balls, chicken breasts.
Breakfast: I get an Oprah Chai Latte in midtown but can’t finish and dispose of it before getting on the train.
Lunch: I buy a turkey sandwich in the train's cafe car. Oprah makes her turkey sandwiches with Ezekiel 4:9 Organic Sprouted Whole Grain Bread and a thin slice of pepperjack cheese, but this isn’t too far off: the Amtrak bread is multigrain and it contains only a small amount of Swiss cheese. As you can see, I did a bad thing and bought a Snickers, too. This is the only time I have cheated on the diet so far. Nothing is easy.
Snack: Mixed grilled vegetables from the supermarket buffet.
Dinner: One of Oprah’s favorite vegan meals is a "large baked potato with sautéed onions, herbs and olive oil” with "fresh green salad with avocado and tomato, lemon, garlic and olive oil.” By the time I get to D.C., it is 10 pm and nothing is open except pizza and room service. I am able to approximate Oprah’s meal by ordering an iceberg lettuce salad and a baked potato off the room service menu. I drizzle some vinaigrette on the potato. A basket of dinner rolls is included, but I fondle one and it is ice-cold, so I stick to the diet. If the rolls had been warm I probably would have eaten one or several.
Forgot to take pictures.
I feel: hungry.
Breakfast: Oprah Chai Latte from the Starbucks conveniently located 100 feet from my hotel. Coffee is provided at the conference and I don’t want it to seem like I’ve snubbed free conference coffee in favor of $4 Starbucks coffee, so I conceal my drink by pouring it into a generic cup. I take it with me to a panel and drain it distractedly. So far I’ve spent about $20 on these things. For a second course, I get oatmeal and fruit in the lobby.
Lunch: As soon as the train gets in to Penn Station, I order a turkey burger off Seamless and it arrives at my apartment five minutes after I do. Nailed it! The burger comes with a small salad. I spread truffle butter on the bun.
Snack: Chamomile tea and a few spoonfuls of Oprah’s favorite strawberry jam. Wonderful combo! It makes me start brainstorming dessert ideas for when the diet ends: chamomile poundcake with strawberry compote? Chamomile-strawberry ice cream? That could be good.
Dinner: Pasta with mixed veggies sautéed in olive oil. Oprah says to add lots of black pepper and the juice of one lemon, so I do. Also a dollop of truffle butter. Close to the finish line, I notice a pool of oil at the bottom of the takeout container, which suggests that the pasta contained more than Oprah’s recommended 2 tsp. The frustrating thing with pasta is that it physically inhabits my stomach without ever satisfying me, so I am still peckish...
Speaking of which, I’m planning to revert to my normal eating habits tomorrow. My hacked Oprah diet has been a roller coaster ride of extremely low-calorie meals and startlingly high-calorie meals. I haven’t eaten a medium-calorie meal in days! And I’m weary of taking food photos.
At the end of the day, I don't see any inherent conflict between Oprah’s rigidly healthy diet and her gut-bustingly indulgent “Favorite Things.” Vegetables and wild rice are the staples in this lifestyle; billion-calorie cookies are the seasoning. The real trouble is that it's very, very hard to consume billion-calorie cookies in moderation. I will never want a pinch of cookie dough. I will always want a truckload!
(But that’s not Oprah’s problem. It’s mine.)