A German politician got a taste for the backlash that can come from getting close to the vegetarian movement, especially as environmental factors make the choice even more loaded than at its birth in the animal rights movement.
PARIS — Eating meat-free can sometimes come with consequences. Just ask German center-right politician Silke Gorissen, who has been in full damage-control mode since participating at a seemingly ordinary vegan-vegetarian awareness event last month at the University of Bonn.
Gorissen, who serves as the Minister of Agriculture for North Rhine-Westphalia state, made the usual rounds at the veggie event, offering typical politician praise for the local fruit and vegetable products. And then she tasted the vegan cannelloni…
Indeed, it was the Minister’s public praise for the meatless take on the classic Italian stuffed pasta recipe (traditionally served with ground beef or pork) that set off an uproar — a reminder that the debate over vegetarian diets can still be explosive.
German daily Die Welt reported that rumors followed the University event that the government was about to declare a meat-free month for the state — rather than just the student dining hall. In the heartland of German pig farming, it makes sense that the local farmers oppose anti-meat initiatives that could affect their livelihoods.
Still, there is something about vegetarianism that goes beyond simple economics.
As a representative of the center-right Christian Democratic Union, Gorissen has a long track record of defending meat farmers. Yet, the worry was such that she felt that she had to clarify that her enjoyment of the plant-based cannelloni was not changing her opinions.
She came out with a written statement to reassure the public with details of her dining habits. “I am a person that regularly eats meat,” she said. She also confirmed that there would be no state wide restriction of meat eating, saying “each person should decide for themselves if they want to be meat-free.”
People also continue to oppose veganism in the name of tradition.
Yes, 60 or so years after vegetarianism first came into vogue, mostly as a way to protect the lives of animals, it still causes a stir. Recent international polls show that around 8% of people are vegetarian, whether that be for their health, for animal or environmental rights, or even just for taste. Veganism — which alongside meat also excludes all animal products including dairy, eggs and honey — is the fastest-growing movement, with a recent estimate of 79 million vegans around the world.
If vegetarianism and veganism have become a part of being environmentally and socially conscious, then "meat is part of my diet" is a political statement that goes far beyond animal rights.
It can even enter into policy making. The German Green Party had previously proposed a meat-free day every week and campaigned for a veggie-day in public canteens. This came after they denounced the environmental damage inflicted by the meat industry, which produces large amounts of greenhouse gasses.
But people also continue to oppose veganism in the name of tradition and culture. Labeling something a burger when it does not contain meat has been hotly debated, and many traditional cuisines cannot exist if meat is removed.
German center-right politician Silke Gorissen (left) having lunch outside. Where's the beef?
Politics of barbecue
In France, Green party politician Sandrine Rousseau made a comment last summer about meat and manhood that ignited weeks of headlines. “We need to change the mindset that eating ribs on a barbecue is no longer a symbol of masculinity” she said.
Her opponents on the political right called Rousseau delusional and accused her of “attacking men.” On the left, as Paris-based Le Figaro reported, Communist party leader Fabien Roussel criticized her for missing the more salient economic point: Eating meat is “about what is in your wallet, not what is in your trousers.”
A chef cutting bread in the veggie café Opium Paris.
NYC’s Eric Adams v. Everyone
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has also received his fair share of insults for being vegan. The black, former police officer made the decision to go green in 2015 to help control his diabetes.
Even vegans took a swing, accusing Adams of not going far enough in promoting his diet, for being “all flash and no bang.”
The numbers of vegans and vegetarians continues to grow no matter what the motivation: dietary, environmental, political. And even if meat-eaters are still the majority, it seems reasonable that any kind of cannelloni is worth a taste.