With the rise and rise of veganism, you would expect the world to politics to sit up and take note at some point. Civileats asks the very interesting, and provocative question: “will 2020 mark the rise of a vegan voting bloc?”
Veganism has become a relevant issue in the US Democratic race to pick a presidential candidate for 2020. Two candidates in that race are themselves representatives of this new movement. Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey has been a vegan since 2014 after being vegetarian for some twenty years prior to that. Meanwhile Congressional Representative for Hawaii, Tulsi Gabbard is a vegetarian.
Undoubtedly had a presidential candidate been a vegan over a decade ago, it would have been considered slightly bizarre and would probably have been a handicap for the politician. But times are changing as Matthew Liebman, director of litigation for the Animal Legal Defense Fund noted.
“That a vegan diet has become a respectable topic is a sign for progress. Most people don’t think it’s something to be concerned about, that it doesn’t make a candidate ineligible to be president. I think 10, 12 years ago, it would have undercut their standing” said Liebman.
Senator Booker has at times played the fact that he is a vegan as an asset. He cited his diet during the October Democratic presidential debate, saying that it qualified him to declare President Trump “the most unhealthy person running for the presidency in 2020.” Some critics however considered his diet completely irrelevant, and not a topic to be discussed.
In the earlier September debate, the moderator asked him if all Americans should go vegan. He replied in the negative, thereby earning him the displeasure of some vegans.
Vegans and vegetarians only make up a small albeit growing percentage of the electorate, but the appeal of animal cruelty does go much wider than that. Witness the fact that the US Senate recently passed a bill making certain types of animal cruelty a federal crime.
The concern about climate change and the impact of animal agriculture and its attendant carbon footprint is widely shared by meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike. This was described by Diane May of Mercy for Animals as “a great gateway” to how these issues are not only about animals but also about people.
A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll found that only 12 per cent of voters said they would not consider voting for a vegan president, while 7 per cent said they are more likely to support a vegan candidate over an alternative. But most animal activist advocates stressed that candidates’ policies in terms of animal welfare legislation were what mattered most.
“What’s really important is what those candidates are going to do toward animal welfare legislation,” said May. “One thing we’d like to see is more government action on research and development for cell-based and plant-based meat. We’d like to see an increase of plant-based meals in public schools and candidates who are fighting back against the conditions animals raised for meat are living in. It really matters what candidates are going to do.”
Bernie Sanders who eats meat has, on the other hand, co-sponsored several pieces of animal rights legislation. He has condemned factory farms as being “responsible for 1.4 trillion pounds of animal waste in America. They are a threat to the water we drink and the air we breathe, and it is unbelievable to me that Republicans in Congress have been working overtime to exempt factory farms from environmental laws.”
There is even a Facebook page of over 1,700 people called Vegans For Bernie.
Another Democratic candidate Julian Castro released an animal welfare plan. It sought to strengthen the Endangered Species Act, reform factory farming and stop certain practices at animal shelters. Castro is a meat-eater, proving that an activist politician in this area does not have to be a vegan to care about animals.
A vegan voting caucus?
“I would love to see a vegan voting bloc that candidates are courting,” said Diane May. “It’s definitely something that could happen in the next couple of election cycles.”
As more people embrace veganism it is possible that they could be seen as more of a group to be won over by politicians, as say evangelical Christians are seen today.
Matthew Liebman points to the “dynamic of social change, and having it play out on the national stage during the presidential debates is progress.”
The vegan community is comprised of so many different types of people that right now it would be unlikely to unite behind one presidential candidate. But the moral compass of “non-harming” at its core the vegan voice could bring together disparate thinkers towards a more idealistic society.
Even if presidential candidates and federal politicians may not yet be embracing a vegan vision, the trend is coming from the bottom up. Cities and municipalities are showing themselves to be more activist on animal issues. New York has for example recently passed a ban on foie gras that will come into effect in 2022. San Francisco and Los Angeles have introduced similar bills.
New York’s ban came as part of a package of animal welfare bills and a recognition of “Meatless Mondays” in the city. These trends show that the well-being of animals is important to the mainstream.
There is so much change needed on so many issues: animal cruelty, cosmetic laboratory testing on animals, farming subsidies for factory farms, endangered species that need protection, the poisoning of the oceans, the hunting of trophy animals and so much more. If meat-eating politicians can bring their passion to make a difference then voters will not need to make that person’s individual’s choices a central issue.
Given how much our society loves to mock vegans, any high profile vegan politician with a strong moral compass will have to have pretty thick skin to ignore all the petty insults and name-calling that will inevitably come his or her way.