Weighing The Pros and Cons of Vegetarianism and Veganism

December 20, 2011  |  

Do you eat meat? The kind that goes “mooo,” or “gobble, gobble,” or …well, I’m a city girl so I have no idea of what sound a chicken is supposed to make but you get my drift.

Anyway, I am a meat eater. Not happily though.  Most times I stand in front of the case at the supermarket’s meat department, gazing solemnly over the various cuts of lamb, wondering if they ever knew their mothers and if their deaths were quick and painless.  Yet I still buy it, take it home, marinate it and serve it with some garlic potatoes and roast asparagus. And I make sure to say grace; not just thanking the Lord Savior but also asking him to make sure the meat is right.

But at any rate, this is just something I have been thinking about as I contemplate a transition to vegetarian. No I haven’t officially started; I’m still in the thought mode, wondering if this is something that I could really do. A few years ago, I “jumped” into vegetarianism heads first. I cleared out my fridge of all the meat and replaced it with fresh fruits, beans, veggies, tofu and other meat substitutes. I even brought the Vegan Soul Food Kitchen cookbook to make my evolution more pleasant to the palette. Yet, as I sat on my living room coach, slurping down a delicious Collard Green and Sweet Potato stew, I found myself thinking, “man this is good, but it would be even better with some fried chicken.”

While there is little statistical data to determine how pervasive vegetarianism is in the community, I think it is safe to say that Black vegetarians are sprouting up everywhere. From Erykah Badu to Russell Simmons to everyday folks,, many have embraced the meatless lifestyle. And according to published reports, the black community’s favorite Barbie and Ken dolls, also known as Beyonce and Jay-Z are the latest celebs jumping on the meat-free bandwagon. Beyonce, who is expecting her first child, has adopted a partially vegan diet to assist in her weight control. “I’ve been really conscious [about food],” according to US Weekly. “I’ve been trying my best not to lose control!”

And being the dutiful and supportive husband and father-to-be, Jay has decided to join her, claiming that “he needs the energy to support her.” Awww, now isn’t that special – especially the partial vegan part. The last I checked, a vegan is someone who doesn’t eat animal products including meat, fish, milk products, eggs. They also don’t wear fur, leather, and wool.  So how does that work? Does she not wear her chinchilla fur coat while she eats her ham and cheese sandwich? Sometimes, I think that folks really do make up stuff just for the hell of it.

Nevertheless, the power couple has the potential to make eating meatless a big trend among black folks. And with almost 80 percent of African-American women, 67 percent of African-American men and 20 percent of African-American teenagers (ages 12-19) being overweight or obese; perhaps it is time for us to consider giving up the hot wings for the veggie burger. Sigh, but hot wings drizzled in blue cheese dressing is just so damn good though.

However, there is a strong case to be made for a meatless lifestyle. When you consider that the overwhelming majority of our cows, pigs, and chickens are subjected to monstrously mistreating and appalling conditions at the present factory farms, thus making them more susceptible to salmonella infections and H1N1 Swine Flu, Mad Cow Disease and a host of other pandemic-like virus, you don’t have to be an animal rights person to be concerned about how the meat is produced.

Likewise, a strong case can be made that a properly planned vegan diet is probably the healthiest diet to have considering that most vegan foods contain no cholesterol and tend to be lower in both total fat and saturated fat than animal products. And let us not forget the look and feel good factor. It should come as little surprise that vegetarians and vegans tend have lower body weight, less hypertension, less chances of kidney and gall stones and lower blood cholesterol levels than omnivores.

On the flip side of that, some folks just really like the taste of meat.  And truthfully, there is nothing wrong and cruel with desiring animals for food. I mean a lion in the Serengeti doesn’t exactly weigh his omnivore lifestyle before pouncing on a gazelle, so why should you? And there is a growing movement in our society to raise animals used for food production as organic, free of growth hormones and cruelty free as possible.  And there has been some scientific research, which has suggested a correlation between a meat-centered diet and weight loss.  Moreover, a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle doesn’t necessarily guarantee good health as in some cases, the lack of concentration of vital vitamins can lead to Iron and B-12 deficiencies and anemia in those meatless dieters, who don’t plan properly.

There is much to consider when embarking on a meatless diet and it is a decision not to take lightly.  And while there are many great reasons, the reality is that a meatless diet may not be for everyone. But as African Americans in particular struggle with chronic diseases,combined with the lack of physical activity and daily consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, it might not be such a bad idea to switch it up every now and then.

As for me, I tend to treat the prospects of my vegetarianism as sort of a food classification like Italian and Mexican. I started doing the whole Meatless Mondays thing, which allows me to abstain from meat for one day without having to miss out on my hot wings Fridays. Also, I have managed to work in more leafy greens into my daily diet by putting them in my fruity breakfast smoothies, thus tricking the palette.  I’m actually thinking about splitting the difference between omnivore and vegetarianism by becoming a pescetarian, which is someone who only eats seafood. Yeah, I know it sounds made up but it works for me.

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