By now, Democratic mayoral candidate Eric Adams’s position on the benefits of a plant-based diet is as well known as his stance on crime — perhaps more so, considering he has yet to write a book on keeping the peace. In Healthy at Last, the Brooklyn borough president describes his dietary conversion to veganism after diabetic symptoms scared him straight five years ago. Since then, he has proselytized for farmers’ markets in food deserts, banished bologna from school lunches, and restocked the vending machines of Brooklyn Borough Hall with nuts and protein bars, presumably to the dismay of his colleagues. If elected mayor this fall, will he try to veganize New York?
You’ve said that changing to a vegan diet saved your life. Would you advise that everyone make such a drastic change, even if they’re not in poor health?
Yes. But I always emphasize that mine was a plant-based change. Sometimes it’s misleading if we just say vegan because Oreo cookies are vegan.
Do you follow a plant-based diet strictly for health, or do animal-welfare and environmental considerations factor in?
I think it’s all connected. One of the big mistakes is that we believe there’s a disconnect when you look at what’s happening with the ozone layer and you look at what’s happening with climate change, what’s happening in the Amazon. It’s imperative to see that a plant-based diet is not only going to save our mothers and fathers but it’s also going to save Mother Earth.
Many vegans seem content to subsist on highly processed facsimiles of fast food. Is vegan fast food better than non-vegan fast food?
The closer to the original form, the less processing, the better. I read the packaging of some of the so-called vegan options and I cringe. You need to read the labels.
Many people think eating animal products like grass-fed beef and pastured eggs in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Agree or disagree?
Based on everything I’ve read, there are no health benefits to balanced moderation. You don’t want diabetes in moderation; you don’t want heart disease in moderation.
Bloomberg was only trying to take away jumbo sodas, and people freaked out. Are you going after their burgers and fries?
No, I don’t believe that the government should tell you what you can have on your grill in your backyard on Saturday. What government should do is not feed the crises. So we can’t have a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene fighting childhood obesity, diabetes, and asthma and a Department of Education preparing 960,000 meals a day that cause childhood obesity, diabetes, and asthma. So what you do with your dollar is up to you. But on taxpayers’ dollars, we should not be feeding a health-care crisis.
You’ve criticized the ubiquity of fast food restaurants in low-income areas, but often these businesses offer economic opportunities for local franchisees and community businesspeople. How do you reconcile those contradictions?
You can have fast healthy food. By subsidizing fast healthy food, it is cheaper in the long run than the instant gratification that comes with picking up an overprocessed hamburger. If we subsidize the change of fast healthy food, we’re going to be encouraging employment, business entrepreneurship, and people to eat a more healthy diet.
Don’t we have that now? Don’t we have fast-healthy-food chains?
Yes, and we want to see them expand and grow. There hasn’t been any real support on the governmental level. I was just at the Javits Center today; they built a greenhouse and a farm, and they’re going to serve the food. We can build greenhouses and rooftop gardens on our school buildings and serve the food in the cafeteria. We just need to change how we think about food. We’re not thinking about connecting food, economics, and upward mobility.
It sounds like your ideas have a lot in common with Alice Waters’s Edible Schoolyard. Are you familiar with that program?
Yep. I love it. I love it very much. I remember we did a project with a child at a vertical farm and a young man in high school said, “This is the first salad I have ever eaten and I love this.”
You’re not the first to tackle school lunch. Why do you think you could make a difference?
I don’t think it’s me as much as where people are right now. Young people are really engaged in having a holistic approach to changing the environment, and I want to tap into that energy and spirit. I want to tap into the Black Lives Matter movement and say if Black lives matter, then we can’t have our parents sit in hospitals and our children dying at an early age. We should play a role in building out sustainable, affordable food sources.
Let’s go to the lightning round. What did you have for dinner last night?
Some noodles made out of lentils with kale, mushrooms, and black beans mixed together with a flaxseed sort of sauce that I make.
Impossible or Beyond burger?
Favorite vegan restaurants?
Not all my favorite restaurants are vegan or plant-based. I can find a plant-based meal in every restaurant I go to. I may like the ambience, the people, the service. I don’t limit myself.
Is that hard to do?
Nope, not at all. Just go to the appetizers or the sides. Or look at the steak. Does it come with broccoli? Then I know they have broccoli. Is there cauliflower in another meal? Then I know they have cauliflower. So I just say, “Put this together for me.”
Do you make other special requests, like hold the salt?
Yes. I think the hardest thing for chefs to do is when you tell them you want no oil. But once you go a couple of times, they know already. The waiter will say, “Okay, we know, no oil.”
My three-ingredient ice cream: freshly made peanut butter, frozen banana, and cacao powder, and sometimes I’ll throw in some fruits and some nuts.
What food do you miss most?
Fried chicken. I learned how to hot-air-fry cauliflower in a nice batter, and it really compensates.
What would you have for your last meal, and would it be vegan?
Yes, it would, and it would probably be my three-ingredient ice cream.
That’s it? Just the ice cream? Would you at least eat a gallon of the stuff?
No. It’s very filling.