Penn Jillette

Two Libertarians - John Mackey and Penn Jillette - Are Slowly Turning Me Into a Vegan And I'm Totally OK With That

Not what I expected when I showed up at FreedomFest, the "world's largest gathering of libertarians." But it's all good.


TV Guide

Yes, the Republican National Convention is taking place in Cleveland and Reason staffers are out in force. In many ways, tonight was the start of the Big Things, with vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence giving a Big Speech about Indiana basketball or something (read why he stinks from a libertarian perspective) and Ted Cruz throwing down on Donald Trump. Thursday, of course, Trump himself takes the stage and all the world will shudder with love and hate.

But screw electoral politics for the moment. There are always better things to talk about.

Last week was FreedomFest, the annual event held in Las Vegas, where about 2,000 libertarians gather to talk, speechify, and hang out. Reason folks such as Matt Welch and myself give forth and it's always a very good time. Next year will be FreedomFest's 10th anniversary and William Shatner—TV's own T.J. Hooker—will be appearing (go here for early cheap registration).

Reason TV always interviews a bunch of people and the finished products will be rolling out in a couple of weeks, as the convention madness fades like a bad dream. Among the many folks we spoke with (including Judge Andrew Napolitano, Steve Forbes, Bill Weld, and Gary Johnson) we talked to at least two vegans: John Mackey of Whole Foods and Penn Jillette of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College. 

They have come to a plant-based diet from very different paths and neither believes veganism is a "must-thing" for libertarians.

At the same time, Mackey has spoken often and eloquently about not just the moral case for capitalism but also for veganism. You can take or leave the philsophy behind veganism, but one thing you've got to admit is that Mackey, who will turn 63 in August, is incredibly spry and youthful. He doesn't just eat well but, having had the pleasue of his company at dinner on several occasions, he eats really tasty food. This is very reductionistic of his very sophisticated argument in Conscious Capitalism, but Mackey argues that as capitalism moves out of its mass-industrial phase and creates a post-scarcity world, people do and should start thinking about other, higher values. Essentially, as we have more time and wealth, we start moving up Maslow's hierarchy. The same is true for eating and the way we treat animals, he says.

Among the many topics that Mackey discussed with Reason was a great new documentary he helped produce. At The Fork is directed by John Papola (who collaborated with Russ Roberts on the Keynes-Hayek rap videos) and follows John's journey from being a meat eater toward the vegetarianism his wife and collaborator Lisa Versaci practices. At The Fork looks at different ways that food animals are treated by different types of producers (factory farm to free range to everything in between). It is scrupulously fair to all of the voices in it and openly talks about how customer demand is a huge factor in how things get done. Regardless of how it affects what you eat, you will learn a lot from it.

Then there is Penn Jillette, who dropped 100 pounds in like 15 minutes via a crazy diet process he details hilariously and movingly in his forthcoming book, Presto!: How I Made More than 100 Pounds Magically Disappear and Other Big Fat Tales. Penn's interest in eating plants only is health-related and he doesn't subscribe to many (or maybe even any) of the ideological concerns surrounding a vegan diet. To be honest, I'm only about 100 pages in, but ever since dining with Mackey and talking with Penn last week, I've also been staying off the animal stuff.

From the intro to Presto!:

I didn't lose the weight in order to write a book. I didn't train myself to eat healthy in order to share my techniques with the world. I didn't do it beacause the trips to the hospital scared me skinny, I did because I wanted to give myself a few more chances to die from the Bullet Catch [a great and dangerous trick that Penn & Teller have been doing for 20-years plus].

The argument Penn makes early on is that he wants to do a hard diet that finally stops him from being the "fat fuck" he has always been. What is truly inspirational is that he talks about his life-long interest in changing himself. When our interview goes live, you'll also hear him talk about why Bob Dylan and Lou Reed are his heroes and why even though he hates everything Hillary Clinton stands for, he'll take her over Donald Trump (even though he'll vote for Gary Johnson).

I recommend you read Penn's book, check out At The Fork, and take Mackey's position seriously. Whether it's through a philosophical stratagem or you just want to feel fitter and better, it's a goddamn fascinating thing to try to pull yourself out of your day-in/day-out diet. John Mackey advances an ethical and pragmatic argument for getting rid of foods with faces and Penn Jillette offers up a very different standard. But they are both goddamned smart and serious folks. As someone who totally believes we are all Sanpaku, I'm a sucker for this sort of sacred extremism (Penn is particularly awesome on this aspect in Presto!). But I also like the idea of eating better and more consciously.

I don't know where any of this leads or ends but I do know that when two folks in my universe coordinate on something, it's usually worth listening to. I think these guys are on to something, albeit from very different POVS. And that being at the RNC in Cleveland is definitely not good for anybody's health (and then there's the DNC next week…).

Here's the trailer for At The Fork:

NEXT: Gary Johnson and Libertarians as the Sane Centrists in a Mad Election

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  1. It's much easier to be a vegetarian when you're rich as fuck and can afford great fruits and vegetables year round. A home chef helps even more.

  2. They must have forgotten to mention that leather jackets are not vegan.

    1. That cow is already dead so I'm sure it doesn't count.

  3. Sure, you can be healthy and be Vegan, but it requires an absurd amount of time, money, and planning. This is why most Vegans are white people who are either wealthy or baristas with lots of time on their hands.

    1. It's a religion,like socialism and the 'greens'. .It makes them better then the rest of us.

    2. I have been eating a vegan diet for about 10 months and I am not white, not a barista, not wealthy and I don't have lots of free time on my hands.

    3. Correct. Beseeching Omnivorism is an offspring of privilege and wealth.

    4. We cook a pot of beans, a pot of rice, and a pot of sweet potatoes and add what ever veggies are in season to the bowl, along with our choice of salsas or sauces (oil free so naturally low-fat). Not expensive. In fact it's very inexpensive.

      And at 56 and 58, we're free of any of those pesky chronic diseases that are so rampant among people our age, including diabetes, high blood pressure, diverticulitis and other gastrointestinal problems and are doing our very best to prevent or deter the growth of any cancer our bodies may be prone to or to which we have been exposed. That saves a shit load of cash!

  4. Veganism is a political statement. Hurting animals,for any reason,bad. I'm a upland bird and waterfowl hunter,I fish ,I'm an omnivore .I wear leather and have a goose feathered winter vest. If a ground hog gets in my garden it gets shot. I killed Bambi's dad .Fuck,vegans and Nick is dead to me. Next he'll want the country to run on 'green energy' only.

    1. Last I checked Nick's still a libertarian.

      Thus doesn't want to make you not eat delicious, wonderful animal flesh, so don't worry about it.

      (Suggesting that you might reevaluate its morality is not, after all, the imposition of state power.

      I've evaluated it myself, and come to a contrary decision to that of the interviewed.)

  5. I get not eating meat for a variety of reasons, but not eating eggs or milk or honey is just ridiculous.

    1. Your opinion on honey, I understand, but eggs are incredibly high in cholesterol. Laws governing advertising prohibit their promotion using words like healthy or health promoting. Instead the ads use words and words and phrases like "natural", and "Wake up to eggs".

  6. Sugar comes from plants and if you eat it by the spoonful you will be a fat fuck.

  7. Smart choice, Nick. Glad someone like Penn could get the message to you even if groups like International Agency for Cancer Research have been trying to tell you for years that bacon and processed meats were bad for your health. Of course, they were fairly ridiculed here before.

    Maybe you should get Bailey to meet Penn.

    1. By the way, here is something you should try. You won't ever need a hamburger again.

      Don't say I never was helpful.

      1. In the ad, the carnivores say 'meh'.

    2. Here is the company website.

    3. Bacon Causes Cancer!

      Well, yeah, scary if you're bad at risk evaluation.

    4. Do you actively try to be as big of a pussy as you can, Joe? Or does it just happen naturally?

  8. I still feel like vegetarianism and especially veganism are just being sanctimoniously picky about your food, but I've been eating a low quantity, high quality animal products biased diet for a long time for a lot of the same reasons. Mostly because it's inefficient to feed an animal to feed me. But I can't cut it out, it's delicious and my husband rebels at any meal without a protein.

    It seems like the best exercise of consumerism to vote with your wallet, though. Except when idiots want non GMO nonsense and everything labeled gluten free (though disclaimer that it was not produced in a gluten free environment, which I guess means sorry to people with Celiac's?)

  9. Hope it works out for you, Nick. Why wouldn't I?

  10. Can't help but notice the difference in Penn's thinking since he's moved from predator to prey.


  11. Humans evolved as omnivores. It's perfectly natural for us to eat meat. Vegetarianism is akin to socialism (as veganism is akin to communism) in that they are intellectual, ideological attempts by the over-sensitive and/or over-educated to overrule messy nature.


  12. Eating meat by raising livestock helps to reverse Desertification.

    Imma keep my steak thanks.

  13. As long as vegans don't try and enforce their ways on my diet I'm fine with it. I tried it for a bit even, twice actually. One while dating one and the second time to seal a win in a weight loss competition at work. It is expensive and I find the range of flavors that I enjoy to be fairly small, but the occasional meal works for me. I have no desire to make it a lifestyle though. It's the moral vegans I worry about though. They are far more likely to try and get laws passed to force me to be vegan as well.

  14. I left my office-job and now I am getting paid 99 usd hourly. How? I work over internet! My old work was making me miserable, so I was forced to try something different, 2 years after...I can say my life is changed-completely for the better! Check it out what i do...

    Go to the web=====>

  15. Don't kid yourself, Nick. If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about.

  16. I looked at my teeth, they said omnivore. Go vegan, more meat and fewer damaging grains for me.

  17. Well, that was rather long and boring, not that I'm one to talk.
    But as for veganism: The alleged health benefits are quackery; the alleged environmental benefits are pseudoscience; and the ethical idea of a view of the world in which lower animals are assigned "rights," political or moral, is one so bizarre in its consequences that most everyone will want to discard it as flying in the face of the most basic common sense.
    But can a vegan be libertarian per se? Of course. Go to town. (Just keep your head on straight as the editor of a fucking respected magazine.)

  18. We can even create playlists of them so it will be very easy to find our videos which we like. We can also download those videos and can watch them offline. Showbox for pc

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