A Vegetarian in the Republican Caucus?
Amid the hubbub surrounding President Obama’s dinner with twelve influential Republican senators last week at the Jefferson Hotel, one detail stood out to me. According to the Washington Post’s Reliable Source column, one of the thirteen guests ordered a special vegetarian meal.
I ruled out Presiden Obama quickly. Such information would be difficult to hide from the public and would certainly be the subject of some right wing conspiracy theory (Obama is trying to bankrupt the meat industry!) or other. Plus, I found this 2011 Politico article asserting that he is no such thing.
Armed with the names of the twelve senators present at the dinner, I decided to embark on a wild goose chase to discover which one of them, if any, abstains from meat. Of course, it is possible that someone ordered the meal for another reason: perhaps he or she gave up meat for Lent. I hoped, however, to get a clear yes or no answer from the offices of all involved.
First up: John McCain. I let the phone to his office ring for two minutes: no person or answering machine picked up my call. No matter; the below photo of Senator McCain shoveling a hot dog into his mouth (although it’s from the 2008 campaign, so things could have changed) provides a pretty clear answer to the question.
I quickly learned that the low level staffers who are charged with answering office phones know little about their bosses’ eating habits. A staffer for Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told me she didn’t think he was, but, after inquiring with the others in the office, she couldn’t confirm it either way. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Mike Johanns of Nebraska are all definitively negative. A staffer for John Hoeven of North Dakota told me that he was “not aware of that,” but he refused to pursue the matter further.
The scheduler for Senator Ron Johnson (WI) said that “to the best of her knowledge,” Johnson is not a vegetarian and did not order the special meal last week. After multiple tries, I couldn’t get through to Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey’s office, but this PA Politics website claims he dined on steak Wednesday night.
The offices of Kelly Ayotte (NH), Dan Coats (IN), Saxby Chambliss (GA), and Lindsey Graham (SC) all said they would get back to me with more information, and I will update this post if and when I hear from them.
In the meantime, I wonder why this information is so difficult to track down. Might the Senator prefer to keep this private? Is vegetarianism somehow considered contrary to Republican “Real America” values, and more in line with Dennis Kucinich style liberalism? Recall the immediate outrage expressed after the USDA briefly endorsed Meatless Mondays, and the speed with which that organization retracted the endorsement. According to the New York Times, a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spokesman called the suggestion “a slap in the face of the people who every day are working to make sure we have food on the table to say ‘Don’t eat their product once a week.’” But is it really such heresy, in the midst of our obesity crisis, to suggest that Americans, and even Senators, think about reducing the amount of this caloric, cholesterol rich, environmentally problematic product they consume? It’s easy to be vegetarian and still support American agriculture and dairy. If that’s at odds with Republican values, I see this as an example of a purely contrarian policy position.
Update: Amy Argetsinger of the Reliable Source points out the meal could have been for one of the staffers present.