Vegetarianism in Political Magazines

By Bobby Allyn

Vegetarianism and veganism often appear in the nation's leading newspapers. From pieces about the rise of vegan-friendly retailers to vegan firefighters in Austin, Texas, The New York Times' archives reveal many articles a year on plant-based diets. A LexisNexis search in all majors papers during a six-month period resulted in 760 hits for vegetarianism and veganism—most of which are recipes, restaurant reviews, and articles on veganism's growing pop culture allure. But how are vegetarianism and veganism covered in political magazines? Very scantly.

Over the past six years, the words vegan and vegetarian have been steadily increasing in number in all the major political magazines but never in the context of diet or lifestyle. For example, an article in The Weekly Standard quoted Mitt Romney as saying, Being a conservative Republican in Massachusetts is a bit like being a cattle rancher at a vegetarian convention. Or seen in a quote in the February 2007 edition of Mother Jones, There are people who are against birth control for religious reasons. Then there are the hippies and vegans who say no chemicals. But out of all the political magazines that I searched—left-, right-, and centrist-leaning—the only one to heed an article actually about vegetarianism or veganism was a conservative publication, The National Review.

In 2003, National Review editor Rich Lowry gave Jonah Goldberg an assignment: go on a vegan diet and write about it. Reluctant and apprehensive, Goldberg took Lowry up on the offer and wrote an article for the February 2003 edition called Soy Vey! Probably a lot of National Review readers were surprised when Goldberg found veganism less painful than he had expected. After a couple days of this regimen, I felt healthier. He also conceded that vegan alternatives can be tasty. Meatless Chik'n nuggets, truth be told, don't taste that bad. Nevertheless, Goldberg didn't hesitate to unleash his irrational, meat-addicted side by making analogous comparisons to cannibalism. If meat is murder, why hawk products that look like mutilated corpse… Imagine selling a faux human flesh… Wouldn't that be in poor taste? In the end, Goldberg resented Lowry for putting him on a vegan diet, but still, it was a clever experiment that proved to Goldberg and National Reviewreaders that a vegan diet can be delicious and actually make adherents feel healthier. Conclusions drawn from a more recent article in The Nation were not as positive.

In the February 2007 edition, Daniel Lazare reviewed Tristram Stuart's Bloodless Revolution: A Cultural History of Vegetarianism from 1600 to Modern Times in a piece titled My Beef with Vegetarianism. Unlike the National Review article that was an assignment specifically on veganism, Lazare decided to use the book review as a vehicle to vent his opposition to abstaining from meat. He claimed that nature is crueler than slaughterhouses and that vegetarianism is an ideology. He goes on to allege that vegetarianism has antihumanist and authoritarian elements. Being a reader of The Nation, I was shocked and annoyed by Lazare's article, but I wasn't the only one. Many online readers responded similarly, and some were vehemently outraged. Kaye Beiswanger of Minnesota said, As a vegetarian, I found this article so offensive that I canceled my subscription after being a loyal subscriber for years. And Patrick McKernan of Goffstown, New Hampshire, said, As I read the article, I kept hoping to find some indication that the author knew something, or had at least thought, about the matter at hand. Apparently not. It's unfortunate that the only article discussing vegetarianism in The Nation in the past 10 years has been one filled with misconceptions and gross overstatements.

As my LexisNexis searches and other research conclude, vegetarianism isn't covered in political magazines. And demonstrated by articles in The National Review and The Nation, political affiliation doesn't matter when it comes to ignorance about vegetarianism and veganism. Maybe it's good that political magazines don't tackle vegetarianism, keeping the practice and lifestyle a non-partisan issue. But I think it behooves political periodicals across the nation to cover an issue that has such widespread cultural, economic, and environmental impacts as vegetarianism, not as merely a brief aside to Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader.

Bobby Allyn wrote this article during his Eleanor Wolff Internship with The Vegetarian Resource Group.