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The Conservative Case for Supporting Vegansim

Wait, wut?

Yes, conservatives should support veganism, even if vegan activists might drive us crazy.

Should you go vegan?

I don’t care. Well, I do. But, that’s not the point of this post. Nor is the point using this space to influence anyone’s personal choices. The point is conservatives would be wise to be more open to vegans and other supporters of plant-based eating, and not for anything related to anyone’s own lifestyle choices.

Erick recently posted about an interview with Cory Booker.  Erick’s critique is Booker’s remarks imply he wants to change government policy to eliminate large farms and that would have (negative) consequences. Maybe Booker was expressing a policy view, maybe he was expressing a personal preference. I wasn’t clear based on the interview transcript, but that’s Booker’s issue to express and defend his views. I think the more important quote from Booker is:

None of us want our government or elected officials preaching to us and telling us what we can or can’t eat. This is the United States of America, and I, for one, believe in our freedom to choose. So, I don’t want to preach to anybody about their diets.

Yes, it’s easy to conjure up a stereotype of someone eating a plant-based diet, aka a vegan. Especially a fur-hating, paint-splashing, PETA activist who curses you out for wearing leather and eating bacon. Those clowns represent vegans about as well as Westboro Baptist Church represents Christians. Yet, some people can find vegans weird and tend to react viscerally. I’m conservative and vegan (yes, they exist). I know, because I see it regularly.

So, set aside the stereotype for a minute, consider that Booker quote about freedom to choose, and explore these points where plant-based eating aligns with conservatism:

The market decides

If someone hopped in their DeLorean to pull a Michael J. Fox from 10 years ago one of the things that would likely surprise (among many) is changes to the dairy aisle in the local grocery store. Traditional dairy products are on the decline while demand for non-dairy alternatives has soared.

So, you might say, using almond milk and a non-dairy butter spread doesn’t make me or anyone else a vegan. No, it doesn’t. The point isn’t the prevalence of self-described vegans, or vegetarians, it’s the growth of consumer demand for plant-based alternatives to parts of the stereotypical American diet. Speaking of letting the market decide…

Government subsidies are bad

Specifically farm subsidies. This is a standard conservative position, unless you’re a Republican representing an ag-heavy district or state. Indeed, subsidies are based on long-term victories of special interests rather than need:

[A] massive share of farm subsidies go, rather, to animal-based agribusinesses — to the meat, dairy, and egg industries — in the form of aid to growers of corn and soy, the two biggest components of animal feed for industrial farms.

Even more compelling when talking about who receives subsidies, it’s not the quaint small farmer many Americans envision. It’s big business:

[C]ommercial farms, which include the largest family farms, accounted for just 10.1 percent of all farms, yet received 73 percent of commodity payments and 83 percent of crop insurance indemnities.

Put succinctly, “[s]ubsidies discourage farmers from innovating, cutting costs, diversifying their land use, and taking other actions needed to prosper in the competitive economy.”

You know who will ally with conservatives to get rid of useless, expensive subsidies that harm taxpayers…benefiting large corporate producers of meat, dairy, and eggs? Vegans.

Over-regulation is dumb

Entrenched special interests have other ways of using government to their advantage besides subsidies. Any student of basic political science and government knows this.

A popular, egg-free alternative to mayonnaise? We can’t have that said the FDA…at the behest of the egg industry.

Non-dairy milk alternatives? Well, gee consumers are total fucking morons, so use of the word “milk” on the label would be totally confusing to those rubes who no doubt expect their coconut milk to have come from a cow, says the FDA…at the behest of, guess who, the dairy industry.

Eventually, consumers and common sense tend to win these arguments, but not before the status quo uses the levers of government to protect itself from competition….excuse me, I meant protect “consumers.”

Whether one likes or enjoys the products in question, conservatives should oppose such bureaucratic idiocy.

Healthy, local communities matter

One of the more trenchant observations from an elected official in recent memory is Ben Sasse’s assessment of the decline of our civic communities, as he calls for revitalizing the health of said local communities. While Sasse isn’t specifically talking about physical health, the strength of local communities and physical health is also closely linked. See, for example, the work of Blue Zones to identify and support the elements of communities across the United States that promote longevity and happiness. We don’t tend to talk about the civic and physical health at the same time, but there is more correlation than we sometimes think.

One of the biggest obstacles to physically healthier communities today is the prevalence of often preventable chronic disease, such as heart disease and diabetes, that account for 75% of our nation’s health care costs.

For all the yammering in DC about health care policy, it’s largely about how people get coverage, or even sometimes the prices charged for care, but rarely about why people are ending up in our sick-care system to begin with. While eating more plant-based foods may not be for everyone, it’s pretty clear that for heart disease and diabetes in particular, a plant-based diet, or even sometimes substituting more plant-based foods into a traditional American diet, can significantly improve health.

Those choices may not be for everyone, but they’re choices that should be at minimum supported for others interested in their own health and that of their community…and over time would help reduce or control health care costs that are kicking the crap out of federal and state government budgets.

America is changing

Speaking of choices, any discussion of dietary choices and related beliefs are preferences in America, as the Cory Booker quote I highlighted affirms. Self-described vegans and vegetarians are not a large part of America but more Americans are embracing plant-based alternatives as part of their omnivore diet, including for reasons not directly related to health or ethics.

Is a plant-based diet going to take over America? Not likely. But America is becoming friendlier to plant-based options. Surveying the scene at many an urban/suburban restaurant scene shows a sea change in recent years. I currently find myself living in New Orleans, partaking of a vegan scene that includes a heavy dose of vegans in the black community (and some outstanding vegan takes on traditional southern and soul food dishes). Is crapping on that given the need to appeal to suburban and perhaps urban voters as well to regain and retain Congressional majorities a good idea?

Probably not.

You don’t have to be a vegan or vegetarian, but you can respect the choices of others, including respecting a market-based environment, to pursue a healthier lifestyle presuming your free to pursue your own. But we can welcome people we don’t agree with in full who might share views on some issues that align with ours…no matter what their personal lifestyle choices are compared to ours. And maybe some grace and empathy for the choices of others in good faith is a net positive in this era of clickbait, outrage, and tribalism.

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