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Black People and the ‘Vegan Way’

December 1, 2017
Plain English Version

The Baltimore Vegan SoulFest is one of several gatherings dedicated to vegan food, as interpreted by African-American cooks. This event is held in August each year on the campus of Baltimore City Community College. Photo Credit Courtesy Nate Pesce for The New York Times

Going vegan (becoming a vegetarian) is not news. That many black people are vegans is not news. But putting a black spin on the vegan culture is news.

Many thought that being a vegetarian is a white thing. But it is not, Aph Ko is a woman who documented a list of black vegans in 2015. People like the comedian Dick Gregory and Coretta Scott King are on the list.

Vegan cooking and eating is blooming. Black Americans are a part of the growth. Movements like Black Lives Matter are spreading the word. “What the Health” is a documentary about healthy eating. Many people watched it and are turning to the vegan way.

More and more black people see the vegan movement as part of a larger world. That world includes personal health, animal welfare and social justice.

Vegan athletes like Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics and pop stars like the singer Jhené Aiko bring pop culture to that world. There are new cookbooks and a new breed of vegan soul food restaurants. They bring new energy to black consumers.

Eating vegan is not new for black cultures. It has long been a practice for followers of black religious and spiritual movements. These groups include Rastafarianism.

Avoiding meat is a core principle of the Nation of Islam. Its founders believed that pork was at the heart of the slave diet. It preached vegetarianism as the most healthful diet for African-Americans.

There is politics. “It is not just about I want to eat well so I can live long and be skinny,” said Jenné Claiborne. Her first cookbook is “Sweet Potato Soul.” She says, “For a lot of black people, it is also about social justice and food access. The food we have been eating for decades and decades has been killing us.”

Bryant Terry is the chef-in-residence at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. He cooks to counter the old ideas about vegan food. He wrote a cookbook in 2014. The book is still in the top 10 soul food cookbook rankings on Amazon.

A chef said fried chicken is the toughest thing to let go. She said, “People tell me: ‘I can’t do without the chicken. I’d rather die a painful death than have to give up chicken.’”

To help, she created spicy chicken-fried cauliflower. She builds a crunchy crust by dipping large cauliflower florets into heavily seasoned flour. She then puts it into a wet batter of hot sauce consisting of Dijon mustard and soy milk.

Vegan advovates want young people to see veganism as “something cool and something political.” A restaurant owner in Atlanta sees her customers as modern-day revolutionaries. She says they do it without picking up a gun or having to throw a grenade or carry a picket sign. She concludes, “We are defying the death industry.”

But sometimes veganism is just good food and fun. There are black vegan food festivals. They feature “mac downs.” Hundreds of people compete in vegan mac-and-cheese festivals.

Source: The New York Times November 28, 2017

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