by: Donna M. Beaudoin
When Toni of Black Girls RUN! asked me to do a post on “Being Black and Vegan,” I thought this would be an easy subject. After all, I’m black and vegan. There are so many streets and small twists-and-turns that this subject can walk-down. I speak about my non-acceptance and acceptance in the black community. I could speak about my acceptance or non-acceptance by non-blacks. I could speak about common illnesses in the black community that could be prevented, treated, and healed through a vegan lifestyle. I could speak about feeling weird, strange, or foreign as a black vegan living in the South. I could speak about how as a vegan and vegetarian, we become leaders and motivators within the black community to act as role models, to teach, to educate, to illustrate how this lifestyle can change one from living on medications and the world living in them - to living on plants to live in this world healthy and strong. All these subjects and more exist to create challenges. Challenges that help me and other vegans/vegetarians to grow and inspire others to lead this healthy lifestyle; consequently, I decided to speak on all the above subjects and how they intertwine living as a black vegan.
It’s funny how you would think that other ethnicities would see a black vegan as unusual; however, it was in the black community that I found the most “in-awe” moments and resistance to my lifestyle.
I grew up and lived the majority of my life in New Jersey, but moved to North Carolina 17 years ago. Although Northern major cities and California, where veganism and vegetarianism are commonplace and being a black vegan/vegetarianism does not seem as though, (to transpose the title of the 1984 movie “The Brother From Another Planet,” that I am a “Sista from Another Planet,”) we still have a long way to go in the black community, in all states, in accepting this lifestyle as an alternative to accepting the illnesses and diseases that we thought were genetic. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and certain cancers that have been prevalent in the black community for too long shouldn’t exist. Our beliefs that these diseases are just a part of life (or part of our family history), and that we should accept that it might happen to us, shouldn’t exist and should stop. Don’t believe the hype or the myths! To paraphrase the infamous saying, "DNA may be the loaded gun but what we eat can either pull the trigger or stop the gun from being fired."
Living a healthy, plant-based lifestyle can influence and determine our health path – whether we end up in the grave early or lead a long, healthy life well into our 80s, 90s or 100s! I have met four people recently from 101 to 103 years old who are active and vibrant. One still works in her upholstery business that she founded years ago. My great-grandmother, who lived as a vegetarian later in life, lived to be 100 without the illnesses prevalent in the black community. It is possible to live long without the illnesses plaguing the black community!
Being a black vegan may pose its challenges. I frequently encounter negative comments from those who see my lifestyle as a threat to their status quo of eating unhealthy. All I need to say during a picnic or gathering is “I do not eat _______ because I am a vegan,” and it seems as though I just said a four letter word…not five. My reply to the various food offers, sometimes is even rebutted by hostile comments from those trying to defend their eating habits of fried and deep-fried foods, fast food meals, large consumptions of beef and chicken, and where the vegetables are in meat and cooked so long that no nutrients are left. I freely accept those comments and challenges if it means that I can influence one person to change their eating habits and put a dent into the statistics that black people are more prone to have and die from heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. I accept those challenges posed by non-vegans/vegetarians because it means that if I have influenced one person, I have made a big contribution to seeing someone become a part of the “walking living rather than the walking dead.” After all, it takes one person to form a chain reaction. Since becoming a vegetarian and then a vegan, I have influenced so many to take back their health. Faces I know and faces I don’t know that have been affected directly and indirectly.
Why are we so accepting of illnesses, and not so accepting of life without medication or little medication? I ponder this question frequently, especially after reading a statistic that black and Hispanic children are more prone to develop diabetes and have a weight issue than other children. We are not only killing ourselves with the wrong foods, but we are also sending our children to an early grave. Dr. David S. Ludwig, Director of the Obesity Program at Children's Hospital Boston said it best in a health report and interview pertaining to children of all ethnicities, “Obesity is such that this generation of children could be the first basically in the history of the United States to live less healthful and shorter lives than their parents…" Is this what we want in the black community? To live longer than our children? Or, even to leave our children parent-less? I can say as a black female, “No! This is not what we want.” As a black-vegan, I can also say. “No! This is not what we want.” Our heritage is a heritage of uplifting each other. Supporting one another. Moving through adversity. Climbing hills to get to the mountaintop in order to show our children (including nieces, nephews, grandchildren, neighbors’ children, children we do not know) that they should have the opportunity to live their lives freely, healthy, and educated to become whomever they want. To restate my infamous statement on my blog, Sister Vegetarian, “it is time that illnesses and diseases are a period, rather than a continuous comma.” This is what we want! We want our children to live, healthily, to become presidents, astronauts, physicians, teachers, chefs, motivators, inspirers, leaders.
My challenges are not over as a black vegan in motivating the black community to lead this life. I started Sister Vegetarian to inspire and motivate people of all ethnicities to take back their health; but, through Sister Vegetarian’s blog and, my upcoming book release in February 2012 (by Lantern Books), I am able to reach an even wider audience.
My life as a black vegan (and anyone who lives as a black vegan or vegetarian) is tirelessly that as a role model. My actions, my writings, my movements, my breath…everything about me are watched. Everything about you is watched. People watch and listen. We are always serving as role models as black vegans and vegetarians whether you want that responsibility or not. It comes with the territory of living this healthy life. Accept it. Embrace it. Relish it! You do not need to do anything special, but just “Be” in Buddhist terms. “Be” a black vegan or vegetarian and you have already changed someone’s life. Someone’s life is being changed every second, minute, hour and/or day because you stood up for your beliefs and became a vegan or vegetarian, knowing that we can prevent, treat, and cure heart disease, diabetes, stroke, some cancers, Alzheimer, arthritis, osteoporosis, asthma, allergies, constipation, eye diseases, skin disease, and more.
So, what does it mean to be a black vegan or vegetarian? To be a black vegan (or, vegetarian) means that I/we have a responsibility to the black community to educate, to illustrate through our lives and actions, to teach, to support, to uplift, to inspire, and to motivate that living a plant based lifestyle means we can continue to move forward and upward rather than being stopped by illnesses and diseases common in the black community. That future leaders do not need to die early from illnesses and diseases commonplace in the black community.
How does it feel to be a black vegan? In my opinion, the best description of being a black vegan can be summed up in a quote by Zora Neale Hurston, “I have been in Sorrow's kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows, with a harp and sword in my hands.”
For more about Donna Beaudoin and her book, Sister Vegetarian's 31 Days of Drama Free Vegetarian and Vegan Living, visit her website Sister Vegetarian.