November 1 marked World Vegan Day, and veganism is rising in the Black community. According to Pew Research data, Black Americans are turning to veganism at rates higher than any other demographic in the country.
From Common to Kevin Hart to Jaden Smith, many Black celebrities are touting the diet that excludes animal products, including honey, dairy, meat, and fish.
Common, who is mostly a vegetarian these days, has dabbled in veganism. On the first episode of his wellness YouTube series, Com + Well, the rapper said, “Things we put in our bodies affect the way we think and how we act, and our energy.”
He added, “Let’s face it. Some of the foods we eat was passed on because that was only some of the foods we had access to. And I say we, and I’m talking about Black people specifically, coming from being enslaved. They’d say, here’s slop. Pig was slop.”
The rapper further explained he was awakened to changing his diet after listening closer to the lyrics of the song “My Philosophy” by KRS-One. The verse, “A vegetarian, no goat or ham / No chicken, or turkey or hamburger / Cause to me that’s suicide, self-murder,” stuck with Common, who eventually took the words to heart and changed his lifestyle.
Health concerns are among the most common (no pun intended!) reasons for Black people today to take on a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. On World Vegan Day, we unpack the health benefits of veganism and several other reasons so many Black people are going vegan today.
Manage or prevent type 2 diabetes
There is some truth in KRS-One’s lyrics; a recent study found a link between the consumption of red meat and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Researchers found a 50% increased risk in those who ate red meat regularly and an even higher risk for those who consume processed meats, including sausage, hot dogs, and bacon.
Stave off heart disease
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of Americans — and more than half of Black Americans suffer from some form of heart disease. In February, research published in the National Library of Medicine found that a vegan diet had a positive impact on heart health.
“Plant-based diets can lower all-cause mortality and lower the risk of ischemic heart disease,” researchers reported. “It can also optimize blood pressure glycemic and lipid control, and thus reduce the need for medications.”
Save the animals
Beyond the health risks a vegan diet could help lower, many choose to go vegan to save animals from suffering. Throughout history, many Black civil rights leaders and activists, including Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, and Angela Davis, have chosen a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle because they saw parallels between animal rights and Black liberation.
Save the environment
Meat production profoundly impacts the environment. A study released in July found that vegan diets contribute 75% less “climate-heating emissions, water pollution, and land use” than diets with more than 100 grams of meat a day. The study also found that vegan diets cut down on the destruction of wildlife by 66% and water use by 54%.
Veganism isn’t a new fad for Black people
When it comes to vegan diets, globally, Black people are not new to this; they are true to this. Veganism has roots around the world, including countries throughout Africa and the Caribbean. Rastafarian Ital food is a plant-based cuisine that has long been on our shores.
Black vegan and nutrition guru Tracye McQuirter told Today, “There’s always been this river of Black folks who have been pioneers in veganism next to the wider ocean of folks who are omnivores. In West Africa, for generations, the food was primarily plant-based.”
Black vegans are increasing
Sometimes, seeing is believing. In recent years, the amount of Black vegan representation, from influencers to diet gurus to celebrities, including Beyoncé and Steve Harvey, has increased. With this has come wider access to knowledge around the diet for the Black community.
Dr. Amie Breeze Harper, author of “Sistah Vegan: Black Women Vegans Speak on Food, Identity, Health, and Society,” told Insider, “I have seen how specifically Black communities, for example, are using the internet and social media to advocate for and promote, their vegan food options and businesses in a way that didn’t exist even 15 years ago.”
There are more Black vegan brands and restaurants to support than ever
Black vegans today have many ways to benefit the Black community through their lifestyle. With the influx of Black vegans has come a rise in Black vegan brands and restaurants, with offerings as diverse as the individuals. We have Yolélé Foods appearing on shelves in major supermarkets; Kevin Hart’s Hart House with multiple locations throughout Los Angeles; and Pinky Cole’s viral Slutty Vegan restaurant chain with locations around the country, including a new one opening in Baltimore. A quick Google search of “Black vegan brands” or “Black vegan restaurants” yields many, many more.
Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives.