A world leader’s lunch is often newsworthy, and that was definitely the case last month when Vice President Kamala Harris, on the road to plug the COVID relief bill President Biden signed into law in March, stopped for tacos at the much-buzzed-about, all-vegan Tacotarian in Las Vegas.

Afterwards, Tacotarian thanked the vice president on Instagram for her visit, saying: “We’re excited to hear you’re dabbling in veganism (at least before 6PM) and we hope you continue on that journey.” And so we learned that Harris is following the Vegan Before 6, or VB6, eating style popularized by food writer Mark Bittman. VB6 adherents eat vegan until 6 p.m. and add in moderate amounts of animal-based foods in the evening. This flexitarian, or vegan-ish way of eating, significantly reduces an individual’s overall animal consumption.

Kamala Harris

Does a recent vegan taco order from Vice President Kamala Harris indicate anything about the direction of U.S. food and agriculture policy? And is it true Harris eats vegan before 6 p.m.? Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

News reports detailed her order – asada tacos, carne asada tacos and super tacos – and her dining companion, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford. But what I want to know is what policy implication her takeout choice might foreshadow. Could it signal an American administration gutsy enough to take on the bloated animal agriculture industry? One willing to go to bat for the rapidly expanding vegetarian food sector, or ready to get more vegan lunches into public schools?

The Plant Based Foods Association, a trade organization representing more than 300 companies, is encouraged. Michael Robbins, spokesman for the association, said her visit “was welcomed by our industry.” Whether the Biden administration is brave enough to take on the meat lobby remains to be seen, but Harris’ vegan lunch order makes a bold statement, and indicates just how mainstream vegan and vegetarian food has become.

Her taco order followed calls from the JIVINITI Women’s Coalition for Harris to go vegan for 31 days. An organization of female leaders, mostly women of color, JIVNITI also issued an open letter to the Biden administration late last year asking it to end industrial animal farming, base vaccine research on human biology, and issue pandemic nutrition guidance centered on the power of plant-based foods to preserve health and reverse disease. The coalition uses the hashtag #plantpoweredkamala on many of its social media posts.

“We, at the JIVINITI Coalition, are very excited to hear the news that Vice President Harris took time out to visit a vegan restaurant,” said Nivi Jaswal, president of the Virsa Foundation, a nonprofit supporting plant-based initiatives, and founder of the JIVINITI Coalition. The trade group hopes Harris will listen to suggestions from Sen. Booker (D-NJ), who sent Harris to Tacotarian in the first place, for improving the food system. He has been pushing the Farm System Reform Act legislation, which would ban new confined animal feeding operations (CAFOS) and make agricultural conglomerates liable for their pollution.

JIVINITI doesn’t give the Biden administration a free pass, however. Jaswal, who lives in Boston, told me that “the appointment of Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture and a complete omission of evidence-based nutrition science from President Biden’s executive order on climate are very disappointing.” She added that coalition members will continue their campaign to urge the Biden administration “to acknowledge the role that CAFOs have played in exacerbating the COVID-19 impact in the U.S. and (have) contributed to the burden of chronic disease and the massive health care crisis.”

Presidential food choices have always been scrutinized, and vice presidential eats, too. As recently as last August, then-Vice President Michael Pence roasted Harris before a crowd of animal farmers in Iowa for her suggestion that Americans need to eat less red meat. “We’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat,” Pence famously said. Given the Trump/Pence election loss, Pence’s prediction may not stand the test of time.

As president, Trump favored fast food burgers, but both his wife and daughter generated some plant-based news. In November 2018, Ivanka Trump tweeted that her two oldest children “Joseph and Arabella have sworn off turkey and are insisting on a vegetarian Thanksgiving!” This was after the kids met the turkey that Trump “pardoned” for the holiday at the annual White House event. Melania Trump kept the White House’s organic vegetable garden that predecessor Michele Obama had established. In 2017 Melania Trump even held an event in the garden. “I’m a big believer in healthy eating because it reflects on your mind and your body,” she said.

In 2016 when then vice presidential candidate Mike Pence tweeted a photo of himself and his family eating at the chain restaurant Chili’s in New Jersey after a weekend in New York City, Food & Wine reported “many on the internet found it surprising that while visiting one of the world’s top culinary destinations, Pence would go the Chili’s route.” The magazine predicted Pence’s choice of eatery could show “a proclivity towards supporting big business.”

In contrast, the Nevada Independent reported that while at Tacotarian (a small restaurant with two branches and a third in the works), Harris spoke about “the importance of small businesses.”

During her years as first lady, Michelle Obama worked to get more whole grains, fruits and vegetables into school lunches, which became official policy in 2012 with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. A 2020 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nutrition improved 30 percent for low-income children who participated in the school lunch program before and after the 2012 changes. But the Trump administration weakened the school lunch standards in 2018, allowing flavored cow’s milk and more refined grains. The pandemic scuttled its plans to reduce the daily vegetable requirements.

In 2010, after emergency heart surgery, former President Bill Clinton adopted a mostly vegan diet. He lost weight and his health improved, and he’s stuck with his mostly vegan eating habits. The year before, then President Barak Obama hosted his first state dinner, feting then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a vegetarian. The only non-vegetarian dish on the menu was green curry prawns, served as an alternative to the vegetarian entree.

When I asked local vegans in a web forum what they think about the vice president’s vegan taco meal, many praised Harris’ leadership in modeling plant-based habits. Quite a few emphasized how many animals could be spared if people ate less meat, but several complained about glorifying half measures. Lindsay Bileau, of Portland, summed up the general sentiment: “Any positive light for going vegan (in any capacity) is a win in my book. I’m glad this story is circulating. It might get people thinking of making their own changes.”

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]
Twitter: AveryYaleKamila


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: