Skinfolk, we've been having the racism conversation for hundreds of years (and we won’t stop), but there's one crucial component that's missing: diet. Racism and diet are not mutually exclusive, and although I'm absolutely here for shaking things up on the political level, we certainly cannot ignore the very real connection between what we put into our bodies, and what happens to our bodies as a result.
The physical external threats to our beings are real. We’re in danger. We tread on unsteady ground and, rightfully so, we’re angry, frustrated, and scared. That said, there’s an even bigger threat to our safety and well-being that comes from within, food. Although we cannot predict the mood of a pretentious cop out to hunt innocent Black bodies, there is an even more dangerous menace that runs rampant amongst the Black community that we’ve turned a blind eye to for way too long. Family, we’re poisoning ourselves. We’re poisoning our children. We’re teaching, learning, and spreading eating habits that harm our physical at the most fundamental of levels.
How did it all start?
When we were stolen from our homes, separated from our families, dropped onto foreign soil and deemed “less than human”, everything-- from language to family structure, to diet-- was turned completely upside down. Our ancestors were given the very minimum to subsist on: scraps, leftovers, whatever they could find. Naturally, they persevered and made do with what was given to them (and even made it desirable! Soul food, y’all!) We look at these dishes with full hearts because of what they represent: strength, creativity, ingenuity, and history. Family, we’re not on the plantation anymore, and the world has changed. We have a choice.
Next came brilliant marketing campaigns which made sure that the unhealthiest of foods were the cheapest and most easily available to low-income, Black + Brown families. They add chemicals, hormones, “natural and artificial flavors” and fill the shelves with this poison all the while, raising the prices of the bare necessities. Think about the price difference between a bag of frozen french fries and a head of broccoli. It’s staggering.
I do not believe that the meat + dairy industries changed because they wanted to target Black people. They simply follow the demand and go where the money is. Unfortunately, because of #fortheculture, poverty, and an undeniable lack of education, people of color are still holding onto eating habits that we very well know are killing us.
Know Better, Do Better
We’ve grown accustomed to disease. Raise your hand if someone in your family as “the Arthur” (arthritis) or if you know someone with “Beetus” (diabetes) or “the Presha” (hypertension). These are all illnesses that kill Black people at astounding rates, and they’re all preventable. Diet is the problem. “No, but it’s genetic!” Bruh, Type 2 diabetes is not genetic (just because you may have a pre-disposition, doesn’t mean that it has to manifest), it’s dietary, and the only things you inherited were the lifestyle and your love of bacon and peach cobbler. Just because a disease is treatable doesn’t mean that living with it is pleasant or even necessary.
Food is political. Just like we “stay woke” in terms of police brutality, disproportionate numbers of Black and Brown people in prison, redlining, sexism, and homophobia, we need to wake up in relation to our dietary choices. The evidence is there. The facts are undeniable. The proof is also there: what we’re eating is killing us at mind-boggling rates. According to the CDC, over 40% of Black men over 20 have hypertension and 44% of Black women. Unsurprisingly, two of the three leading causes of death in the Black community are stroke and heart disease. We’re getting fatter and sicker and more complacent. Blackdoctor.org states: “56.9% of women 20 years and over suffering from obesity”. (Let’s stop calling ourselves “thick” and call it like it is, family!) This has reached epidemic levels, and no one’s talking about it.
To be a Black Vegan is a revolutionary act. Why? Because it takes courage to unlearn what we’ve been taught both by our families and by governmental agencies who allegedly “want the best for us”. Be real, have we ever been able to trust the government, though? Yes, even chicken is bad no matter how successful the marketing campaigns praising the health benefits of “white meat”. It’s political. It’s deliberate. Let’s not even get started on food deserts. You can change to a plant-based diet and keep the culture. (A great resource is this Afro-Vegan cookbook). We know better, we have to do better.
It’s a fact: food and culture are deeply connected. It’s also a fact that if you’re dead, or perpetually functionally ill, you cannot march, you cannot protest, you cannot protect your family or yourself.
If you’re interested in continuing this conversation, finding resources, or making a change, please reach out! Comment! Email! Engaging in conversation is the first step. It’s okay to question. It’s okay to stumble (even if you stumble into a deep-dish pizza). Getting out of the sunken place isn’t easy, but we’re in this together!