Black people became the fastest growing vegan demographic in the country in 2022. It’s no wonder then that Black vegan chefs are expanding the boundaries of both Black and vegan cuisine in the US, with aims to practice a veganism that uplifts people and planet.
Veganism as environmental justice as racial justice
Let’s explore some of the reasons why Black folks and Black chefs are turning to veganism.
But first, let’s talk about intersectionality. Intersectionality is a relatively new concept in Western thought and describes “the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination ‘intersect’ to create unique dynamics and effects.”
For example, Black Americans are more likely to live in food deserts than white Americans. Is race the sole determining factor? Most certainly not. We know that food deserts are also more likely in communities with small populations, lower incomes, low levels of education, and higher rates of unemployment. Using the intersectional approach, we can see then that race, socio-economic status, education level, and other dimensions of identity overlap here to create and sustain a system in which certain folks seriously lack access to healthy, fresh, and affordable foods.
So, veganism, environmental justice and racial justice…intersect? Yes they do! Let’s look at exactly how. Take one common reason for going vegan: reducing cruelty and harm to animals. You’ve done away with meat, dairy, eggs, honey, cheese and you’re filling your shopping cart with so many vegetables. Before you check out, consider: Was the Latinx farmworker who harvested your food paid a fair wage? Do they work in safe conditions? Does the farmer own the DNA inside the seeds they plant or does a chemical company? Were the fields sprayed with pesticides that will end up in our rivers and oceans? If you don’t know, can you really say your veganism reduces cruelty?
While there are many individual health benefits to eating more plants, going vegan is also an opportunity to engage more deeply with the social, political and environmental sides of what we eat. For the Black community, which is disproportionately affected by climate change and health conditions associated with racism, many see veganism as an opportunity to fight against these inequalities.
We should also mention that communities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have been “eating vegan” – plant-based – for thousands of years. Trendy vegan foods like quinoa and sweet potatoes made popular by wealthy, white social media influencers have been staple crops for millions across recorded time. In fact, these days non-white Americans are more likely to be vegetarian or vegan than white Americans.
Okay, now let’s meet some of the Black vegan chefs changing the game.
Tracye McQuirter earned her Masters in Public Health from NYU and has over 36 years of experience eating and cooking vegan. She directed the first federally funded, community-based vegan nutrition program; co-created the first vegan-themed website specifically for Black Americans; launched the first Black American vegan starter guide; wrote two vegan how-to/recipe books; and previously served as a nutrition advisor for Black Women’s Health Imperative. Purchase her cookbooks and guides here.
Aisha “Pinky” Cole
Aisha Cole is the brilliance behind Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan restaurant which regularly attracts an hour-long line of folks dreaming of her incredible vegan burgers at accessible prices. She opened the first Slutty Vegan in the majority Black neighborhood of West End, where there were previously zero plant based options. When Cole isn’t running multiple locations throughout Georgia or hosting Slutty Vegan pop-ups around the country, she’s donating funds to help local college students pay off their debts and stay in school.
Yes, Bryant Terry is a big deal. He’s won a James Beard Award and Fast Company named him one of 9 People Who Are Changing the Future of Food. He has also worked as Chef-in-Residence at San Francisco’s Museum of African Diaspora, authored best-selling cookbooks, and founded 4 Color Books, an imprint creating visually stunning books with BIPOC chefs and writers. In other words, he’s a fierce food justice advocate.