Artwork by Cienna Smith
Take a trip with me as I recount my experience as a Black Woman transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle
In the Summer of 2020 I decided to try an experiment. After being inspired by the testimonies of some dear friends of mine, who went against the grain and decided to convert to veganism (shout out to Lisa, Kendel and Alex), while also making a conscious effort to be healthier and more disciplined, I tried vegetarianism. My goal was to go the entire Summer without a single piece of meat, a behavior that would inspire more change in my life according to expert advice. However, being a woman from a Black Southern family married to a man with a Caribbean Hispanic background, I underestimated how challenging this would be.
The temptations to falter from my vegetarian diet were only amplified while in the company of others. Not because of the AMAZING food that was prepared (denying myself chicken was no easy feat. I literally failed 3 times!!), but because of the lack of options that were available to me as a vegetarian. Sure, one could argue that it’s no one else’s problem that I made the choice not to eat meat. But it’s like damn, so just be malnourished, then? I’m certainly sensitive to people’s diets when I invite people over. I’m not just going to tell my Dad, who has acid reflux “So sorry, this pasta dish with the red tomato sauce, green peppers and red chili flakes was the only option I had available. You know, cravings! But it’s all good, there’s PLENTY of noodles”.
I swear, with the exception of maybe one or two people, vegetarian options were just not a thing. Nine times out of ten, people would just serve me rice. And if I was lucky? Macaroni salad, too. Just starch served with extra starch. By the time I got home, my stomach would be hitting my back and I found myself having to make up for my lack of protein intake. There’s no question that I had my fair share of grains in the Summer of 2020 but, if I wanted protein, it was clear that I was on my own.
If I’m being honest, being a vegetarian as a Black person can feel more like a burden. Between me not eating meat AND having lactose intolerance, I’m sure I get a few eye rolls every time someone hears that I’m coming over for dinner. Don’t mean to offend guys, just, you know, trying to live a healthier lifestyle over here.
After a while, I started to feel like I should just save myself the aggravation and eat before heading to people’s houses which, as any Black person could tell you, is an unforgivable offense. This crime is often met with furrowed brows, shaming and passive aggressive commentary. You see, our families show their affection through their cuisine and take great pride in sharing their food with the ones they love “WHY WOULD YOU EAT BEFORE YOU CAME!? YOU KNEW THERE WAS GONNA BE FOOD HERE!” is a complaint I’ve heard one too many times.
But what’s a girl to do? Bring my own food? Try to convert my entire family? Just suck it up and make exceptions to my diet every time I eat at someones house? What do you do when you choose to go vegetarian in a culture accustomed to a carnivorous lifestyle?
Listen, I’m not the type of human who tries to forcefully impose my habits and views unto others. That’s not my steel-o. At the same time, I’m not interested in people bashing me for my life choices, either. Some examples of this tormenting verbiage are “Eww, you’re gonna eat that!? ::gags::” or the classic “I could never eat FAKE meat.” ::rolls eyes:: I am, however, down to educate anyone with a willingness to learn about the many ways you can consume protein without use of an animal. Mushrooms, beans and plant-based alternatives are just some of my favorites.
In 2021, I am grateful for the amount of food options available to people like me: the non-dairy, non-meat eating people of the World but, let’s face it, being a vegetarian is still considered an anomaly in modern day Black culture. Sure I’m starting to see an influx in consuming dairy free milks in my family, (although that may have more to do with the alarmingly high rate of lactose intolerance among African Americans. It’s a thing.), and seeing examples of black vegetarian celebrities such as Brandy Norwood and Angela Bassett is inspirational to me as a Black woman, finding fellow vegetarians in my immediate surroundings is still too few and far between. Shout out to your Gardeins, Impossible Foods, Beyond Meats, Kite Hills and Sweet Earths of the World. It’s because of innovative brands like these, that come up with new and inventive ways to prepare vegan and vegetarian foods, that I’ve made it this long in spite of my limited options.
I’m proud to say that I’ve become a vegetarian officially as of January 1, 2021, and regardless of the difficulty, I’m proud I made this choice. No matter how much neckbone my Grandmother uses to get her collard greens just right, or how deliciously fragrant my Mother in laws beef and cheese pastelitos are ::drools::, I guess I’ll just have to make do with what I have and compromise when I can. Wish me luck!