I have been trying not to focus on the upcoming 2020 Presidential elections, but I was motivated to write this post by an interview I heard of candidate and Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) on the beloved NPR Politics Podcast. One of the questions asked to him was to share a fact about him that the public might not know. When I heard this question, I thought to myself “This is your chance, Senator, mention veganism!”, but alas, he just gave the typical roundabout answer about how politicians should be vulnerable and personal in their approach to politics. His half-answer got me thinking a lot about the question of how vegan-centric his candidacy should be. It’s a question that’s been swirling in my head since his announcement, but his half-answer gave me some indication about what the real answer might be: the campaign would not be very vegan-centric.
He also had another chance to mention veganism when he was talking about the threats of climate change, but he didn’t do it. In political terms, I understand why he won’t talk about veganism. It’s a philosophy and lifestyle that is very comprehensive and radical, it is connected with so many facets of humanity from ethics to sustainability, psychology, science, philosophy, and of course, to politics. If he were to mention veganism, even briefly, it would cause a torrent of media coverage, probably most of which would be negative and unwanted for political reasons. However, I think there’s a decently strong argument to make that despite the political vulnerabilities, there may be an opportunity to promote veganism and start a needed discussion about what to do about climate change. I want to explore that in this article. I also want to discuss some of the electoral implications of Sen. Booker’s candidacy. In an age of identity politics, this is important and relevant to think about as we move into another obnoxious election season!
The argument for why Sen. Booker should’ve discussed veganism in the two opportunities he had goes like this. For one thing, veganism is one of the most important and undiscussed subjects as a solution to the problems of climate change, deforestation, abuse of antibiotics, and a myriad of other serious issues. There are also a lot of public policy prescriptions that can result from a vegan mindset to change. In an age where we want to call out and address problems and speak truth to power, the animal agriculture industry should be a major target of focus. The direness of these problems and the power of a vegan life requires that someone step up and do something, it transcends personal choice, animal rights, etc. No one would be better suited to do this then Sen. Booker, a popular, accomplished, and authentic leader in the Senate. There may be some negative rumblings at first, but it’s a necessary step to moving towards normalizing veganism. His bravery in mentioning veganism would represent his leadership beyond simple partisan bounds, not to mention it would give exposure to an incredibly important and ethical lifestyle choice. Now more than ever, we need someone with the courage and leadership to speak about as crucial, positive, and beneficial as veganism. It would elevate this cause to the level it deserves.
Moreover, talking about veganism in the context of climate change has added benefits. It connects veganism with climate change which is certainly one of the most severe threats humanity is facing, if not the most. This would give credence to veganism, which is positive, but it also adds to the discussion about climate change, too. Since I’ve went vegan, I have felt like many of the discussions about the problems of climate change and the evil industries became incomplete. There has recently become a larger conversation about carbon-oriented policies like carbon taxes, carbon capture, Pigouvian-style taxes, etc., but it seems to get stuck at this part and go no further. Before this was part of the general discourse, there were just a lot of platitudes about how the government needs to do something to stop emissions, which just goes to show how we’re a few steps behind the severity of the issue. By connecting veganism with the problems of climate change, it expands the discussion about what to do to new levels. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of public policy prescriptions that result from a vegan mindset to change. Veganism is a choice many (if not most) of us can make to disavow and take away support from the animal agriculture industry. But it also has implications for what the government can do to promote veganism and ultimately mitigate the hazards we face. Feelings about vegans aside, this is just a reasonable evolution of the needed discussion about how to address and mitigate climate change. The situation calls out for someone to start that process, and again, there couldn’t be anyone better than Booker.
Now, let’s imagine he comes out at the “Vegan President” and makes veganism part of his campaign or rhetoric. What does this mean electorally? For example, should vegans vote for him? Is single-issue voting a worthwhile approach? How will such a platform fit into today’s political environment?
As for the question if vegans should vote for Booker just because he’s vegan, I don’t think so. Vegans, like all voters, are individuals with a varying of perspectives and preferences, and the presidency is a complicate choice with a lot of considerations, so I don’t think it’s appropriate put them in a position where they vote against their individual interests, irrespective of their vegan beliefs. I don’t think single-issue voting is worthwhile, especially by a cohort with such a negative stigma of being a monolith. We should be able to vote for whom we prefer based on our whole senses of judgment, not just our vegan lenses. And besides, it might be difficult for a libertarian-oriented vegan, for example, to support a Booker presidency because he or she might not support how Booker would use government and public policy to promote veganism. Those political and partisan difference matter greatly.
The question of how veganism would fit into today’s political environment is interesting. The simple answer is that it would fit like a square into a round hole, but if you push hard enough, it would eventually go in. There’s already enough division and contempt permeated throughout our society, veganism is a subject with so much baggage that it would also be subsumed by that muck. Given this, however, there’s another question of the controversy and consternation being worth it in the end. It’s a needed conversation about a threat that we need to do something about, so there is arguably some need to have the political and personal courage to discuss and advocate for veganism not just as a choice but as a credible, beneficial, and accessible solution to address major problems in the world.
I tend to feel like we talk a lot about how we need to talk about some grave matter, but we don’t get to the point of actually talking about it. This needs to change and I believe that despite the initial negative backlash, making veganism an explicit and public part of the campaign would be a new positive. It might not be wise in political terms, but there has to come a point where we have enough passion for the cause to say something anyway. Our world is at stake, not just campaigns.