When international pop icon Beyoncé Knowles-Carter revealed her vegan weight-loss secrets on ABC’s Good Morning America she received an unprecedented backlash from her otherwise loyal fans. While the star’s latest announcement might not be a hit with her main fan base, embracing a lifestyle free of animal products and processed foods may have both health benefits and economic effects that could appeal to followers of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

To make her vegan debut to the world, Beyoncé took a change of course from her usual surprise announcement strategy and coordinated the exclusive release of her diet secrets with Good Morning America, the leading morning talk show with nearly 5 million viewers. The pre-recorded segment featured the “***Flawless” star recalling her personal weight-loss struggles and cited the benefits of vegan-style cooking for people with diet-related chronic diseases.

The A.M. news slot was a plug for Mrs. Carter and her longtime trainer Marco Borges’ new diet plan and health-food delivery service, The 22-Day Revolution. But the fans weren’t interested and they let the world know it. Botched product launch aside, there is merit to the entertainer’s message and Black people stand to benefit the most.

If there were a competition for the demographic with the highest percentage of hypertension, diabetes or obesity, Blacks would lead the way as a statistical frontrunner.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Non-Hispanic Blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity (47.8 percent) followed by Hispanics (42.5 percent), non-Hispanic Whites (32.6 percent), and non-Hispanic Asians (10.8 percent).

The graph below traces the incremental rise in diabetes rates since 1980. While all races are affected by the high-carb, high-protein, high-sugar western diet, Blacks are disproportionately affected by the disease.

Photo: CDC

The CDC’s statistics on blood pressure levels support the trend.

Diabetes, hypertension and obesity are known as comorbidities, or chronic diseases that occur simultaneously. These ailments are precursors for more serious conditions such as kidney failure, heart attack, aneurysm, stroke, vision loss, amputations, gallstones and breathing problems. Reading this list might cause you to think twice about health problems you or your family members might be familiar with. I know I am.

The leading causes of death amongst the Black American population are heart disease, cancer and stroke. Studies have shown a correlation between disparaging health and diets low in fresh fruits and vegetables. The Department of Agriculture estimates that 23.5 million people live in food deserts. Food deserts occur in low income places with low access to affordable, healthy food choices. Black people are more likely to live in such areas.

In addition to limited food options, Blacks (and Latinos) also receive a higher rate of junk food advertising on a day-to-day basis. In November 2014, The Washington Post reported about a team of researchers who found that kids in black neighborhoods were targeted with 60 percent more junk food ads than kids in White neighborhoods:

“Fast food restaurants blanket the country, but they are especially ubiquitous in the country’s poorer communities. This reality, which has been called ‘food oppression,’ is a crucial component of a growing systemic problem in the United States, whereby America’s richer communities are eating better, while its poorer communities are eating worse.”

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A change in the way we eat could save hundreds of thousands of Black lives a year, simply by eating less processed foods. In an experiment, African Americans who ate a South African diet for two weeks decreased their precancerous colon growths.

Could Beyoncé’s plan save the day? Maybe. Some took to Twitter to question the feasibility of the plan given the expense of healthy food. Others bombarded her Instagram account with meat-laden emoticons. Granted, if you have a spare $945 to spend, the 22-day meal plan might be for you. But if you live in a neighborhood where artificially colored sugar juice is cheaper than a bottle of Poland Spring, then you probably won’t be clamoring to sign up for the service.

There are other options. Simply reducing meat intake to a few times a week can make a big difference.

Ricah Norman, a Brooklyn-based chef, enjoys cooking vegan meals for herself and clients. She recently catered a #Sanaa party in Bed-Stuy and her all-veggie dishes sold out before nights end. For Norman, pursuing plant-based nourishment doesn’t come at the cost of taste. “If anyone believes they have to give up comfort food in order to be vegan, they have never had my cooking, especially my peach cobbler,” she shared.

She admits people living in poverty might feel limited by their pockets, but remains steadfast in her vegan-friendly eating style. “We suffer from an abundance of shitty options,” she states in an email exchange with Blavity. “If we take control and stop letting everything be dictated to us by those who have some type of monetary stake hold in what we do, we’ll be alright,” says Norman.

It is hard to take Beyoncé seriously when she is clearly promoting a product that piggy-backs off of her diet revelations.

It would be truly revolutionary if the Queen’s so called “22-Day Revolution” actually sparked 22 days of social change. There might be a way. For a moment during the GMA segment could be mistaken for a cunning boycott of the American food industry. “For the average person to go on a vegan diet, DO NOT shop the center isles of the grocery store, that’s where all your packaged and processed foods are going to be.”

Kraft, General Mills, Dole, Nestlé and Pepsico make nearly all the food Americans eat, but Black people fare the worst. Fast food chains do the Black community no better. A large percentage of McDonald’s customers are Black, proving that the company profits at the expense of Black bodies. Does McDonald’s care about Black lives? What about Nestle?

Is Beyoncé covertly telling us to boycott the multi-billion dollar food industry? The Carter’s have allegedly paid the bail of a number of activists. Should we brace ourselves for a politically outspoken B? Probably not.

But what would the wholesale adaptation of a plant-based lifestyle change mean for the companies that produce junk? If #blackoutblackfriday was any indicator, there is power in the purse and our collective pocket is $1 trillion strong. No justice, no profit and along the way, better health. They say self-love is a revolutionary act. What could be greater than taking care of oneself?

Hopefully by now the Beyhive will have forgiven Beyoncé. Maybe they will thank her too. If this young mother can get millions more people to eat their vegetables, she will have succeeded where many have failed and would truly prove herself to be an influential Queen after all. No GMA needed.

Melissa B. Elian, better known as Bunni, is a Haitian-American multimedia journalist based in New York City. She specializes in documentary and news photography/video. Her work has been published by the Daily Beast, Global Post, New York Daily News and Afropunk.
Follow her musings about current events on Twitter: @bunnisays or her snapshots on Instagram: @hellobunni

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