For much of his recent public life, Mayor Eric Adams has loudly proclaimed that he loves salads, beets, lentils and green smoothies and that transforming his diet has changed his life.
But on Monday, Mr. Adams, New York City’s first purported vegan mayor, was confronted with several accounts of his dining on fish in public — and acknowledged that he was “imperfect” and had not always stuck to a strictly vegan diet.
Instead, he said he did his best to follow a plant-based approach.
“Here’s my message — the more plant-based meals you have, the healthier you’re going to be,” Mr. Adams told reporters at an event announcing a program to help New Yorkers with chronic illness improve their diets.
“Don’t worry about what’s on Mayor Adams’s plate,” he said. “Put these items on your plate.”
The controversy, which was called “FishGate” on social media, was in part a humorous diversion, but it also reinforced concerns that Mr. Adams often stretches the truth. There have been questions over whether he actually lives in a Brooklyn apartment; he failed to report rental income and blamed his accountant who was living in a homeless shelter; he acknowledged that a story he told at a commencement address about a neighbor’s dog befouling his yard did not happen to him.
At first, Mr. Adams refused to say on Monday whether he eats fish or other animal products. He said “some people want to call me vegan” but pointed out that some vegans eat Oreo cookies, and he does not. He appeared annoyed that he kept getting asked about his diet.
“Those who have questions on what I am eating, I’m over 18 and I know how to take care of myself,” he said. “If you haven’t noticed, look at the pictures of yesteryears and then look at the pictures now. I wear my suits so much better than I did eight years ago.”
The mayor’s love for vegetables was a central theme of his campaign, and he wrote a book two years ago about his health journey. In the book, he described his plant-based diet as not eating any animal products or anything “that ever had a face or a mother.” He characterized his diet as vegan to The New York Times in 2017, and a news release from his office last year quoted a nonprofit leader calling him “New York City’s most famous vegan.”
But there were hints that Mr. Adams had flirted with pescetarianism, including a report in The New York Post over the summer that Mr. Adams ate broiled fish and spinach at Rao’s in East Harlem. His campaign insisted that he ate eggplant parmigiana without the cheese.
And when Mr. Adams faced questions over his residency last year, he gave reporters a tour of his Brooklyn apartment that revealed salmon in his refrigerator.
Then Politico reported on Saturday that Mr. Adams regularly dined on fish at an Italian restaurant, Osteria La Baia, in Midtown Manhattan. A spokesman for the mayor, Maxwell Young, denied to Politico that Mr. Adams eats fish.
On Monday, Mr. Adams sought to end the curiosity. He encouraged New Yorkers to “ignore the noise” and criticized the “food police,” which he described as reporters trailing him at restaurants. But by day’s end, Mr. Adams sent out another clarification that set the record straight.
“I want to be a role model for people who are following or aspire to follow a plant-based diet, but, as I said, I am perfectly imperfect, and have occasionally eaten fish,” he said in a statement.
Some elected officials knew about his flexibility. Diane Savino, a state senator who endorsed Mr. Adams for mayor, wrote on Twitter last July: “He is not vegan, he is plant based.”
N.Y.C. Mayor Eric Adams’s New Administration
Schools Chancellor: David Banks. The longtime New York City educator, who rose to prominence after creating a network of public all-boys schools, takes the lead at the nation’s largest public school system as it struggles to emerge from the pandemic.
Police Commissioner: Keechant Sewell. The Nassau County chief of detectives becomes New York City’s first female police commissioner, taking over the nation’s largest police force amid a crisis of trust in American policing and a troubling rise in violence.
Commissioner of Correction Department: Louis Molina. The former N.Y.P.D. officer, who was the chief of the Las Vegas public safety department, is tasked with leading the city’s embattled Correction Department and restoring order at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex.
Chief Counsel: Brendan McGuire. After a stint as a partner in a law firm’s white-collar practice, the former federal prosecutor returns to the public sector to advise the mayor on legal matters involving City Hall, the executive staff and administrative matters.
Transportation Commissioner: Ydanis Rodriguez. The Manhattan council member is a trusted ally of Mr. Adams. Mr. Rodriguez will face major challenges in his new role: In 2021, traffic deaths in the city soared to their highest level since 2013, partly due to speeding and reckless driving.
Health Commissioner: Dr. Ashwin Vasan. Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, the current commissioner, stays in the role to provide continuity to the city’s pandemic response. In mid-March, Dr. Vasan, the president of a mental health and public health charity, will take over.
Deputy mayors. Mr. Adams announced five women as deputy mayors, including Lorraine Grillo as his top deputy. Philip Banks III, a former N.Y.P.D. chief who resigned while under federal investigation in 2014, later announced his own appointment as deputy mayor for public safety.
Executive director of mayoral security: Bernard Adams. Amid concerns of nepotism, Mayor Adams’s brother, who is a retired police sergeant, will oversee mayoral security after he was originally named as deputy police commissioner.
Ms. Savino, who described herself as an “avowed carnivore,” said in an interview that it was clear to her that Mr. Adams was not 100 percent vegan based on his public comments.
“Quibbling over whether he eats Dover sole every now and then as opposed to constantly eating vegetables — the broader message is that if he can turn his health around, so can everyone else,” she said.
Mr. Adams often highlights his story of adopting a plant-based diet, losing 35 pounds and reversing his diabetes. He wants to make healthy food a key part of his administration and announced a new “Vegan Friday” program at public schools last week.
The mayor posted a photo of a child happily dipping a chip into corn and beans as part of the new menus. But other reviews were more critical, including a photo that showed a tray featuring a not-exactly-vegan bean and cheese burrito and a banana.
Jessica Ramos, a state senator from Queens, said she was disappointed by the vegan offerings and posted a photo of what appeared to be a medley of squash and mushrooms.
“The only real meal some of our city’s kids can count on is what they get at school,” she said. “This wasn’t thought through.”
As for Mr. Adams, he said he would not punish himself for deviations from a plant-based diet.
“If I choose to say I want to put cream in my tea, I don’t beat myself up for that,” he said in a recent interview. “I don’t sit back and say, you know, ‘Oh, my God, I committed a cardinal sin.’”
Katie Glueck contributed reporting.