Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Toni Okamoto became overcome with frustration after watching family members suffer serious health consequences from the food they ate.
His aunt suffered multiple amputations from type 2 diabetes before dying, and his grandfather had several heart attacks before dying in bypass surgery.
She also saw how their financial situation limited the choices they could make about their food.
So she decided to do something.
“That’s how I started plant-based on a budget – I had a limited income with limited resources to eat healthy, and I started compiling these recipes for my family to enjoy and enjoy. I saw very quickly how many people wanted to eat healthier but didn’t know where to start,” she said.
Since then, the Japanese-Mexican American has turned Plant-Based on a Budget into a website featuring free recipes, meal plans, and resources to make plant-based eating cheaper and more affordable. more accessible.
The decision to go vegan or vegetarian can come from a number of factors. For some, this might be an over-concern for animal safety or the environmental impact associated with eating meat. For others, personal health or rising food prices could be the driving factor. Whatever the reason, it’s a central decision in the lifestyles of millions of Americans, and often for communities of color in particular.
Non-white Americans are roughly three times more likely than white Americans to identify as vegetarians. A Gallup A 2020 poll found that non-white Americans reported reducing the amount of meat they eat at a higher rate than white Americans. Asked about their meat consumption in the past 12 months, 31% of non-white Americans said they ate less meat, compared to 19% of white Americans.
Naijha Wright-Brown, founder and executive director of the Black Veg Society, a nonprofit organization seeking to educate communities of color about the benefits of veganism and plant-based diets, says the number of Americans non-whites reducing their meat consumption and identifying as vegetarians continues to rise.
“I know a lot of the rise and movement toward this way of eating is because people are dying,” Wright-Brown said, noting some of the health-related disparities affecting Black and Latinx communities.
“It’s a public health crisis at this point,” she said.
Veganism is deeply rooted in communities of color
For vegan activists of color, the growth in the number of people turning to plant-based diets reflects an effort they’ve been part of and working on for a long time — an effort shaped by different motivations, beliefs and practices.
“Everyone thinks it’s new to us,” said Wright-Brown, who explained that it wasn’t.
Big shots by LJ
“If you think of the Black Hebrew Israelites, if you think of the Seventh Day Adventists, if you think of the Rastafarians – who coined the term ‘Italian way of life’ for eating plant-based – this is nothing new,” said Wright-Brown. said.
It’s a misconception that people like Aph Ko are working to correct. Ko, a writer, theorist and digital media producer, wanted to debunk stereotypes about who is vegan after hearing the movement was white space.
“When I looked around, all I saw was people of color who were vegan, and so I thought to myself there was definitely a disconnect,” Ko said.
Ko has spent much of the past seven years trying to raise awareness about black veganism.
After writing an article in 2015 highlighting the work of 100 black vegans, she created Black Vegans Rock, a digital space to showcase the diversity and creativity of the black vegan community who share projects, stories, restaurants, books and other initiatives.
“I think the media is not aware that this is a very nuanced, incredibly diverse movement of people who don’t do the same job, don’t always agree, and, there are theorists, there’s artists, there’s food justice activists, and so I think black vegans are often seen as these diversity tokens to diversify white people [vegan] movement, while we are only carrying out our own [movement]”Ko said.
Health is the primary driver for many people
“When I started this lifestyle in 2006, and it was for health reasons, my cholesterol was high,” Wright-Brown said.
Traci Thomas, founder of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia, also based her plant-based efforts on health concerns.
“The diseases that afflict a lot of people of color – what you would call lifestyle diseases, which means maybe you eat a lot of the wrong foods or you eat too much, very little physical activity – these Diseases are relatively easy to prevent and reverse, so I really wanted to make that connection with people of color,” she said.
Heart disease remains the leading cause of death among black and Latinx populations, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.
Diabetes also disproportionately affects Black and Latinx communities. And when it comes to treatment, research found that black and Latino populations are also less likely to receive preventive care and experience diabetes complications at a higher rate than white populations.
Take small steps to eat plant-based
Vegan activists of color are also working to promote plant-based eating with an understanding and awareness of the small steps people can take to implement the lifestyle.
“There are a lot of ways to push this movement, and sorry, not everyone is going vegan, and maybe not everyone is going full-time vegetarian, but if we can get people to think about whether they do it for a day, a week, a month, people learn when they probably never thought about learning or even adopting this type of lifestyle before,” Wright-Brown said.
Okamoto said she believes in progress rather than perfection for people trying to live a plant-based lifestyle.
“I want to encourage people to say it doesn’t have to be all or nothing; if you make a mistake on purpose or by accident, you can keep going, you can keep changing those generational habits that can be bad for your health and really recover. [your] health despite [your] budget,” she said.