We’d like to preface this article by saying that we are neither the experts nor authorities on veganism. But, what better time is there than World Vegan Month to educate ourselves (and hopefully a few others), explore the Black community’s relationship with veganism, and highlight prominent Black individuals who practice veganism?
So let’s get into it…
For anyone who may still be unclear on what exactly veganism is, we’d like to direct you to the Vegan Society's definition. “Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
Note: Try to dispel the notion of a “perfect vegan”. There are many different types of vegans who have opted to go vegan for various reasons, and who practice in their own unique ways. Some may decide to stop living a vegan lifestyle at any point. Some may decide to return to a vegan lifestyle at any point. Ultimately, a person’s relationship with veganism is not perfect, it’s personal. And, those who identify as "vegan can be as strict or lax as they choose".
Veganism Within the Black Community
Not sure if this will come as a shock, but veganism is actually the most common amongst the Black community. To substantiate this, various sources report that 8% of Black Americans are strict vegans or vegetarians, compared to just 3% of the general population. And, it should be noted that although veganism may seem like a recent phenomenon (largely due to its growing mainstream popularity), this lifestyle has always been a part of Black culture. For instance, practices of veganism can be linked back to traditional dishes in various regions of Africa (in both ancient and modern times), the Rastafarian lifestyle (which began in the 1930s), and the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Today, there’s a long (and growing) list of Black female celebrities who are either currently vegans or who have tried veganism at some point in their lives. These include (but are not limited to) Queen Bey, Venus and Serena Williams, Erykah Badu, Taraji P. Henson, Ava DuVernay, Kimberly Elise, Lizzo, Jhené Aiko, Summer Walker, Persia White, Leona Lewis, Mya, as well as Nathalie Emmanuel.
Celebrating Vegan Influencers
There’s also a large community of #BlackFemaleInfluencers who practice veganism. We caught up with a few and they shared their journeys, some of their personal favorite vegan influencers, Thanksgiving favs, and more below:
Tracye McQuirter, MPH | @byanygreens
Tracye McQuirter, MPH, is a writer, speaker, public health nutritionist, proud Washingtonian, and she is regarded as one of the most influential vegans in the country. She has received many accolades and has a long list of accomplishments. These include (but are not limited to) being a nutrition advisor for the Black Women’s Health Imperative, as well as pioneering vegan starter guides and websites geared toward African American vegans. Additionally, Tracye is the author of Ageless Vegan, as well as national best-seller, By Any Greens Necessary.
How long have you been vegan? 33 years
What inspired you to go vegan? When I was a sophomore at Amherst College, our Black Student Union brought Dick Gregory to campus to talk about the political, economic, and social state of Black America. Instead, he talked about the plate of Black America and how unhealthily most folks eat. This was in 1986 and we only knew him as a Civil Rights icon and legendary comedian. We didn’t know he had become a vegan activist because of the practice of non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement. What grabbed me was when he started to trace—graphically—the path of a hamburger from a cow on a factory farm, through the slaughterhouse process, to a fast-food restaurant, to a clogged artery, to a heart attack. I had never heard anything like that before. After Gregory’s lecture, I discovered there was a large and thriving community of Black vegetarians and vegans in my hometown of Washington, DC, who had started the first all-vegan health food stores and cafés in the nation’s capital in the 1980s, so I immersed myself in this community by taking cooking classes, attending lectures, going grocery shopping, asking hundreds of questions, and getting mentored.
What advice would you give to someone considering making the transition to veganism? My advice to someone considering making the transition to veganism is the following: Never Give Up When You Slip Up! This is key: When you’re transitioning to vegan foods, it can be common to take one step forward and two steps backward. So you might be doing great one day by eating all vegan food, then the next day or two, you might slip up by eating meat and dairy. Understand that this is usually part of the transition process. So don’t beat yourself up and don’t give up. Just start again the next day, continue to read vegan books and blogs, watch vegan cooking videos and documentaries, and get support from others. So that even on those days when you slip up, know that all the things you’re doing are still working together in the background to help you mentally and physically transition. Keep your eyes on the prize and know that you are in the process of going vegan and you will do it.
Who's your favorite vegan celebrity/influencer that you follow and why? Mya and Persia White because both are longtime vegan activists and were among the first to publicly show their support of our 10,000 Black Vegan Women program.
What's your personal favorite benefit derived from veganism? My number 1 favorite benefit about veganism is my health. I am 54 years old and I’ve been fortunate enough to be healthy my entire adult life because I’ve been vegan my entire adult life. And because I eat a whole food, plant based diet, I can expect that to continue.
Thanksgiving is coming up. What's your signature/favorite vegan dish that you like to cook/eat and what is it made out of? My favorite dish to make (and to eat!) is my “Perfect Pecan Pie.” It’s made with a whole grain crust, pecans, and natural sweeteners, and tastes delicious.
Bonus: What's a misconception you'd like to clear up about veganism? Something I tell my 10,000 Black Vegan Women community is to focus on the joy veganism brings! When people think about going vegan, they often focus on how hard they think it will be. They focus on the foods they’ll be giving up, instead of all the new foods they’ll be adding on. They worry about being different than their family and friends, instead of the beauty of their own personal transformation. In other words, they fixate on deprivation, instead of abundance. To avoid this mistake, shift your mindset. My mantra is “Liberate Your Mind and Your Mouth Will Follow.” So view going vegan as an exciting new journey that you’ll enjoy. Embrace the adventure of this new path you’re taking and keep an open mind and heart.
Jasmine Rose | @msjasminerose
Jasmine Rose is a cruelty-free, vegan and eco-chic lifestyle blogger based in New York City. Tasty vegan food, sustainability, travel and lifestyle design are her passions.
How long have you been vegan? I've been vegan since February 2016
What inspired you to go vegan? My inspiration to go vegan spawned from several things. The first was Lent. Lent is a season of reflection before the Easter holiday where one gives up something for 40 days and 40 nights just like Jesus did. While I'm not a hardcore Catholic, I still like practicing some of the traditions and I felt like going vegan would be a great way for me to build up my willpower. After watching documentaries such as What the Health, Cowspiracy, and films like Earthlings, I realized that I no longer wanted to participate in a diet that involved animals. The second reason was my dad being diagnosed with cancer that same year; I didn't want to go down the same road as he and I also wanted to be a good example to him that possibly changing his diet would slow down the effects but he was stuck in his ways and didn't get an opportunity to make that change. He sadly passed away in June 2016.
What advice would you give to someone considering making the transition to veganism? Give yourself grace. With me, the most difficult part of it all was giving up dairy (Cheddar cheese was my thang) which after doing research on it I realized why. Casein (which is found in Dairy products) are more addictive than Heroin! Going vegan is not always an easy journey but if you have the desire and the willpower, you will get to where you need to be.
Who's your favorite vegan celebrity/influencer that you follow and why? RZA from Wu Tang is a definite fav. He's not the typical vegan you see out in these streets and I love that! I'd like to think that he's inspiring the generation he grew up with to not only go vegan but also adopt self-care practices like meditation.
What's your personal favorite benefit derived from veganism? I love that menstrual cramps are now a thing of my past (especially when I DON’T eat lots of processed vegan food)
Thanksgiving is coming up. What's your signature/favorite vegan dish that you like to cook/eat and what is it made out of? Since I'm 1st gen-Haitian-American, I can't go without my Diri Djon Djon (Black Rice); if you know, you KNOW!
Bonus: What's your favorite vegan beauty product and why?Bite Beauty Lipsticks are amazingly pigmented and smell amazing
Shanika Graham-White | @orchidsnsweettea_
Shanika is a food blogger and recipe developer, with an appreciation and keen eye for interior decorating. Her blog, Orchids + Sweet Tea, delivers on dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan recipes (and if they taste as good as they look, we’re sold!). Overall, Orchids + Sweet Tea aims to help others discover their love journey through foods and an overall healthier lifestyle, with a little Brooklyn flavor + a touch of Jamaican flare + a whole lot of Southern charm.
How long have you been vegan? I'm actually not on an entirely vegan diet. However, I began incorporating vegan meals into my family's [diet] 4-5 years ago.
What inspired you to go vegan? Initially, I wanted to go into a vegan diet out of curiosity and wanting to eat healthier. However, after having my son 5 years ago, my postpartum journey was a difficult one which resulted in my discovery of constant ovarian cysts and an intolerance to dairy/gluten, which pushed me towards minimizing dairy, gluten, and leaning towards more vegan dishes on most days.
What advice would you give to someone considering making the transition to veganism? It's all about taking your time and discovering ingredients. When I first decided to be a vegan, I felt pressured to throw out everything and completely transition cold turkey. However, after deviating from an entirely vegan diet to a mostly vegan diet, I realized that the best/easiest way to transition is to take your time and begin by substituting specific ingredients until you get the hang of cooking full vegan dishes.
Who's your favorite vegan celebrity/influencer that you follow and why? I love Tabitha Brown because of her personality and love for trying new and interesting dishes.
What's your personal favorite benefit derived from veganism? Honestly, since eating mostly vegan, it has helped tremendously with the ovarian cysts that I once experienced pain and discomfort from. Also, due to my dairy intolerance, eating vegan has given me such freedom to actually enjoy foods that don't end up bothering my digestive system.
Thanksgiving is coming up. What's your signature/favorite vegan dish that you like to cook/eat and what is it made out of? I love a good vegan Mac + Cheese, which I've mastered as a recipe on my blog. To make it super creamy (and for most creamy-based dishes) I love using cashews (soaked overnight). Plus, the cheesy flavor comes from using nutritional yeast which is my fave!
Bonus: What's a misconception you'd like to clear up about veganism? That all you can eat are salads. Incorporating more vegan dishes has shown me just how much I don't miss eating meats on my meatless days. Honestly, there are so many meat alternatives that when seasoned well and uniquely made, can be just as hearty, comforting, and savory as meat.
We’d like to send a special thank you to the above women for openly sharing their stories. Additionally, we encourage everyone (esp. those who identify as vegans, as well as those who are considering veganism) to keep up with and celebrate these inspiring Black women.
And on that note, Happy World Vegan Month; let the festivities vegan!
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