NEW YORK (NNPA)—Pop quiz: What do Angela Bassett, Erykah Badu, Carl Lewis, Brandy, Dre (of Outkast), Russell Simmons, KRS-1, Coretta Scott King, and India.arie all have in common?
Answer: They are vegetarians. NEW YORK (NNPA)—Pop quiz: What do Angela Bassett, Erykah Badu, Carl Lewis, Brandy, Dre (of Outkast), Russell Simmons, KRS-1, Coretta Scott King, and India.arie all have in common?
Answer: They are vegetarians.
However, if you think that vegetarianism is the exclusive domain of trim-and-fit celebrities or tight-bodied athletes, think again. In recent years, there has been a growing trend among African Americans, who have resolutely decided to emancipate themselves from the slavery-based tradition of artery-clogging “soul food” and from the newer chains of “fast food”—opting instead for a meatless and more natural diet.
From Dallas to Miami to New York City, a rising number of Blacks on the rush-hour road of unhealthy living have been taking the off-ramp. Weary of tipping the bathroom scale, getting bad test results from doctors, and losing loved ones to diabetes, heart disease and cancer, more than a few African Americans are now tossing out the meat, grease, and processed foods, and setting up “vegetarian societies” to provide community-based support networks and health information resources.
In Harlem, Tracye McQuirter, a public health graduate student at NYU, recently linked arms with a few veggie-minded colleagues, including Phil Carpenter Lee, a certified fitness instructor and nutrition educator at the Harlem YMCA, and Allison Khan, a Haitian-born program coordinator at the Office for African American, Latino and Asian American Student Services at NYU.
The visionary trio recently joined with other supporters to form the Harlem-based Black Vegetarian Society of New York.
The seed was planted a year ago when McQuirter presented the idea of a resource network for Black vegetarians to Lee and Khan. Inspired by the work and guidance of Traci Thomas, director of the Atlanta-based Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia, McQuirter spent the year hashing out her simmering idea with her veggie friends.
Two years ago, Tracye and her sister, Marya, had already set up a website, BlackVegetarians.com, in response to a torrent of questions from friends and relatives about vegetarian recipes, nutritional requirements for a balanced diet, and, the big question: What about soul food?
Although the website’s traffic has waxed and waned, it peaked at a record high of 1,000 hits on a single day. “We’re trying to find an affordable website designer to keep the website updated,” said McQuirter, a vegetarian since 1987.
McQuirter did her homework. She painstakingly tracked all of the Black vegetarians who visited the website by state and then contacted all of the New York veggies by e-mail, inviting them to attend the first planning meeting for the Black Vegetarian Society of New York.
As quiet as it’s kept, there are also Black vegetarian societies in Texas, Florida and Ohio. Since McQuirter’s own 1987 farewell to meat there has been a definite spike in interest about vegetarianism among Blacks, many who have grown increasingly concerned about the impact of poor diet on Black health, McQuirter said.
“I’ve definitely seen a shift,” she said. “It’s really seeped into people’s consciousness.”
The reasons for this growing awareness of the relationship between unhealthy food and poor health are both obvious and well-documented, said McQuirter.
“We’re the unhealthiest people in the country. Fast food companies and soft drink companies target Black folks; we watch the most TV and so we’re disproportionately absorbing more unhealthy messages and fast food advertising than others.”
Indeed, according to an “American Health Dilemma,” a 2-volume review of race and medicine by Linda Clayton and W. Michael Byrd, two leading Black physicians at Harvard University, African Americans top the nation’s charts in poor health for nearly all dietary-related illnesses, including diabetes, stroke,