So, I am tackling a subject that has been on mind for quite a while one that I have discussed with friends and other vegans. This is a topic that I hope will start an intriguing dialogue here concerning the vegan movement among African-Americans.
As we have heard many times before and as I myself have addressed here, we are disproportionately affected by a plethora of preventable diseases most often linked to meat consumption. Unfortunately, even with the alarming statistics consistently on the forefront, many still refuse to take closer look at their plates and make significant changes. I often wonder though, beyond not wanting to give up burgers and steak, are there other reasons why many of us are shying away from plant-based diets?
I have often surmised that one reason might be because, upon looking at the landscape of veganism, you see mostly female Caucasian faces spearheading the movement, thus perhaps making it undesirable or instilling a feeling of this sort of lifestyle being “not for us.”
But, upon further examination, while looking at many of the African-Americans who are embracing this lifestyle, there seems to be certain types of people that you see on the forefront as well.
So, it makes me inquire: do African-Americans feel that if they don’t fit a certain mold that there is no room for them to embrace or promote the lifestyle? I know it may sound silly to even suggest, but we live in a society where many strive to “fit-in” and be “accepted,” so are people afraid of the stigma that can often come along with veganism?
Do people feel that if they have a weave instead of locks or prefer designer clothing over cultural accessories that there is no place for them in the movement?
Or are people using that as an excuse to continue eating meat?
I would like to believe that anyone pondering a plant-based lifestyle would do so based solely on the health and environmental benefits and not based on where they may be able to fit in within the movement. However, I just can’t get beyond wondering if the social aspect to vegan living is one that makes some pause before jumping in, whether looking at Alicia Silverstone or Erykah Badu.
It is my hope that people embrace their own identity and not concern themselves with labels and feel they have to fit a certain mold to become or promote vegan living. I think it’s important to move beyond looking at veganism as a “white” or “afro-centric” thing; it’s a “green” thing and is about using whole foods and plant-based living to promote optimal health.
I understand how one may want to know where they fit within the vegan community. It can be challenging, however, if you feel the scope is limited. On one side you have a group of people that don’t know how to embrace and include you properly, and on the other, a group that seems to promote specific ideas or an approach that you may not understand or agree with, but feel you should.
To get beyond this I believe it’s paramount to be true and authentic to who you are. How you choose to present yourself should not be part of the equation when deciding what’s best to feed your body.
It’s important to remember that within any movement there are always opinions and judgments attached to it by those on the inside and out, but it is vital to move beyond the chatter and create your own destiny and define what works for you. There will always be some individuals out there you can relate to and feel comfortable with that can help you learn and grow as you embrace a new vegan lifestyle.
Now it’s on you, have you contemplated veganism but are more turned off by the images and rhetoric attached to it than tofu? We want to hear your thoughts and experiences.
I’m an AA female and am not vegan although I frequent this site weekly. I am interested in fitness and wellness. My choice to eat meat has not and will not be changed by other vegans whether black or white. I like meat plain and simple. There’s nothing anyone regardless of race can do to make veganism desireable for me.
Great thoughtful piece. I became vegan fives years ago mainly for ethical reasons. I have always had a deep understanding of the compassion needed for all earths creatures although I don’t believe animals should not be harmed for human sustenance. The issue for me in all forms of diet is the hyperbole in vegan rhetoric. PETA is source for most of it but I do see the “afro-centric,” as this author defined them, as highly propagandized. Meat consumption is not the root of all evil but industrial factory farming, the source of most meat, is the problem. I encourage everyone to seek their own path and find what’s best for your own body.
I went through a natural/health/wellness phase in my twenties (currently in my 30’s). As I got older and had children, certain life changing events forced me to change my habits. Before having children I was two years in at being a vegetarian. I worked out four days a week, didn’t eat after 7 and had natural hair. I grew up in a mostly white community and felt the need to fit in, in the process I chose to hold on to certain ethnic habits and decied to change for myself. When I had my first child my doctor advised that I eat chicken and fish because my diet started to effect me negatively.
Three children later I find myself gravitating back to healthier habits just because I like and not for some huge conscious reason. I eat meat when I like and find that I choose veggie options for health and taste. I still have natural hair, but hate to be labeled a neo/hippie or whatever to others. I do me and choose not to be labeled because of my preferences. These labels are what is holding people back from making healthier lifestyle choices. Let people figure things out on their own at their own speed without having some silly hippie/neo/naturalista persona
I don’t believe the issue is fitting in so much. Rather, I believe what’s holding so many Black folks back from practicing veganism or vegetarianism or just eating clean/healthy is plain ole’ education. Many of our people simply don’t know enough about the basics of a healthy diet. Christa Shelton, I don’t know where you live but I live in the Deep South and many of our people here just don’t know they have much of an alternative…a do-able alternative when it comes to diet. So, before I see “fitting in” as a viable reason for Black folks not to engage in veganism, we need a mass veganism or any kind of healthy dietary lifestyle movement in our Black communities especially in the Deep South.
The problem with the Vegan movement, PETA and other movements and organizations that “promote” so-called “healthy and humane lifestyles is generally how they envision “promoting.”
Nothing is a bigger turn-off than somebody in your face preaching or acting out in public and through ads about how superior or more righteous they are because of their choice of lifestyle. If you can’t talk sensibly and quietly without the fear tatics and hysteria…you turn people off. If you can’t accept someone’s choice of a different lifestyle then your own, you lose again. If you make your issue seem to be “more trendy” than actually doing good, you lose your voice in the issue again. The act of so many people trending” towards something to “fit in” rather than because they actaully beleive or like or need what they do” is another problem…hence a lot of people “going Gluten-free” not for health reasons, but because it’s an “in” thing to do right now.
Product manufactures who throw an extra $2-3 dollars on a “product of the moment” plus increasing prices for “organic” or “healthier foods” helps make the choice of a different lifestyle unattainable for many in low income brackets. Protesting restaurants, showing naked celebs and preaching doesn’t cut it.
How we promote lifestyles and why and goes a long way in allowing people to make educated choices. How we treat the acceptance of what they choose says alot out tolerance and choice in our society.
While I think there is a stigma and a image of what vegans are like I am pleasantly surprised at the breadth of the AA vegan community. As I participate at area health fairs representing our medical practice I am often approached by AA folks not fitting this mold at all. I have seen folks in their 70s make the switch rather than continue on the path towards ever increasing medications, illness and disability. Certainly the media and the most visible folks help to perpetuate the stereotype. But thankfully the reality is different.
We also must remember that with the increasing levels of sugars, and salts in processed foods, much of what is now the Standard American Diet is addictive and the food producers know this. Their bottom lines (and that of the pharmaceutical and medical industry) depend on us continuing to eat what they decide to dish out.
it is amazing I was thinking about this same thing a few days ago. Very interesting piece and I do agree with one commenter that said there needs to be more education not just for blacks, but for Latinos as well.
I’m an African American male who has had a plant based, vegan diet for 15+ years. I’ve been asked many times “Are you Muslim?”, “Is your diet doctor’s orders?”, “What do you eat, salads??” and many others. When I say “no” and that it was a conscious and preventative decision I made some years ago, then more questions begin. I now welcome these questions with a smile because I don’t usually speak on my diet unless someone asks, typically at a work function when they see which foods I select from the menu, buffet, etc. I take the lighthearted route by reminding them that there is a very wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and legumes and give a few quick examples of vegan alternatives, restaurants, etc.
I must admit that sitting at a table with a group of folks asking questions about the food on your plate can be a bit daunting at times, but it just takes some getting used to. Readjusting our comfort levels are healthy signs of growth and change, so that is a good thing 🙂 I do get the occasional joke, but for the most part, I look at sharing my experience as a blessed opportunity to educate and to show the brighter and more colorful sides of vegan/vegetarianism. Finding a balancing point amongst co-workers, family, and friends is essential, but being a positive and free thinking individual amidst society and the masses-at-large is imperative. Personally, I’ve never really associated vegan/vegetarianism with race because most people I meet (here in the south), no matter their backgrounds, are not vegan, unless of course its a “green” community, in which the majority of the members that I’ve met happened to be vegan and raw foodist African Americans.
With all of this said, I couldn’t agree more, that being true to who you are is most important. My personal goal is to remain steadfast and loyal to myself and my family, first and foremost, focusing on living a holistically healthy lifestyle, mind, body and spirit. My short list of advice for those looking to take the journey into vegan/vegetarianism (from my own experience) is to identify and conquer your addictions, stay disciplined, remain true to yourself, reward yourself, and find support with a friend, family member, and/or communities like Frugivore 🙂
I have a blog post about that here