Photo Credit: Deryn Macey, Jo Sonn, Anna Pelzer, & Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash Graphic: Evanka Williamson
Why Some Black People Turned to Veganism During COVID-19 Quarantine
With COVID-19 affecting Black Americans at exponentially higher rates than their white counterparts, a number of Black Americans have decided to take up plant-based diets to ensure wellness during the quarantine.
The last three months of COVID-19 quarantine has essentially turned into a Generation Z version of Groundhog Day. If you're lucky, your daily schedule has become a routine of staying inside, practicing social distancing, watching Netflix, and, of course, eating. While staying at home means there's more opportunity to reach for pantry snacks, or order no-contact delivery from on-demand food apps, a number of Black Americans have decided to take up plant-based diets to ensure wellness during the pandemic.
Although fast-food chains have started to incorporate plant-based items onto their menus — Burger King's Impossible Whopper, Qdoba's Impossible bowls, burritos and tacos, and Subway's Beyond Meatball Marinara sandwich, all of which were added to their respective menus last year —only 3% of Americans are vegan. In spite of the low percentage, African-Americans make up the fast-growing vegan demographic at 8%, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey. While these numbers reflect a time before the coronavirus pandemic — due to health disparities between Black Americans and affluent, white Americans — many Black people have been jostled by the pandemic to put their wellness first by changing their eating habits.
"With the rise of diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol, especially within Black communities, it's time to look at alternative ways to feed and nourish our bodies for optimal well-being,"Nowel Addishin, a Los Angeles-based vegan chef, said. "During these moments, we have a little extra time to research, plan, and execute. What better time to try out new recipes? Our bodies do so much for us. It's time to take special attention and show our appreciation to our vessels."
Though some may typecast veganism as being for nonconformists, the health movement doesn't have to be restricting in terms of meal planning. In fact, there are numerous Black celebrities who are either vegan or vegetarian, including Common, Mýa, Erykah Badu, and RZA, the latter of which had vegan meals catered to his Camp Tazo meditation retreat.
Social influencers have also contributed to the rise of veganism in Black communities. Joining TikTok in March, vegan influencer and Whole Foods Ambassador Tabitha Brown has given her 2.8 million followers words of wisdom and encouragement, all while cooking plant-based meals like carrot bacon BLTs and jackfruit tacos. Her gentle, soft-spoken approach made her a fan-favorite across social platforms, comforting stay-at-home viewers through motivational videos, and converting signature recipes into vegan alternatives. Signing with Creative Arts Agency in April, Brown has not only capitalized off her loyal foodie following but may also spawn her own vegan-oriented series in the future.
Through her content, Brown shows that veganism doesn't have to be a costly endeavor, but it does require some experimentation, especially when trying to recreate staples.
"Chickpea curry is my absolute go-to plant-based recipe and it can be made entirely from cupboard ingredients. [It has] tinned plum tomato, tinned coconut milk, tinned chickpeas and of course, some herbs and spices," Priscilla Casey, a London chef, said. "Another inexpensive plant-based recipe is my watermelon and jack fruit salad. The flavors are amazing."
Frequent transportation can also become costly as consumers stock up on items, especially in areas with food deserts that rely solely on corner stores in service. Fortunately, many stores have added grocery delivery to their services through apps like Instacart and Shipt. By sticking to basic ingredients — and exploring various recipes — the options for vegan accommodations can be versatile and endless.
Outside of diversifying ingredients, veganism is also a conscientious effort that requires discipline. While browsing the supermarket can be challenging with social distancing in place, deciding to transition into veganism starts at home by internalizing nutritional practices and self-affirmations.
"I try not to tell myself that foods are off-limits because I think that creates an unhealthy relationship with food. Instead, I've been working on training my body to expect what will nourish it, not depriving or punishing it," Ajanae Dawkins, a spoken word poet who has implemented vegan cooking during quarantine, said. "I'm less invested in [committing] my life to a restrictive diet and labeling myself vegan, and more invested in what it looks like to navigate nutrition by prioritizing what nourishes my body and enjoying certain foods in moderation."
At an ethical standpoint, Black vegans can be mindful of animal dependence, especially those who are proactive in environmental and animal rights. As more Americans turn to plant-based eating, the necessity for animal dependence will shift — or could end in decades to come.
"If you see what's happening now with the meat and poultry industry, a lot of manufacturers are shutting down their factories. Companies are unable to meet the demand because either they don't have enough inventory of livestock ready to be slaughtered, or because the factories are severely understaffed," Chris Harrell, a Baltimore-based vegan chef, said. "If you begin to transition and adopt a plant-based diet, the shortage of meat will be no concern. All the nutrition that people generally get from eating meat can be found in plant-based foods. So, in reality, there really isn't a need for humans to consume animals."
Still, many Black Americans who are used to consuming animal products may not be easily swayed. While eaters should ultimately choose which dietary option is best for them — whether pescatarian, vegetarian or not adhering to a strict diet — there's power in being conscious of what nutrients you absorb, especially for preserving your health. During quarantine, it's more challenging than ever to not rely on junk food, especially out of boredom or stress of the monotony of each day. To break out of the habit of comfortability, it's important to stay hydrated — and even water can allow experimentation in your consumption habits by simply infusing it with certain fruits or vegetables.
"A big thing I try to ask myself before reaching for snacks is if I"m genuinely hungry or maybe just thirsty," Desuana Dubose, Vinyl Me, Please's East Coast ambassador, as well as another person who has frequently cooked vegan meals during quarantine, said. "I know that may seem weird, but I'll drink a glass of water, wait and then see if I still want to snack in 30 minutes or so."
More states have begun to open up public spaces, including restaurants for dine-in eating. While it becomes easy to revert to the habit of relying on premade meals, the practice of veganism and self-cooking may aid Black Americans in the long run, especially if coronavirus returns for a second wave during the fall and winter months. Diversifying your palette to accept plant-based alternatives may aid your body in wellness preservation.
Jaelani Turner-Williams is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio, contributing monthly to the city’s entertainment guide (614) Magazine. She has also written for the likes of Bust Magazine, Bandcamp Daily, Vinyl Me, Please, Vibe Magazine, AFROPUNK and more. Inspired by Columbus writing veterans Hanif Abdurraqib and Scott Woods, Jaelani focuses strongly on cultural pieces, especially within the realm of music and social criticism. You can follow her @hernameisjae