WASHINGTON -- Republican primary politics is often about giving "red meat" to conservative voters, but that is something Dr. Ben Carson will not do.
Carson, the only openly vegetarian candidate in the 2016 pool, has avoided meat for decades. He told the Vegetarian Times in 1990 that his religion and health concerns inspired his diet. Politico confirmed with Carson's campaign that the candidate remains mostly meatless, noting Carson's lifestyle would put him at odds with the meat industry in Iowa, an important primary election state.
The meat industry in Iowa and nationwide has been aggressively lobbying against proposed federal dietary guidelines that would encourage people to eat more vegetables and less red and processed meat.
Carson told the Vegetarian Times in 1990 that a meatless diet would eventually catch on. "It might take 20 years," Carson said. "But eventually there will no longer be a reason for most people to eat meat. And animals will breathe a sigh of relief."
Unfortunately for animals, the rate of vegetarianism in the United States hasn't gone up. In 1999, just 6 percent of Americans told Gallup they avoided meat. In 2012, it was only 5 percent.
And perhaps unfortunately for Carson, almost a third of Republican voters have an unfavorable view of vegetarians. A 2013 survey conducted by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 30 percent of Republican voters view vegetarianism unfavorably, while 38 percent view it favorably and 32 percent are unsure how they feel about it. Of those Republican voters, 41 percent have an unfavorable opinion of vegans. In contrast, 68 percent of Democratic voters have a favorable view of vegetarians.
While Carson is the only vegetarian candidate, potential Republican challenger Jeb Bush is probably eating enough meat for two people. The former Florida governor has been keeping a paleo diet on the campaign trail, sticking to meats, nuts and berries in an increasingly popular diet inspired by the supposed health benefits of living like a caveman. Bush is said to have lost 30 pounds since cutting out dairy products and processed grains.
Former President Bill Clinton adopted a vegan diet -- though only briefly -- for health reasons. Clinton underwent quadruple bypass surgery in 2004, and later made the decision to cut meat, fish and dairy from his diet.
"I just decided that I was the high-risk person, and I didn't want to fool with this anymore,” he said in a 2013 AARP Magazine profile. "So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival."