It’s 2018 and the movement of black vegans has never been stronger. The image of veganism in the West has been heavily dominated by white celebrities in recent decades. Their lifestyles are very unrelatable for the average person, but the increasing representation of black people within the mainstream movement is certainly helping promote the benefits of the movement to our community. Healthy diet movements need more black faces in the mainstream; as a black vegan myself, I was very annoyed to notice that the only advert I saw on TV during Christmas involving black people and food was a promotion for KFC. I’m very passionate about underlining the extremely detrimental effects that the consumption of animal products is having on our health, and also how we are disproportionately affected by the destructive environmental impacts of animal agriculture.
Traditional African diets were always plant-based. This meat-heavy shift that has occurred in recent decades has come at the expense of our once stellar health. Reclaiming and decolonising our diet is a main cornerstone of black veganism.
I have had many discussions with black people who believe that eschewing both the consumption and use of animal products is a rejection of our culture and identity. The saddest part about this is that it shows that many of us do not really know what traditional African nutrition is at all. Historically, we ate the produce of our land; the diet of people of African descent has always been based on whole plant foods, and the consumption of meat was generally limited to ceremonial practices.
The only people within society who were able to consume animal products so regularly were the rich, who did not need to worry about keeping animals to help them tend to their land, nor did they need them as assets with which to trade. They would have animals delivered to them and slaughtered at their behest to serve as the basis of their feasts. Chronic illnesses associated with “excess” were limited to these few.
Unfortunately, with the advent of industrialisation and the growth of widespread animal agriculture, it has become a lot easier and cheaper in recent years for the average person to consume a lot more meat and to do it a lot more regularly. Type II Diabetes, a disease caused by fat toxicity from the consumption of animal products, has increased in prevalence by 1000% in Nigeria in the last 30 years alone, a phenomenon concomitant with the change in dietary practices.
Back in the UK, mixing with British culture has brought in influences such as bacon, sausages, and eggs into the diet; sadly, these foods are a recipe for heart disease and colon cancer. Areas with a significant black population, especially in the UK, are filled with too many chicken and rib shops on every corner (dealing us death and disease, as far as I am concerned) and not enough affordable outlets promoting healthy food to our youth. Our communities are targeted by places offering cheap food that is nutrient poor. Thankfully, black-owned spots like Eat of Eden and The Oracle’s Organic Juice Bar in Brixton are helping to bring healthy, plant-based cuisine back to the forefront of our tastebuds.
Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, most common cancers (such as breast, prostate, colon, and rectal cancers), dementia (mainly seen as Alzheimer’s disease), kidney disease, hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, decreased tolerance to stress; the list is endless. The development of all of the above conditions is very strongly linked to a diet rich in animal products and low in plant foods.
Health associations are guilty of perpetuating the notion that it is our ethnicity, as African Caribbean people in the UK, that is the reason why we have a disproportionately high risk of having the major illnesses that I’ve mentioned, rather than taking note of the fact that it is our modern diet that is plaguing us; our daily sustenance is now sadly very high in saturated fat, cholesterol, oils, and animal protein, but low in starches, antioxidants, and fibre.