I’m the sole vegan member of a southern Black family. Being raised vegetarian, by mother did much of the leg work educating my family and making sure I always had something to eat, but my adult veganism has taken the complications to a whole new level.
“You don’t eat what?” has become the theme. Vegans don’t purchase any animal products, so adding baked mac and cheese, potato salad, sweet potato pie, and basically everything my grandmother makes to the list of foods I don’t eat was a lot for my family to handle.
My saving grace has always been by grandmother. You never want to disrespect an elder who slaved in the kitchen in the name of your appetite, but she completely understood and supported my decision to go vegan.
And why did I make the decision?
For lots of reasons, but the one I want my family to believe is to improve my health.
Hypertension, diabetes, certain cancers, and lots of other ailments our family members experience are all linked to our diet. Heart disease, for example, is the leading cause of death out of all demographics in the United States. It comes from a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries that blocks blood flow. Can you guess the only foods that contain cholesterol?
The food we eat is killing us. I see that intuitive understanding in every Black elder I speak with. After years of battling their bodies and doctors suggesting a diet change, we’re starting to see the connection between what we put in our bodies and how well they function.
Our cultural norms have a strong grip. Breaking up with delicious food is hard, but I figured someone has to do it. Since I was the one in my family with the head start, who better than me?
I went vegan first and foremost to decrease the likelihood of an untimely passing. We’re never in control of our expiration date, but by taking care of myself the best way I know how, I increase my life expectancy.
The second (and equally important) reason I went vegan was for my family. As one of the oldest grandchildren, I want to usher in a new way of eating for the generations to follow. I don’t expect everyone to eat like me, but by the time I have kids, our Thanksgiving table will have a healthy mix of home cooked classics and clean, plant-based options.
The shift is already starting. My grandmother will taste the vegan concoctions I bring home and my uncle finished off what was left of my vegan cheesecake. They don’t have to eat what I make, but I invite my baby cousins cook with me so they know the difference between a pepper and a potato.
I’m taking responsibility for my family’s wellbeing. Southern classics are absolutely delicious, but I can’t sit across from people I love and pretend I don’t know they’re in danger.
I’m exposing my family–both old and young–to a more sustainable way of eating. If that means answering an onslaught of questions and making my own meals during holiday seasons, so be it.