Veganism has surged in popularity in recent years, with plant-based options popping up on menus and supermarket shelves across the country. But for many Black Americans, veganism and plant-based eating have been a part of their cultural heritage for generations. In fact, reports have shown that Black people are nearly three times more likely to follow a vegan diet than white people.
However, the reasons for adopting a plant-based diet go far beyond just food preferences. Health disparities in marginalized communities, especially Black and Brown people, have resulted in higher rates of diet-related diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. According to Brenda Sanders, the founder of the Afro-Vegan Society, “It’s a matter of life and death for marginalized communities, especially Black and Brown folks.”
Despite these challenges, Black vegans are leading the way in the vegan movement, advocating for healthier options and promoting cultural significance. Veganism has long been ingrained in Black American culture, from Rastafarianism, the Nation of Islam, and early hip-hop culture. For example, when Sanders was first introduced to veganism 25 years ago, it was through Black people who had opened a health food store/cafe back in the early seventies.
However, accessibility, cost, and education still remain obstacles in aiding in major health disparities across the nation. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, with 1 in 6 Americans struggling to eat daily meals, and Black communities being twice as likely to experience food insecurity. According to the USDA, a food desert, also referred to as “food apartheid,” is an area where large proportions of households have inadequate access to transportation and a limited number of food retailers providing fresh produce and healthy groceries for affordable prices. In urban areas, at least a third of the population must live more than 1 mile from a supermarket, and in rural areas, at least 10 miles from a supermarket. According to the McKinsey Institute for Black Economic Mobility, 21% of Black Americans reside in a food desert.
While simply erecting more supermarkets or groceries stores seems like a solution, accessibility serves as the first behemoth for increasing nutritional value. Bridging the knowledge gap is vital, and Black vegans are taking to social media to provide guides and recipes on how to prepare fresh foods once they’re in the hands of those who need it. Vegan chefs and influencers alike have amassed millions of followers connected to vegan and plant-based cooking. Celebrities such as Beyoncé and Venus Williams have also advocated for veganism, offering fans the chance to win tickets to their concerts for life if they incorporated more plant-based meals into their diets.
It’s important to note that veganism and plant-based eating have deep roots in Black American culture. Dissecting it from continued trends and promoting its connection to issues related to individual well-being, environmental health, and generational community development remains at the core of the Afro-Vegan Society’s mission. Sanders emphasizes the need to “divorce the idea of plant-based alternatives from trends, from the idea that it has to be expensive, or that it somehow runs counter to our culture. There are so many different problems that can start to be addressed by this one change.”
So what can we do to Support this vegan revolution? For starters, we can educate ourselves on the cultural significance and importance of plant-based eating, and Support Black-owned businesses that offer vegan and plant-based options. We can also advocate for increased access to healthy food options in food deserts and Support organizations such as the Afro-Vegan Society that work to promote and educate about plant-based eating.
By recognizing the cultural significance and health benefits of plant-based eating and working to make it more accessible to all communities, we can create a more sustainable and equitable food system. As consumers, we can Support Black-owned businesses and advocate for policies that address food insecurity and systemic obstacles. We can also educate ourselves on the benefits of plant-based eating and experiment with new recipes to incorporate more plant-based meals into our diets. By taking action, we can help build a more just and healthy future for all.
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