In 2016, New York City Mayor Eric Adams woke up blind, went to the doctor and discovered he had diabetes. It’s a story Adams likes to tell because there’s a happy ending: after radically altering his lifestyle and committing to an aggressively healthy, plant-based diet, Adams reversed his diagnosis. The mayor’s success story and subsequent advocacy for a plant-based diet even inspired the launch of The Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program at New York City Health + Hospitals/Bellevue in 2018. (For a more thorough medical professional’s take on Adams’ diet, check out this article from Politico New York.)
While plenty of people are curious about what the city’s first vegan mayor’s plans are for keeping New Yorkers healthy – former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ill-fated soda tax still continues to haunt us – I was curious to learn more about what it’s like to eat like Adams on a day-to-day basis. Would I start feeling the kind of boundless energy that allows him to function on less than four hours of sleep a night? Or would I be completely dysfunctional when deprived of the opportunity to devour a whole wheel of brie cheese while standing in front of my refrigerator? Even if it all went up in flames, I figured I could gain a new appreciation for the kind of discipline it takes to be a New Yorker who doesn’t eat bagels.
Using Adams’ cookbook, “Healthy At Last: A Plant-Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses,” as my guide, along with a well-placed source/food guru on his staff, I embarked on a weeklong project to do my absolute best to eat like Adams. Following Adams’ diet, as described in “Healthy At Last,” means skipping meat, fish, dairy, eggs, or as Adams puts it: “nothing that has a face and a mother.” It also involves avoiding processed foods, salt, sugar and cooking with or adding oil to your food – Adams says he sautés his food with broth, wine or water. Eating mostly fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains is the ultimate goal.
Oatmeal with sliced peaches and a few lightly salted nuts for breakfast, a depressing bowl of chickpeas with rice vinegar and dried herbs, and then dinner was a recipe from “Healthy At Last:” a sliced polenta and black bean dish that was actually delicious!
As bland as the lunch chickpeas were, the worst part of the day was waking up to find my partner had purchased rolled oats for our oatmeal – Adams only eats steel cut. Steel cut oats are less processed but I like to imagine the mayor demands a cereal as chiseled as he is.
One cup of Oatly yogurt with sliced banana for breakfast, a triumphant return to chickpeas for lunch (this time with some chopped up celery, fresh parsley and a lot of lemon juice), and then dinner is a vegan Chipotle burrito bowl. Sure, it was vegan but its high salt content left me feeling as though I had betrayed Adams, a feeling that stuck with me longer than my Chipotle food baby.
A single banana for breakfast because I’m in my minimalist era, leftover polenta and beans for lunch, but things fall apart at dinner after I crash a friend’s barbecue. All I could eat were two skewers of grilled zucchini, and to add insult to injury, they were absolutely slathered in olive oil.
I also had plans to meet up with friends for drinks, which had me scrambling to text my source in Adams’ administration, “is BEER ok?” I did get the go-ahead and had one bottle (it’s just fermented barley juice after all) but later on I referenced my copy of “Healthy Living” to be met with this line: “(I)f you’re hankering for a beer, maybe try making a smoothie instead.” Next time Eric, next time.
For breakfast, my partner tried to prepare a smoothie based on a recipe shared on Adams’ Twitter. I say he tried because he also objectively failed. The smoothie looked like dirt and it tasted like dirt.
A veggie bowl with pumpkin, kale, zucchini and quinoa, some apple and parsnip soup and a few chickpea fries served for lunch at a vegan restaurant. Canned corn, a package of Tex-Mex flavored shredded jackfruit and some avocado and nutritional yeast (Adams calls it “nooch”) for dinner.
Another smoothie to start off the day but this time it’s edible! Lunch is another veggie bowl, made up of brown rice, roasted butternut squash, peppers, onions and more nooch. Dinner is more brown rice with some seitan and steamed broccoli that I was too cowardly to try sautéing with water.
A hearty vegan lentil soup from the cafe around the corner for breakfast, a random medley of kidney beans, kale and jalapenos for lunch, and back to the vegan restaurant for a dinner of raw vegetable sushi and a chai smoothie.
I was craving some kind of dessert and after consulting my bible (“Healthy At Last”) learned that Adams will eat a singular date when he’s looking to satiate his sweet tooth. Except sometimes that’s actually too much sugar for him, so he’ll cut the date in half and save the rest for later. I was impressed by how delicious my medjool date was, but I must confess I did not cut it in half.
One peach and an apple for breakfast as things get down to the wire, and leftover kidney bean medley for lunch. Dinner was some lentil rotini pasta with vegan pesto from the farmers market, which contained loads of olive oil and probably salt, and a side of roasted sweet potato topped with nooch. The last thing I ate before the clock struck midnight was a carton of fresh blueberries. Sadly, I never got around to eating Adams’ dessert of choice, which happens to also be his preferred last meal on Earth: his homemade ice cream, which contains frozen banana, peanut butter and cacao powder. Sounds like I really missed out.
My biggest takeaway from this food journey was how frequently I failed. Not because I’m so unaccustomed to eating vegan, but all of Adams’ dietary idiosyncrasies were exhausting to keep up with. Every meal was a reminder that some ingredient I would normally use is too salty, too processed or discreetly contains too much sugar. Not to mention the inherent discomfort in conveying to a waiter that it’s not just less oil, you don’t want the chef to use oil at all. Some good habits were formed: I learned not to conflate vegan with healthy, and I successfully curbed some emotional eating tendencies, but you will never catch me forgoing olive oil again. Mostly, I felt like I gained a window into the mayor’s psyche. Adams likes to say that his transition to a plant-based diet wasn’t restrictive, instead it expanded his palette to a whole new universe of flavors. I think that’s an admirable angle, but I also think this is a man who exalts in control. The discipline required to maintain this routine is staggering, and it’s something political adversaries and allies alike should keep in mind if Adams brings even half this energy to policymaking.