These days, it's hard to go into a restaurant or grocery store without seeing a product labeled “vegan." Exploring fresh food has always been a cornerstone of African-American cooking. From digging collards out of the ground, to picking fruit from trees, our magic remains in using what the Earth has provided to create even more magic in the kitchen. As what is put into our food becomes more transparent, relying on fresh, clean ingredients becomes even more crucial. These three African-American chefs are a great starting point to learn more not only about veganism, but also healthy eating in general. They have committed their lives to fresh food and food justice, and want you to know that the power of healthy food should not be undermined.
Latham Thomas, founder of Mama Glow, has been vegan since she was 14 years old. "It was not a popular choice back then and there weren't a lot of restaurants catering to plant-based cuisine. I learned in the kitchen and in the garden how to incorporate nature's best into my diet. I believe that my body is a vessel for my soul to do the divine service I was put on earth to do. If I keep myself healthy and strong I can fully live out my purpose. My health is most important and I know that plant-based cuisine has a therapeutic effect on the body," said Thomas.
At Mama Glow, Thomas encourages women to use a plant-based diet as a foundation to help fertility and reproductive health. "I have had clients come who were told they could never have children that got pregnant after I put them on our glow foods program and have counseled women who now have outstanding health and weight loss after making these dietary changes. Fibroids for instance- I've seen numerous women whose fibroids have decreased in size after cutting dairy and red meat from their diets," said Thomas. In her book, Mama Glow: A Hip Guide to Your Fabulous Abundant Pregnancy, Thomas explores healthy diet options to help women feel radiant during their pregnancy.
If you have ever met or seen Thomas, you can see how she glows, literally. She says, "when you change your diet lots of things change; your attitude changes about your overall health – and all areas of your life."
When political activist and comedian Dick Gregory visited Amherst College in 1986, Tracye McQuirter's life changed. At the student union meeting, Gregory discussed the “plate” of Black America. “What I remember most is that he graphically traced the path of a hamburger from a cow on a factory farm, to a slaughterhouse, to a fast food restaurant, to a clogged artery, to a heart attack. That lecture inspired me to do my own research to see if what he said was true, so that summer, I read everything I could about the subject and decided to become a vegetarian, and then a vegan about a year later,” said McQuirter. From 2004-2009 McQuirter headed the country’s first federally funded vegan nutrition program, called Eat Smart. The goal of the program was to help primarily low-income Washington, DC residents learn how to eat healthy, affordable plant-based foods to improve the health of themselves and their families in order to prevent chronic disease. According to McQuirter, the program was very successful, surpassed all outcome measures, had a waitlist of more than 250, and has served as a national model. Her book, By Any Greens Necessary was the #1 vegan book on The Huffington Post and contains delicious recipes and advice on how to transition to a vegan lifestyle.
“When eating healthy foods becomes a natural part of your every day lifestyle (along with exercising and sleeping well), then you can live a healthy and disease-free life, which frees you to actually enjoy your life. Living in a state of good health–where it’s second nature–should be the norm in this country, not the exception,” said McQuirter.
Think vegan food is boring? Think again. Tofu curry with mustard greens, sweet potato and lima bean tagine; slow-braised greens; and cinnamon-soaked wheat berry salad are just a few of the dishes in chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry’s new book Afro Vegan (NOTE: Check out our full interview with Bryant next week!) Terry, whose family owned farms in rural Mississippi and grew up in Memphis, knows first-hand how fresh food can transform lives. “My grandmother used garden-fresh ingredients to make simple dishes, and they were always delicious and satisfying. That is what I strive to do with my recipes,” said Terry, who calls himself a food justice activist, and believes that access to healthy foods should be available to all people of all socio-economic backgrounds. He has spoken about the food-justice movement all around the country.
Although he is vegan, Terry does not believe in a one diet fits all formula. “One of the most important lessons that I try to impart is that we need to listen to our bodies. There is no one size fits all diet or panacea; when contemplating the best diet, I encourage people to consider the season (eating seasonally is so important), their age, bodily constitution, health status, ancestral foods, and the like. I keep a food journal a few times a year, documenting what I’m eating and how those foods are making me feel. If folks choose to eat meat, I think they should move it from the center of their plate to the margins.”