We already know Chelsea Clinton’s vegan, but the big news this election cycle is that her dad Bill dropped 24 pounds “on essentially a plant-based diet,” as the former Commander-In-Chief told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. And yet, despite the corpulence-inducing caloric content of meat, dairy, and eggs, the rest of our elected officials continue to eat animal products. OK, not all of them: there are veg leaders at the national, state, and local level making their mark in US politics today. Here are brief profiles of these modern leaders, and a look at how they’ve helped move the veg cause forward.
Dennis J. Kucinich—US Congressman (Ohio, 10th District)
Of the 535 members of Congress, Cleveland native Dennis Kucinich is the only vegan, and, during his seven terms in the US House of Representatives (and 15 years as a vegan), he has introduced or co-sponsored virtually every animal protection bill on the legislative docket since 1997. Notably, he was the only member of Congress to vote against the unconstitutional Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and, as Chair of the Government Reform Committee’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee, Kucinich oversees major government agencies like the FDA and the Department of Agriculture. His tireless advocacy for animals makes Kucinich their most outspoken legislative champion on Capitol Hill.
Betty Sutton—US Congresswoman (Ohio, 13th District)
Kucinich and his congressional colleague in Ohio, Betty Sutton, have at least two things in common: they are the only two herbivores on the Hill, and both are members of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, a bipartisan House organization dedicated to sponsoring and enacting animal protection legislation. A practicing vegetarian since the late 1990s, Sutton is an ardent animal advocate both at home in Akron (with her two rescued dogs, Cody and Bear) and in Washington, DC. Since being elected in 2006, Sutton has introduced bills to strengthen dog fighting laws and prohibit the slaughter of wild horses, and co-sponsored numerous other animal welfare measures, such as bills to exclude downed cows from being killed for food, ensure accurate labeling of fur products, and reinstate the ban on violent crush videos.
Jamie Raskin—Maryland State Senator (20th District)
In April 2009, State Senator Jamie Raskin pledged to go meatless for Takoma Park’s first-ever Try Veg Week—and he’s remained an enthusiastic vegetarian ever since. Always seeking ways to effectively promote environmentalism in his district, Raskin saw this dietary experiment as a way of encouraging constituents to go green through sustainable eating. Asked by VegNews what convinced him to stick with vegetarianism over the long haul, Raskin replied that it made him feel better both physically and ecologically because “I’ve seen what the poultry industry has done to Chesapeake Bay, and I’m glad I’m not to be implicated personally in the continuing contamination of our most precious estuary by virtue of eating chicken nuggets every day.” Raskin now hopes national politicians will someday pass a resolution promoting Try Veg Week for the entire country.
Jim Beall, Jr.—California Assemblyman (24th District)
A former star tackle on his high school football team, Jim Beall may look like he routinely scarfs down steaks at every meal, but no—he’s been meatless since 1993. In fact, this San Jose Democrat with high ratings from PawPac and other animal lobby groups told me he’s “morally, philosophically, and spiritually a vegetarian because (he doesn’t) want to harm other sentient beings.” One of Beall’s many political interests is food policy issues, and as Chair of the Committee on Human Services, he’s committed to enhancing low-income residents’ access to fresh fruits and vegetables. For instance, Beall has been instrumental in ensuring that people on government assistance can use food credits at farmers’ markets (with a 30-percent discount incentive), and was honored last year by the Stampy Awards for streamlining the application process to state-supported food programs.
Sophie Maxwell—San Francisco Supervisor (10th District)
In April 2010, San Francisco, California became the nation’s first major metropolis to adopt a Meat-Free Mondays resolution that encourages grocery stores and schools to offer more plant-based options. Spearheading this innovative initiative was Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, a vegetarian for 40 years who has also helped the school district combat juvenile obesity and supported programs aimed at increasing healthy plant-based eating among communities of color. She also offers other progressive proposals for promoting locally-grown produce in the Bay Area, like transforming city-owned land into community gardens. “As a vegetarian, I am acutely sensitive to the negative impacts our society’s eating habits have on health, the environment and farm animals,” she told me. “And as a public official, I want people to know that they can feel better, conserve natural resources, and reduce animal suffering by eating less meat.”
Last but not least: You!
To paraphrase President Lincoln (from the Gettysburg Address), the cornerstone of our democracy is government of, by, and for the people. This means we citizens not only get to choose our own leaders by voting, but also run for public office if we so desire. It’s therefore up to us to get more of our number elected, and one way to increase the chances of that happening is by hitting the campaign trail ourselves. So if you’re an ambitious, civic-minded vegetarian or vegan with the hunger to run for office, win an electoral race, and create public policy, then go for it.