Considering Veganism: A Black Girl’s Journey To Breaking Her Family’s Cycle Of Poor Health

May 7, 2013  |  

My family SUCKED at being healthy. Over the past five years family members have been in and out of the hospital due to not going for regular check ups, many seizures/strokes, fibroids, hypertension and diabetes. Most, if not all of these deadly diseases, are a direct reflection of poor diet and exercise choices. Shortly after my aunt passed away in December 2012 – a woman whose last doctor’s appointment was in the early ’80s and who remained the picture of health until colon cancer claimed her – I got interested in eating healthier. I had given only a cursory glance to online articles about how food choices directly relate to cancer before, but now I was interested, if not heavily invested. It hit me all at once.

I didn’t have to wonder anymore. I didn’t have time to say, “I’ll get healthy tomorrow.” I didn’t try to talk myself out of it. I allowed the journey to begin. I started researching everything. Veganism and vegetarianism weren’t just hippie white folk fads anymore to me. They were real viable options for better health.

I didn’t see my body as indestructible anymore when I watched my mother hemorrhage to the point of near-death because of overgrown fibroid tumors. I didn’t take pride in the fact that I could eat whatever I wanted and still remain thin due to ridiculously high metabolism, as I watched my mother now struggle with her weight and her overall health. I didn’t feel good about my sedentary lifestyle when I watched people much older than me – I’m talking 70s and 80s – win battles against all sorts of terminal illnesses because they chose to educate themselves about nutrition and follow through with action. They were marathon runners, and I was sitting on the couch watching Ridiculousness eating Entenmann’s donuts. I’m 27. Things needed to change and they needed to change fast.

I first considered vegetarianism/veganism when I watched the documentary Vegucated. The film shows a young vegan filmmaker who finds three individuals of different demographics to participate in a month-long experiment of life as vegans. No meat, no animal byproducts, which includes cow’s milk, butter, eggs, etc. Not only did the documentary show how they navigated life free of meats and animal byproducts, it also showed how harmful a diet high in meat is to our overall health. It followed the documentary volunteers as they learned about the farming industry and genetic modification. They learned how to cook their own great meals free of meat or animal byproducts. It was inspiring to watch.

But could I forego the meat? Did I HAVE to? At this point, all I knew was that I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to have energy throughout the day without needing a shot of caffeine. I wanted to decrease my chances of developing a terminal illness. I wanted to be active. I just wanted good health, which I knew I did not have at this point. I may only be 107 pounds, but climbing a flight of stairs left me winded. Something was very wrong with that. So why not consider these other options?

I’m a black woman with a familial history of diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension and fibroids. I was horribly unaware of ALL of this until my mother’s hysterectomy last January and my aunt’s passing in December. The year of 2012 was a wake up call for me. With heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes as the four leading causes of death in African Americans, perhaps consideration of a lifestyle change wasn’t so crazy. Perhaps substituting fresh produce for a McDonald’s burger wasn’t so mind-blowing. Sure, it’s not fast, but it’ll save my life. I’m with that. Our people are dying because we don’t care how/what we eat – it’s a tradition for African Americans to eat large portions of unhealthy foods, to have little to no real nutrition education, or to not have access to more than fast/processed foods.

So why not consider, at the very least, adding a surplus of fresh fruits and vegetables to our diets? Why not consider substituting fresh herbs and spices for the salt?

I have decided to try a vegan diet. Not to prove anything, but just to see how much I can do. I have had a “I can’t live without meat!” mentality for most of my life. And honestly, I don’t know how I’m going to survive without butter, but the fun of it is to test the waters and see what happens. In deciding to take responsibility for my life, researching and exploring new ways to do so is a no-brainer. Though I am still in the research phase – gathering a nice little library of vegan meal and snack recipes, I am eating so many more fruits and vegetables in a day, I’ve taken up running and Pilates, and I’m planning to run two 5Ks by the end of the year.  The cycle ends with me because I refuse to leave my health in the hands of anyone else. I’ve got one body and even if veganism doesn’t pan out for me – I’ve learned too much about the immense amount of freedom in food choices to go back to donut binges. I plan on sticking around.

I’m a Black woman who is considering veganism. I’m no less Black. I’m not crazy. I’m finally health-conscious.

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La Truly seeks to encourage thought, discussion and change among young women through her writing. Follow her on Twitter: @AshleyLaTruly and AboutMe

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