Name: Shoshana Muhammad
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Occupation: Technical writer for automotive company
Website: Veggie 101
How long have you been vegetarian? And what inspired your journey?
Nine years ago, I made the choice to become vegetarian for a few reasons. One of my roommates at UCLA was a hardcore vegan. Never preachy, pushy, or condemning, she provided a welcoming and educational approach to the vegan lifestyle, which in turn sparked my own curiosity. A couple months after I met her, my grandmother passed away from heart disease. I remember her returning home from the hospital after having major surgery, and telling us she had a light breakfast of “bacon and eggs.” We all silently winced in horror. I knew there would be no changing the mind of a 76-year old black woman, but I knew I could change my own. Finally, I took a diet and exercise course, and my meat consumption was pretty much a wrap after that. Cancer caused by genetics? Ha, you’d be surprised to find out how much more diet-related it actually is.
Has vegetarianism enhanced your health? Why or why not?
Being vegetarian has enhanced more than just my health; it’s enhanced my outlook on life. Sure, I have my bad days. I also have a few inches around the waist that I could stand to lose. And during “that time of the month,” I consume certain things that I’m definitely not eating in moderation (hello sweets!). But I know I’m not perfect, nor is anyone else. Instead, I’ve learned so much about nutrition, diet, and an overall healthy lifestyle that I’m much more cautious of what I’m putting into or doing to my body, as well as what kind of example I’m providing for those around me. Many of my friends, family, and coworkers come to me whenever they have a food or nutrition question, and many have asked me the best way to cut out meat from their diets or give it up altogether. The first thing I tell them? “It’s not as hard as you think.”
In retrospect, how do you feel about meat? Or do you have any thoughts on America’s meat industry?
Practices in the meat industry are horrific, appalling, and just flat out disgusting. But to be honest, I’m much more a vegetarian for reasons of health than politics. I hate that America is such a carnivorous country (and also the fattest, hmmm coincidence?). I found it sad when earlier this year, food writers announced that one of the predicted food trends of 2011 is “the vegetable.” And how unfortunate that past food trends–such as bacon, foie gras, and pork belly–continue to reign supreme. After becoming vegetarian, I’ve never understood how people knowingly and willingly consume dead flesh. Is it a surprise to anyone, then, that America has the highest rate of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other diet-related ailments? “You are what you eat” could never ring any more true.
Was there a community of black women that helped you along your meatless journey? And if not, what are you doing to change this for others?
Aside from the above-mentioned influences, no one helped me in my diet choice. But that was OK, because I had so much fun researching it on my own. I read up on the perils of meat, the effects it has on one’s body, and how humans aren’t even designed to consume it. After I made the decision to become vegetarian, I went out and bought all the tasty-sounding veggie cookbooks I could. I cooked and cooked and cooked, vowing to basically cook my way through each book and magazine. And not only did I discover a serious passion for cooking and all things food, but that’s how Veggie 101 was born. I wanted to show people that vegetarian and vegan food can be delicious and appetizing, and that it’s so much more than salads and pasta (which some people still think is all I eat). I’m always amused when people try my cooking and are genuinely surprised that food sans meat can taste good: “I don’t even need any meat with this!”
Overall, family and friends have been supportive. Let’s be honest: black people aren’t exactly known for their healthy cuisine. With meals consisting of fried meats, foods drenched in butter or cheese, and even once healthy vegetables swimming in meat juices, I’ve sometimes found it difficult to celebrate the holidays with family members. Last Thanksgiving, however, was especially notable. After my Mom mentioned to our not-often-seen cousins that I was a vegetarian, I showed up to find not one, not two, but three entirely vegetarian entrees for me. Gotta love family! Friends, on the other hand, sometimes “forget” about my dietary choice, inviting me to functions or social gatherings where my only option is possibly potato salad and chips and dip. But that’s OK: as a vegetarian, I already know that there will be times that options are limited or scarce, and I don’t let it bring me down. And the black vegetarian woman’s dating life? Well, I’ve come across my fair share of bozos, and others who are just innocently ignorant of what a good diet is (let alone a vegetarian one). I’ve never tried to “convert” anyone, but let’s just say, it’s best to be with someone who’s educated, compassionate, and open-minded. And who wouldn’t want those things in a mate anyway?
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