It’s Not Going to Make You Less Black

[African American, 30 years-old]

I’m studying to get my PHD in religion and I’m a pastor at a church.  I’m also in the process of transitioning to veganism.    I have within my Christian beliefs a compassion for creation.  My foray into this movement started in an animal ethics class. Between that  class and my dog getting sick and me being able to realize the immense compassion I have for my dog, it made me think, why don’t I feel this way about other animals?  And it all snowballed into something else.

What really took me over the top, that made me go from cutting out meat on a limited basis to permanently cutting out meat, was the connection I was able to make between the oppression of animals and the oppression of black and brown people all over the world.  Being able to find books and resources that were able to explain that was important.  Really, what started all that was seeing pictures in The Sexual Politics of Meat that reminded me of pictures I’d seen of people in the slave trade.  I thought, wow, this is crazy how this comparison is right there.  Then I discovered a book called The Dreaded Comparison.  After that I knew I had to make that change.  Because when you see the commonalities of oppression, with one group of people in power basically using the same mindset to oppress African Americans and now using that on animals, I felt as an African American participating in the structure that I was participating in the same thing we fought so hard to overcome and are still fighting to overcome.  I needed to help other African Americans to become aware of this as well.

In my nature as a clergy, in my love for others in my mostly African American church, I’ve looked at the health consequences in our culture, how we have a higher rate of diabetes and pretty much a higher rate of everything else, we don’t have access to healthier food, we have poor diets.  A lot of what I’ve been able to do in my own congregation is talk to them about why I became a vegetarian and about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet.  The animal issues have begun to grow, but it was much more grounded in health and wellness – but also the treatment of animals related to the treatment of African Americans.

I recognize I’m coming from a position of power, even though I’m a young clergy person – I’m only thirty years-old and most of my congregation are fifty and up.  In some ways they did have a lot of questions they were looking for me to answer.  What I found really interesting is that a lot of the older African American women in my church don’t really eat meat anyway.  But they don’t say they’re vegetarian, because for them a vegetarian has a connection with whiteness.  Once I was able to help them move past words and realize there’s different ways we can eat and still have it taste good.  There’s a fear as a Black person, that I’ve even experiences: how am I going to eat soul food??  How am I not going to eat fried chicken?  How am I going to go home and tell my mom I’m not going to eat fried chicken?  She’s going to freak out.  The table is a huge part of our culture.  In the African American Christian population, sitting down for Sunday after church dinner is a big deal.  I’ve been able to realize there’s other things we can eat, that are still Soul Food, that are vegetables – greens, collard greens, all different kinds of beans, all different things I grew up eating – if you can make these minor changes.  It can taste just as good if not better.  And it’s healthy.

When I first started at my church, the first time we had a potluck, I made a different form of greens.  Typically when most Black people cook greens, they use some kind of meat in the greens.  I didn’t use meat.  I used orange juice and I used raisins.  A totally different taste, cooked it in olive oil.  When people ate them, they were just like, wow! Who made these greens?  They’re so good!  And I said, “Oh, these are vegan greens.”  They couldn’t believe it.  I introduced to them that you can make these changes and food will still taste good.  You’re not going to compromise your integrity.  It’s not going to make you less Black to not eat meat.

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