On February 1st, presidential candidate Cory Booker made his first media appearance on The View. At one point, host Meghan McCain raised the subject of Booker’s veganism. The brief exchange that ensued was as significant for what was said as what was left unsaid. Let’s unpack this.
McCain introduced the subject by asking Booker to confirm that he was vegan and then asked coyly, “what does a vegan eat at the Iowa State Fair?” The interesting thing is that she felt the need to prepare him for the question by prefacing it with, “bear with me on this question!” No doubt she thought this was a clever way to catch him off guard, yet the question itself is just a distraction. I mean, how much time does any presidential hopeful campaign at the Iowa State Fair, right? Sure, Iowa is a pivotal swing state, and a successful candidate will need to relate to middle American values. But her question suggests that people in a state whose economy relies so heavily on animal exploitation will reject him just for being vegan.
Perhaps the question McCain was really asking is how do you as a vegan relate to those Americans who raise, kill and eat animals as a way of life? This predictable strategy is to put the vegan in the hot seat — in the position to have to explain why he or she is different — rather than where the attention might better be focused: on those who continue to exploit or support animal exploitation in an age when we have a choice not to do it. The question that really begs an answer is why people like Meghan McCain continue to support an industry that does things to animals she would never be able to do.
It is important to recognize the position of privilege from which McCain questions Booker’s veganism. After all, she is a woman who comes from the billionaire elite class who can have anything she wants. Her suggestion that veganism might be too elitist for everyday Americans shows how deeply out of touch she is with the reality that the world’s poor have essentially survived on rice, beans and vegetables for centuries.
But even more important is Booker’s response which pivots to talking about his family and their great cooking, while avoiding the core issue of veganism as an intersectional social justice matter inextricably connected to all human rights and environmental and climate justice. Either Booker doesn’t recognize the deeper moral questions veganism raises or he feels that the American public is not ready for that message. It’s not what he said about it, but the absence of what he said about it that matters here.
Whether or to what extent vegans vote for Booker as “single issue voters,” having even one one presidential candidate who is openly vegan will be celebrated as progress in most of the vegan community. The question still remains when Americans and the politicians who represent them will have an honest discussion about veganism beyond just talking diet. When that day comes, we will have reason to celebrate!