Part 1: Interview with a Vegan
If black women en masse began eating meals made from healthy vegan ingredients, we'd start an instant revolution.
I just finished my breakfast – raisin, date and nut oatmeal and a banana – and I’m already disqualified as a vegan because I put about a tablespoon of milk in my oatmeal. However, I’m pretty sure I can easily become vegetarian.
I’m giving it a whirl this whole week, and am planning to have a black bean burrito and salad for lunch, and some mixture of beans and rice for dinner. Not sure just yet because I haven’t had a chance to go grocery shopping, but am certain my cart will be filled with fresh and frozen veggies and an assortment of fruits.
The inspiration for all of this is 1) weight-loss, natch; and 2) a new book a reader turned me on to By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat.
I have to tell you, some of the statements made by author Tracye Lynn McQuirter are scary, and the tales of how chickens and cows are bred and treated before slaughter are so horrifying they just might make you lose your appetite for meat of any kind. And fish? Fuggedaboudit.
Clearly, though, the vegan lifestyle is healthy and life-affirming. I just don’t see myself doing it, because it excludes eggs and dairy products, and that includes yogurt, butter, cheeses and milk. Those things are OK if you’re a certain type of vegetarian.
Although By Any Greens Necessary is a bit harsh sometimes, it’s a fascinating read, and includes numerous recipes in the back. Looking forward to trying the Spicy Collard Greens. Meanwhile, author McQuirter was nice enough to answer some questions.
Question: You’ve come a long way from dipping strips of bacon back into the grease can on the stove before eating it. Do you ever miss meats?
Answer: I was serious about bacon back then! But after 20+ years as a vegan, I have to say that missing the taste of meat never even crosses my mind. No, meat was never the issue for me. My thing was CHEESE! I loved it. It was my kryptonite! It took me two years to let cheese go. That decision was purely mind over matter. I had to decide that the momentary pleasure of a piece of cheese in my mouth was not worth the health risks, which can be worse than meat.
Q: How important is it to have family support when going vegan?
A: Family and community support was crucial for me. The fact that my mom, sister and I transitioned together, and that we had a strong black vegan community in D.C. as a resource made all the difference. And what's amazing is that before I went veg, I had no idea this vegan community existed, yet they'd been around for decades. In fact, black folks started the first all-vegan eateries in the nation's capital. So, if you're faced with going veg alone within your family, check out what veg groups and activities are available in your city. You may find the support you need in some unexpected places.
Q: You don’t wear wool, silk, suede, leather, weaves or anything else made from animals. What does that leave?
A: I'd been vegan for quite a while – about 10 years – before I started thinking about the ethics of using animals for their skin and hair. Up to that point, I was focused on the health benefits of eating plants rather than animals. That changed when I worked as a policy advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Most of the folks there were vegan for animal rights reasons. The policy was not to wear wool, silk, suede or leather. This was crazy talk to me, because we did NOT wear pleather in D.C.! And what made things worse is that some of my co-workers there smoked cigarettes. So, here they were fighting for the animals, but not giving a damn about their own health. Yet I was the one who was supposed to give up my nice leather shoes! So let's just say I was a little resistant. But I gradually came to understand (through books, lectures, and undercover videos) that the cruelty involved in using animals for fashion (and entertainment) was just as wrong as the cruelty involved in eating them.
So, in answer to the question of what's left to wear, if I don't wear animals: faux wool, silk, suede, and leather, along with natural fabrics. And there's plenty available – from couture to Goodwill. My budget's the limit! And again, I had no idea cruelty-free fashion existed until I started to seek it out.
Q: 80 percent of black women are overweight, and 50 percent of us are obese. If we all turned vegan, how long before we would start noticing changes?
A: Immediately – if we all turned HEALTHY vegans. (Because there are some unhealthy vegan foods out there, including white bread, white rice, white pastas, sugar, fried food, and more.) If black women en masse began eating meals made from healthy vegan ingredients, we'd start an instant revolution.
As individuals, women could start losing at least a pound a week, studies showeven without exercising And since women are still the primary cooks in the family, we could dramatically improve the health our partners and children, as well. We could become the healthiest generations of African Americans from this point forward. Imagine generations of black folks living disease-free for life – no heart disease; stroke; breast, prostate, or colon cancers; diabetes or obesity – while eating healthy plant-based foods in abundance. That's why I wrote this book. I want to grow that revolution.
Q: I know a couple of overweight vegetarians. How is that possible?
A: In addition to the unhealthy vegan foods I mentioned above, vegans can still overeat for a host of emotional reasons. If you were overfed and underloved as an omnivore, you can be the same as a vegan.
Q: No chicken? Seriously?
A: Seriously. No chicken. It's time to step away from the bird. I know for some folks, this may sound crazy. For example, I was at a party once and a woman overheard me say how long it's been since I've eaten chicken. She looked me up and down and said, “You mean you haven't had a piece of fried chicken in 20 years?!” When I said no, she rolled her eyes and walked away, shaking her head at me for the rest of the night. There went my black card, I guess.
But hey, eating chicken does not make you black, it makes you blocked. As in clogged arteries, constipated, filled with mucous and antibiotics, and contaminated by fecal bacteria. Chicken is not a healthy food – it’s loaded with heart-stopping cholesterol and saturated fat. (Even the boneless, skinless kind is full of cholesterol.) In fact, studies show that women who eat the equivalent of one piece of chicken a day increase their risk of breast cancer by 56 percent. Women who eat chicken OR fish have a higher risk of endometrial cancer, as well as bladder, colon, and pancreatic cancers.
If you're wondering what there is to eat without chicken, remember this: if you can make a dead bird taste good, you can make fresh, wholesome plant-based foods taste even better. It's all about the seasonings.
Part 2 of this Q&A with author Tracye Lynn McQuirter will be posted tomorrow.
If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian. ~ Paul McCartney