CORY BOOKER is known for blazing his own trail, jumping into the national spotlight as mayor of Newark, then winning a 2013 special election to become the first black U.S. senator from New Jersey.
Booker won a full term last month and, since that day, the vegetarian since 1992 has been conducting an "experiment" to eat strictly vegan for the rest of 2014.
After that, who knows? He could become the first vegan U.S. senator.
The day he tweeted his intentions was the same day that Center City vegan restaurant Vedge was named "Top Food" in Zagat's new Philadelphia Restaurant Survey. I tweeted that to Booker, which led to a Twitter conversation and the following phone chat (edited for space).
Q: So, have you encountered any interesting food situations since you've been eating vegan?
A: Thanksgiving was a big hurdle to get over. It's a holiday I thought of as macaroni and cheese, cornbread stuffing and the like. The fact that I was able to find such delicious, hearty vegan options that made me enjoy the holiday, I feel really happy about that.
The second thing is, there's a great vegan community out there - people who turn you on every day to a different food to try or places to go. In Washington, I tried the vegan gumbo at this one place, Eatonville, as an appetizer, and when all my friends were eating desserts - none of which were vegan - I just had another order of the gumbo. It was a wonderful experience.
Q: Do you cook at home? Any special favorites you could share with Daily News readers?
A: Well, I am no great cook, so that's a challenge. Tonight I'm gonna go home and steam some Brussels sprouts and peas. I'm gonna have a couple of vegan patties. It's very simple.
I've got a little bit of Vegenaise to put on it, or I have another type of mayonnaise, the Hampton Creek brand [Just Mayo] that's really good as well, so I'll put a little bit of that on it and some seasoning. I'm really looking forward to it.
Q: For as long as you've been vegetarian, the notion of going vegan must have occurred to you before. Why take the plunge now?
A: In 1993, I tried it for a while. It was a different time, and it just seemed incredibly hard. Everywhere I went, I had to say, 'Did you put butter on these vegetables?' I slipped back into a vegetarian lifestyle.
But the compelling reasons that made me become a vegetarian are pretty much the same compelling reasons for me to become a vegan. I almost felt like I'd been playing avoidance on [it] for a long time, just giving in to things like Ben and Jerry's and New Jersey pizza.
Q: You came into the Senate with a full plate of progressive causes. Is there any room to address animal agribusiness?
A: Absolutely. I'm very concerned about U.S. food policy. I posted a graphic yesterday comparing what our government says we should be eating - the My Plate, you know - and then you look at how we apply our subsidies. It's dramatically out of whack. We're subsidizing the very thing we tell people they should be eating less of.
If we're concerned about climate change as a country, we should have policies that make sure our great-grandchildren have a planet that's healthy and strong.
If we're concerned about high medical costs, we should have a government that's making sound investments with taxpayer dollars that don't contribute to the problem but actually help [solve] the problem.
Food is at the core of our lives in ways we don't always think about - how it affects our environment, how it affects our health and well-being, how it affects the expense of society, the expense of government.
Q: So, when 2014 ends, when, and how, will you decide whether to continue eating vegan?
A: One of the ideas I'm debating is going one more month, from Jan. 1 to Feb. 1, and inviting people to do a one-month experiment with me. Maybe do a video and see if we can get a lot of folks.
And we thought about reaching out to some existing vegan organizations to see if they would want to create a one-month trial with me and other folks.
I have to say, I feel a lot better, both emotionally and physically. And it's like simplifying your life.
While some people might think trying to be vegan would make your life more complicated, it's actually making my life more simple and cleaner.
I don't have that feeling of active avoidance. Like when you're rushing and you're in a hotel. I'd just order a plate of eggs - I found myself trying not to think about the origin story of those eggs.
When you find yourself trying to avoid the truth about something because it's inconvenient, because you know it doesn't align with your values and your moral compass . . . I wasn't living my truth. So, this has been a very good month, so far.
But also a strong part of me is, like, no judgment. I don't want to judge other people for their decisions. I'm a vegan who drives an SUV, for crying out loud.
Everybody struggles. We're all working to live our best selves, and we should do less judging and more encouraging.
Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist,
writer, musician and 12-year vegan.
"V for Veg" chronicles plant-based
eating in and around Philadelphia.
@V4Veg on Twitter.