Food is an essential part of any culture. However, it is important to know that not all foods have been introduced to culture by choice. In fact, many of us follow diets that have originated from colonized societies. These diets may not be truly healthy and often stray from that of the original nutritious West-African diet we once knew. In this article, I will discuss the origins of the foods eaten by African diasporans and reasons why we must make strides to revolutionize the plate in our communities. Whether it is by veganizing our meals or incorporating more plant-based options in our daily regimen, a change needs to happen as our very lives depend on it.
The limitations that were placed on food for the African slave of the diaspora has led to the many health issues we have faced in our communities post-slavery. For example, in the United States, African slaves were subject to food rations that consisted of animal remnants, flour, cornmeal, molasses, greens, and peas. Although Africans in the Caribbean were also subjected to similar rations, thanks to their tropical surroundings, their options were more seafood-based and they were able to supplement with the wild fruits and vegetables that grew on their own island.
Before slavery, in West Africa, our diet consisted heavily of plant-based foods such as ground provisions, fruits and greens. Meat was either not on the menu or eaten occasionally in smaller portions as a stew. They also consumed no dairy products. Having access, knowledge and the freedom to grow wholesome foods allowed them not only to live longer but to thrive while doing so. Scientific studies have also proven that following a plant-based diet has proven beneficial in lowering your risk of multiple ailments.
While Africans did their very best to acclimate themselves to these foreign environments and limited food options, they still took pride into their meals. Once pride is established, tradition is born. In the U.S during the 1960’s, as a response to the racially oppressive society that Blacks were living in, the Black Power movement was born. Within the scope of that ideology, the African-American diet was soon donned as “Soul Food”. It was recognized as the principal food that was eaten in communion, feeding our forefathers through the hardships they faced during slavery.
Ultimately this is a diet extremely high in starch and fat, which many times has contributed to malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies (ex: scurvy, rickets, etc.) during the captivity of slaves. This high caloric diet was typically worked off through long hours of working in the fields or in the house on the plantation. Many of us only work jobs that require us to sit at a desk for 8 hours, once we clock out, we sit in a car and drive home. When we eat these kinds of foods without incorporating any type of activity in our day-to-day, we put ourselves at risk for heart disease, colon-related illnesses, and neurological disorders. Poor dietary habits are the number one cause of premature death in the U.S., and according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths a year”.
Being Black and plant-based is revolutionary because it is a solid act of self-preservation. As a person of color, you have chosen to make your health a priority, no longer following the standard European dietary model that we have blindly followed and tried to make our own. Yes, we have the freedom to choose what we want to consume, but we must make conscious efforts to choose wisely. In a world where our lives are not valued as highly as other races, we must do everything in our power to extend our longevity in every way possible. Making the choice to lead a healthy lifestyle is easy but the difficult part is maintaining it. So, at this time you must ask yourself: “am I worth the effort ?” Once you can embrace healthy change, your life will transform in so many beautiful ways and your actions alone will further push the Black community towards a state of self-love and self-empowerment.
The truth is, it is 2017, and we no longer have to follow these high-risk eating habits. We have broken the physical chains of slavery but there are still some aspects of our beliefs that persists from being colonized. There are several types of meat and dairy alternatives that can allow for us to recreate these traditional dishes we love and enjoy so much. Brands like Beyond Meat and Gardien provide excellent plant-based sources of protein and do mimic the look, texture, and taste of meat. There are also brands that provide cheese products like Daiya, which would work perfectly for recreating a’macaroni au gratin or Califa to create your favorite milk based beverage. If you are not yet comfortable with veganizing your favorite meals, you can try visiting local vegan restaurants to see what they offer. Sites like happycow.net act as guides to help you pinpoint your preferred style of vegan cuisine. Some of my favorite vegan ‘soul food’ restaurants in the New York City area are Seasoned Vegan, Uptown Veg, and Urban Vegan Kitchen. Some vegan Caribbean favorites are Ital Fusion, V-Spot, and Veggie Castle II. Just knowing that these options are at our disposal, makes all the difference.