The Big Loser of Last Night’s Debate: Veganism

Years from now, all vegans will remember where we were the moment Jorge Ramos asked Senator Cory Booker about his diet during the ABC Democratic debate.

Setting Booker up for a thoughtful response about meat production and its catastrophic effects on the environment, Ramos reminded us how the Amazon rainforest is burning for beef. He then acknowledged that Booker is a vegan and asked if everyone should also follow his diet.

What followed next was a colossal disappointment.

Looking caught off guard, Booker responded: “First of all, I want to say ‘no.’ Actually, I want to translate that into Spanish, ‘no.’” The retort got a laugh from the audience and then Booker quickly pivoted, talking about another subject. I could almost hear the collective sigh of vegans across the country.

Here’s the thing: I like Cory Booker. I really do. While he’s been rightfully criticized for taking money from big pharma in the past, his voting record has otherwise been pretty impeccable – especially when it comes to animal initiatives. In fact, he’s one of the only Democratic candidates to have an animal welfare platform on his campaign website.

He’s also been very open in interviews regarding his ethical decision to be vegan. And while he’s said that he has no intention of preaching his dietary choices to the masses, he’s acknowledged that the current way Americans eat exacerbates the climate crisis, pollutes communities, and is just not sustainable.

So, what happened last night? In my opinion, Booker got scared.

The truth is that being authentic takes courage and vulnerability and that can be scary as fuck – especially when who you are and what you believe falls outside the mainstream.

Contrast this with Booker’s fellow contender Beto O’Rourke yesterday. After his hometown of El Paso suffered an unimaginable tragedy from gun violence, O’Rourke spoke truth to power last night about not just passing gun reform, but actually taking away people’s assault rifles. “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15,” he said without equivocation. That took guts. Everyone knows his is not a popular opinion, and it could absolutely hurt his campaign. But Beto was speaking his truth. This was him in a genuine authentic moment. Not everyone agrees with him, some people might even hate him for saying it – but I’ll be damned if they don’t respect him. And some people might even admire him for keeping it real.

Booker didn’t even have to go that far. He didn’t have to say: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your burgers.” He could’ve just used the moment to acknowledge Ramos’ point that meat production is destructive to the environment and that while he’d love if more people chose to eat vegan, we can all certainly consider reducing our meat consumption as a way to help stop the disastrous effects of climate change. Period. Full Stop.

Because whether people like it or not, animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of the climate crisis. That’s not Cory Booker’s truth, it’s just the truth.

Hopefully next time, the senator will remember that.