Afro-Veganism: Bigger Than A Simple Movement
“We in the West constitute a society based on violence, oppression, misery, and domination that has led to an ongoing societal trauma from the microscale to the macroscale for all of us — whether we are the oppressors, the oppressed, or both. I see this clearly in how we collectively consume and how we rationalize why it is okay if our products come from a place of suffering, violence, and inequality.”
-A. Breeze Harper, Intersectional Scholar, Author, Philosopher, Educator, Founder of Sistah Vegan Project and Critical Diversity Solutions, Blogger, Keynote Speaker, Dartmouth Innovative Thesis Award Recipient, Strategic Consultant
Being a vegan, in its simplest definition, is being a strict vegetarian whose plant-based diet excludes all animal-based products. This may extend to not eating foods processed with animal products and not using animal-based products in any capacity (skin products, clothing, household items, etc.). Afro-veganism brings attention to the lived experiences of Africans and members of the Diaspora that have faced and continue to face racial oppression particular with its intersection to food inequity. However the term represents more than an approach to dieting, it is a social justice movement that involves other disciplines in conjunction to food activism; bringing to light the discriminate acts in agro-industrial complexes, animal rights practices and economics impacting climate amongst many other issues.
A big reason that people adopt the lifestyle is because of the numerous health benefits documented and backed by the medical community; the idea being that ones diet has an immense impact on health is reinforced in studies and anecdotes of the effects of even most debilitating illnesses being mitigated because of the adoption of a new palette. These diets usually consist of produce, pastas, legumes, beans, seeds, nuts and grains, are higher in fiber, vitamins, and minerals in addition to being lower in fats and calories.
Veganism however is not monolithic, so people decide to subscribe to its principles for a variety of reasons that may be ethical, political and the environmental. The various justifications result in people practicing it differently. Some people also do it as a form of liberation, which is inherently decolonial in thinking. Although that is the reality for some, the average vegan is choosing to live the lifestyle primarily for their personal wellbeing along with the aspects of altruism.
The Culture Clash
Generally speaking, the Black community has become more accepting of veganism in recent times. Despite the progression, it still is one of the most difficult practices to adopt within the community due to a number of internal and external factors. For one, the mindset and stigma behind the term and lifestyle needs to be further addressed. In many households, particularly experienced with teens and young adults, the choice to start a plant based diet is looked at as disrespect to the family’s tradition. On a minimal level, it may be perceived as a turning away from ones’ culture or lacking appreciation for the food being made. Despite the negative stigma, many traditional African diets have been primarily plant-based for centuries. Today, many foods eaten by Africans diasporans in western society does not strictly derive from their ancestry. It has been transformed to be less plant-based because of how members of the diaspora were forced to adopt a diet similar to the colonizers of that region and use what they could get to survive.
While people may be quick to dismiss the claim, veganism can be viewed as a subscription of Eurocentrism. This idea has been traced back to old times when the upper class of society would avoid animal products to be seen as more bourgeois and appear of a higher status based on their palette. The notion has been transformed to some thinking that living a plant based lifestyle connotes an adoption of other Eurocentric viewpoints that may go against those of the Black community. The fact that the vegan majority is not Black further reinforces this idea and accentuates how being afro-vegan is a form of liberation, a refusal to subscribe that way of thinking. African Americans being one of the largest consumers of meat on the planet alludes to the idea of how ingrained meat is within the diet. It is important to understand that adoption of a vegan diet does not take away from ones’ culture; that there can be an acknowledgment and respect given to the cultural dishes while having made the personal decision to go on a plant-based diet or avoiding animal-based products.
The Black Lives Matter Movement is acknowledged to have impacted veganism by bringing attention to how interconnected personal health and social justice is. Films such as Black Vegans Rock and The 10th Element of Hip Hop have brought attention to veganism within the black community. The growing popularity of veganism has allowed for more discussions to be had regarding its adoption, an increase in resources, the creation of more delicious vegan options, and the establishment of networks for people to communicate. When compared to the last decade, there has been a significant increase in Facebook groups, Reddit pages, YouTube videos, and blog posts that give more insight to the experiences of Black people adopting a plant based diet along with sharing advice for those willing to start. One of the major limitations for the spread of veganism was the availability of vegan options outside of the house, now there is a steady increase in the number of restaurants having vegan options as well as supermarkets having an increase in plant based products. Plant based alternatives to dairy and meat are becoming more available and accessible in restaurants and at local grocery stores. Cookbooks such as the AfroVegan by Bryant Terry and Recipes For the Soul by Porsche A Thomas in addition to the millions of online guides and recipes have aided in the facilitating spread of information. Many organizations such as AfroVeganSociety have free resources online such as recipes, tips, links to other reputable sites and events.
While the vegan options are generally becoming more available, perhaps the biggest barrier for the adoption of a plant based diet is ironically the access to the appropriate foods and ingredients. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence showing that there are food deserts (areas of limited access to affordable, fresh and nutritious foods) in African American neighborhoods all across America. This results in African Americans being disproportionately more likely to get ill, hospitalized and die of heart disease, strokes and illness related to diet. The healthier and better preserved produce are in more expensive grocery stores in more affluent communities. The bottom line is that it is much easier to maintain a vegan diet with financial stability, especially when the quality products are more readily available. The term food politics comes into play when one looks at the intersection of food access and capitalism. In poorer neighborhoods and inner cities, making disenfranchised and populations, there is more advertising for unhealthier and cheaper foods in addition to a higher density of corner stores and fast food establishments.
If you decide to start the journey to adopt a plant based diet, the best way to go about it is to speak with a dietician and nutritionist if a professional is accessible and affordable to you. You should also do your own research on the topic to see how others are going about it, figure out what questions you should be asking and to learn more about the lifestyle changes you will have to make. Keep in mind that you should identify the reason you are changing your diet and research the subject based on that.
Perhaps the biggest reason why people struggle to stick to the plant based lifestyle, especially early on, is not enough preparation for the difficulty that comes along with the transition such as the food desert dilemma, the physical cravings, and financial considerations. The best thing to do is to ease your way into it instead of immediately cutting out common foods you eat regularly. People generally follow the progression: pescatarian (seafood as the only source of meat) to vegetarian (grains, vegetables, nuts and sometimes egg and dairy) to vegan (strict vegetarian excluding animal products).
Transitioning between palettes can also create a fear not being able to have the right amount of nutrients in their body by cutting out so many foods. Many people avoid this by taking supplements to ensure that they maintain an appropriate level of vitamins and minerals within their body. Again, a dietician, physician or nutritionist should be sought out before taking any supplements or medications. One other thing that can help ease the transition is to learn recipes that fit where you are in your diet. Grab a cookbook, watch videos and look up recipes online to find what dishes that best suit your tastes.
Check out www.blackvegansrock.com www.afroveganchick.com www.blackveganstoday.com www.afrovegansociety.com to find all of the resources you would need to begin your journey.