Veganism is becoming a more diverse movement, changing in the face of its reputation as a stronghold of hippies in Birkenstocks eating bean sprouts, granola and bird seed. In particular, and like the environmental movement, veganism has been seen as a diet for whites. The blog Stuff White People Like includes Vegan/Vegetarianism as #32 on its list.
But African-Americans are beginning to make the shift to a plant-based diet, according to the Toledo Blade. Some are redefining “soul food” as food that nourishes the spirit rather than more traditional and familiar heavy foods.
A wave of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks aimed at African Americans illustrates the shift in eating patterns. The Toledo Blade mentions “By Any Greens Necessary” by Tracye Lynn McQuirter; “Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, & Creative African American Cuisine” by Bryant Terry, and “The Ethnic Vegetarian” by Angela Shelf Medearis. Blogs like Vegans of Color and Sistah Vegan tackle issues of interest to this growing population.
The Grio identifies another sign that African Americans are growing more interested in dropping meat from the menu: “Traci Thomas, founder of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia, which organizes the annual Meat Out-Vegetarian Food and Wholistic Health Fair in Atlanta, says attendance has trebled in just five years, with more vegetarians and vegans coming through the doors.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer has also noticed the trend. Its website quotes Stephanie Daniel, who attends a weekly vegan brunch and believes “More and more black people, and everyone else, want to turn their diet around.”
The growing number of black vegans counters not only a stereotype of vegans, but also a stereotype of African Americans. Black vegan Evelyn Redcross says she has been told that “black vegans don’t exist.” Redcross and her husband run the vegan brunch Daniel attends and offer a wide variety of foods — including collard greens in a healthy vegan version.
One African American community that has long eschewed animal products is the Black Hebrews. They are vegan in accordance with Genesis 1:29, which says “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”
According to Redcross, the rise in veganism correlates with a growing interest in health in the African American community. There are also many role models for black vegans, including “athletes Hank Aaron and Carl Lewis; Hollywood’s Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Williams; entrepreneur Russell Simmons, and musician Lenny Kravitz.”
The Grio observes that “surprisingly,” veganism is becoming more popular even among black men. In 2012, the site reports, pro football player “Arian Foster joined the likes of rap artist Andre 3000, former NFL running back Ricky Williams and boxer Mike Tyson by changing his diet to a vegan one.” The Grio quotes Constance Brown-Riggs, national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic, who says that “Years ago vegetarian diets were synonymous with tofu and bean sprouts. But, proponents of plant based diets have now made it more ‘sexy’ and socially acceptable.”
(Pat on the back to us, fellow vegans, for making our diets sexy!)
The diversification of veganism is good news for the movement, the animals, and the individuals embracing a healthier diet. The more varied vegans are, the stronger we are, and the less easily dismissed as a fringe element. The diet will also spread faster with representatives in a larger variety of communities. And of course, the more people who stop eating animal products, the fewer animals suffer and die. Everybody wins.
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