Mayoral race goes to a vegan place

(Left to right) Republican Melissa Murray Bailey, Independent Jim Foster and Democrat Jim Kenney at a debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer )

THE POPE IS GONE and the Philadelphia mayor's race is heating back up as candidates go head-to-head in weekly televised debates. Vegans, vegetarians, foodies and those interested in animal issues may be watching with their own questions: Will the new administration be vegan-friendly? Will new plant-based venues be encouraged? Will there be any change in the handling of animal cruelty and animal use?

(Left to right) Republican Melissa Murray Bailey, Independent Jim Foster and Democrat  Jim Kenney at a debate on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.. ( TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer ) Gallery: Mayoral race goes to a vegan place

To get some answers on these and other issues, I invited all five registered candidates to answer 8 questions for this column. Three provided responses: Democrat Jim Kenney, Republican Melissa Murray Bailey and independent Jim Foster. (Find the complete questions and answers for all three of them at this page.)

The three candidates hailed the importance of sustainability and cited income inequality as a factor tied into other issues. And all three support vegan-friendly restaurants.

Speaking of which, Foster's shout-out was the most general, noting that his neighborhood, Mount Airy, has "at least three restaurants that are focused in those directions that I am aware of." Bailey gave props to Farmicia (15 S. 3rd St.) as "a great herbivore/carnivore compromise for our family" with "a great selection of vegan options and also a commitment to local and organic food."

Kenney cited Blackbird Pizzeria (507 S. 6th St.) as a favorite joint, applauding the "Haymaker Pizza that's essentially a vegan version of a supreme pizza with sausage, cheese, tomato, onion and oregano - it's absolutely delicious."

Bailey, an omnivore now, mentioned her "several years" eating vegan: "When I learned the environmental impact of [animal-waste] runoff, I immediately stopped eating any animal products." However, back in the 20th century, "I found it difficult to keep vegan - even finding noodles without eggs was a challenge." A stark reminder of how far we've come.

A chewy issue cutting across several policy areas is neighborhood greening and gardening. Kenney proposed putting vacant land not ready for redevelopment to better use as "open green space for neighborhoods currently without access." He envisioned a collaboration among the Land Bank, the Department of Parks and Recreation and nonprofit organizations creating "urban community gardens, education opportunities for Philadelphia high school CTE [Career and Technical Education] programs, and eco-friendly ventures like green roofs and storm water management initiatives."

Bailey touted a city Water Department/school district effort "to reinvent their asphalt schoolyards into green neighborhood space that reimagines storm-water management," while Foster framed the green-space issue as "the haves and the have nots" in which "those at the lower end of the spectrum are left with some of the worst nutrition opportunity, and in some cases at the highest prices."

Rather than start with greening and food production, he suggested "raising the job opportunity and standard of living in these neglected communities . . . I believe [nutrition] choices and the information relative to those choices will follow."

Kenney twice mentioned creating City Council's first Committee on the Environment and reaffirmed his support for a plastic-bag fee.

But food choices also have an environmental impact, and on including one plant-based option at all mayor's office-sponsored events in view of animal agriculture's major role in climate change, he punted.

Kenney and Bailey both answered that eco-question with "healthy eating" talk. (Foster skipped this one.)

On a hot-button school-lunch issue facing districts nationwide - whether to include a nondairy option for kids who can't or don't want to drink cow's milk - Kenney agreed to "consider pushing for a nondairy milk option in school lunches and other city-subsidized programs."

Bailey opted to "leave that one to the experts." Instead, "get kids to eat the healthy lunches that are being provided for them."

Foster "never heard of the cow's-milk issue" but he did endorse "a nutrition-based focus for the school lunches beyond what is presently done."

On issues involving the treatment of animals, both Kenney and Bailey (Foster opted out) were open to a mandatory spay-and-neuter plan for city pet owners with vouchers for those in low-income communities.

Do the candidates see the "colonial" carriage-horse industry, now 40 years old, lasting another 40 in Center City? Bailey passed, while Foster waxed nostalgic about workhorses he'd seen as a kid before stating that "the time has come for them to not be pressed into livery service on the streets with dense traffic."

Would park-only routes work, he asked?

Kenney voiced intolerance for "animal cruelty" and support of "humane and safe working conditions for our city's carriage horses," but left the big-picture question unanswered. However, he was the only candidate to respond to a question about wild animals in circuses, saying he's open "to discussing ways that our city can encourage circuses in an animal-free direction."

Thanks to Kenney, Bailey and Foster for sharing their views on these issues with Daily News readers. This may be the first Philadelphia mayoral election where a majority of the candidates addressed expressly vegan-related topics, but I have a feeling that it won't be the last.

Vance Lehmkuhl is a cartoonist, writer, musician and 12-year vegan. "V for Veg" chronicles plant-based eating in and around Philadelphia.

VforVeg@phillynews.com or @V4Veg on Twitter.