Name: Juko Martina Holiday
Occupation: PhD student in Psychology & psychotherapy intern
Location: My time is divided between Los Angeles and Santa Cruz, California
How long have you been vegetarian? And what inspired your journey?
I became a vegetarian in 2003, when I felt a strong pull to align what I knew about meat with my actions. My adoptive mother died at age 57 of complications due to diabetes, when I was only 29 years old. By the time of her death, my father and I were feeding her, bathing her, and putting her on bedpans when she needed to relieve herself. It was horrible to watch her fall apart like that, and devastating to lose her so early. I vowed I would not end up like that, and I knew that part of the reason she suffered so much is because she ignored how important diet was to her management of diabetes.
After her death, I started to educate myself about diet and nutrition, and realized how many of her problems could have been avoided. I learned more about where my food came from, in particular the realities of modern factory farming. I became a more serious Buddhist (I’d been practicing since the late 90s). While vegetarianism is not necessarily a requirement of my faith, being conscious about the suffering of animals was more incentive for me to give up meat. I never thought I could do it! I grew up eating traditional soul food, and I had a special fondness for my grandmother’s barbequed ribs. When I would visit home (Dayton, Ohio), my dad would buy me broasted chicken wings from our favorite spot, and when I refused to eat them, he finally believed I was for real about not eating meat. It’s 8 years later, and I haven’t looked back.
Has vegetarianism enhanced your health? Why or why not?
Deciding to eat a plant-based diet has had a profound influence on my health. Being a vegetarian meant I would have to put more thought into what I was going to eat, and that I was going to have to learn how to cook. I eliminated all that saturated fat from eating meat at every meal and I was also eating fewer calories, and this translated into a 25 pound weight loss, which I lost slowly and have kept off for seven years. Aside from the weight loss, my digestion improved and my chronic stomach discomfort went away – I had become so used to it, I had forgotten what it was like to not feel uncomfortable.
But it’s not just my health that has been helped by making this change. Recently, my father was diagnosed with diabetes. Knowing what we went thought with my mom, I told him “we know better now, so we have to do better,” and I flew home and showed him and my stepmother how to prepare a plant-based diabetes diet. When his nurse came to check on how he was doing, she was stunned. She had never seen someone get their diabetes in check so quickly, and even his doctors seemed to not realize the benefit of a plant-based diet for diabetes.
In retrospect, how do you feel about meat? Or do you have any thoughts on America’s meat industry?
I understand that not everyone is going to become a vegetarian, but I wish we could at least look at how we produce meat and acknowledge how out of balance our consumption is. There is a high demand for relatively inexpensive meat, so it is consumers who keep the meat industry in business. The movie Food, Inc. does a fantastic job of explaining the power we have to demand healthier food and better practices, because we vote on what we want each time we spend money.
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?
My Aunt Pat was the best. When I was a little girl, she was infamous for being the only black hippie anyone in our family had ever heard of, so I called her to help me when I first started eating a vegetarian diet. She talked me through some grocery shopping trips, and gave me a lot of ideas for meals that were not based around meat.
Aside from my aunt, I did not have much support – lots of curiosity and a few eye rolls, to be sure, and disbelief that I could stop eating meat and not miss it and crave it all the time. “I couldn’t do it,” is what I hear a lot of my friends and family say, but it is possible. It does represent a fundamental lifestyle shift and a commitment to move through the world a little bit differently, but the benefits are more than worth it. As far as creating support, my favorite thing to do is cook a vegetarian soul food feast for my friends, and let the meal speak for itself! Preparing or sharing a meatless meal with a friend is a strong way to support someone who is thinking about making the transition.