New York City’s first vegan mayor takes bite out of Big Apple

Eric Adams has championed farmers' markets in 'food deserts' and campaigned for 'Meatless Mondays' in hospitals

eric adams environmental agenda
Illustration by Gillian Wilson

The journey to good health begins in the kitchen, says Eric Adams.

In his 22 years as a New York City police officer, Adams had a weakness for late-night drive-throughs, burgers and chicken wings. The comfort food was a warm respite from the darkness of his job. Then came the back pain and sore feet. In 2016, as the slightly overweight borough president of Brooklyn, he woke up one morning with stomach pains and blurred vision. The diagnosis: Adams had developed type 2 diabetes. High blood sugar had damaged the blood vessels behind his eyes. The doctor said he’d be on meds for the rest of his life.

But Adams had been trained to analyze crime scenes. Yes, diabetes ran in his family. But what if the fault was his diet? Adams began exploring the potential of plant-based foods. Soon he was swapping smoked sausages for sliced avocados. His vision cleared up, and he says his diabetes went into remission.

Before long he gained the energy to help the whole city discover plant-based foods. Working with the NYC mayor’s office, the school board and health authorities, Adams has championed farmers’ markets in “food desert” communities; banned hot dogs from school lunches; campaigned for “Meatless Mondays” in hospitals, schools and prisons; and created a plant-based medicine pilot in a local hospital.

Encouraged by these successes, Adams announced he would run for mayor of NYC as a greenish blue-collar candidate. After beating former presidential candidate Andrew Yang and a long list of candidates for the Democratic nomination last July, Adams won a landslide victory over Republican talk-show host Curtis Sliwa in November. On January 1, he took office as the second Black and first vegan mayor of America’s largest city. (Although reports have surfaced that the mayor actually eats fish.)

We have to turn our economy around ... with a blue-collar green-jobs initiative.

—Eric Adams, mayor of New York City

He campaigned throughout 2021 on a broad progressive agenda, ranging from accelerating the creation of affordable housing to broadening New Yorkers’ access to fresher, healthier foods. On the climate file, he issued a 17-point plan, promising to invest in green infrastructure (including waterfront wind turbines and community solar); upgrade the resiliency of the built environment, especially in flood-prone areas; focus on green transportation by building 250 kilometres of new bus lanes and 500 kilometres of bike lanes; and boost the parks department budget by 60% to ensure every resident can walk to a park in under 10 minutes. In December, New York joined a growing list of cities banning natural gas hookups in new buildings, mandating that most new developments go electric.

Naturally, Adams’s program also included promoting urban farming and decreasing the procurement of meat by city agencies in favour of more “plant-forward” options. “By choosing to eat more plant-based foods,” he says, “we can create a more sustainable and equitable food system that’s better for our planet, our city and ourselves.”

On January 31, Adams announced a team of environmental experts who will lead the agencies that will look to put his climate policies in motion.

Still, some New York voters worry that Adams’s focus on economic development – and his friendship with real estate developers – may erode his green agenda. Studying his political record, The New York Times found instances where Adams “appears to have violated city campaign-finance law by failing to report that developers and others have raised money for him.”

In his victory speech, however, Adams artfully linked health, environment and economy. “We have to turn our economy around by reaching our hand out to the business world to grow the companies we have here while attracting new emerging industries – life sciences and cybersecurity, and with a blue-collar green-jobs initiative that boosts our economy while making our city more resilient. Every job we create in corporate America must be a pathway and pipeline to the inner city.”

It’s certainly a recipe worth trying.

A version of this story appeared in the winter issue of Corporate Knights magazine.

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