Veganism is for everyone, Black chef Jenné Claiborne announces in her video on “The Surprisingly Black History of Veganism.”
In the 3-minute eyeopener, Claiborne — a vegan personal chef based in New York City and the blogger behind Sweet Potato Soul — recaps that some of society’s beliefs about being vegan are spot on. But others, including that the lifestyle only attracts white people who are yoga types, are dead wrong.
Yes, a vegan lifestyle — one that excludes meat, dairy, and all other animal-derived products — can improve people’s health. Yes, it’s better for the environment. But no, it’s not an exclusively “white” choice, Claiborne says.
“You may be surprised to find out that this new veganism trend is actually not that new,” she says. “And it’s not all that white either.”
Veganism in Ancient Cultures
The video traces veganism’s roots back to the ancient cultures of India, the Mediterranean Basin, and Africa, where people largely relied on fruits and vegetables because they were more easily accessible.
Claiborne notes that the arrival of European settlers and colonialism changed the way these cultures ate. The introduction of livestock and commercial farming practices meant more animals, less cultivation of indigenous crops, and a path forward to the meat-centric backyard barbecues that come to mind when some people think of Black cooking today, Claiborne says.
But Tracye McQuirter, a Black public health nutritionist and author who also appears in the video, adds that Blacks always have featured prominently in the vegan movement, from indigenous people who ate plants from necessity to modern day legends who reaped the benefits of the lifestyle.
“There’s always been this river of African Americans who have been pioneers in the vegan movement,” McQuirter says.
Veganism and Social Justice
McQuirter was a sophomore at Amherst College when she heard a speech from the legendary Dick Gregory, a civil rights activist known for his satirical humor and his rare ability to bridge the gap between white and Black audiences during segregation.
McQuirter said she never thought she would be a vegan. But within a year of hearing Gregory speak about the plight of Black people, and how unhealthily people ate, she went vegetarian. Within a year and a half from his speech, she went fully vegan.
Gregory became vegetarian in 1965, after his civil rights work introduced him to the concept of nonviolence. Later in his life, after being diagnosed with a lymphoma, he chose to use herbs, exercise, and vitamins rather than chemotherapy to kick the cancer into remission.
He authored the highly acclaimed “Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature,” a cookbook he assembled with the aim of improving Black life expectancy and quality of life.
Gregory also advocated for numerous other social justice causes in his lifetime, including women’s rights, Native American rights, and environmental rights. In one of his most famous quotes, Gregory expounded on the intersectionality of animal rights and human rights.
“Because I am a civil rights activist, I am also an animal rights activist,” he said. “Animals and humans suffer and die alike. Violence causes the same pain, the same spilling of blood, the same stench of death, the same arrogant, cruel and vicious taking of life. We shouldn’t be a part of it.”
That’s a sentiment echoed by Aph Ko, the founder of Black Vegans Rock. Also featured in the video, Ko says she learned early into her journey that a connection existed between animal rights and human rights.
“A lot of black veganism is not just about Black people eating kale or whatever,” she says. “It’s talking about the world, talking about oppression in a totally different way, and re-envisioning a more liberating world, taking into account animal experiences as well.”
Veganism and Hip-Hop
Claiborne also points to numerous Black artists — including Taraji P. Henson, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, and A$AP Rocky — who have gone vegan.
She points out that a “whole lot of rappers” are getting vocal about animal rights.
“Hip hop and veganism lately are going together like Kanye and a muted color palette,” she quips in the video.
Vegetables are “so hot,” she adds, that one one rapper who goes by “Caseyveggies” — who isn’t even vegan — has incorporated them into his name and his song lyrics.
“There you have it folks,” she concludes. “Veganism is for everyone.”