Veganism: For My Health, For The World

0 Source: Ashleigh Reddy

My journey with veganism has been a 6-year-old bumpy road. Despite the back and forth, the reason has always been the same — health.

That intention fueled me to research more about the diet. It was then I learned about the works of Queen Afua and Dr. Sebi. I even started to experiment with meat alternatives, creating new recipes and documenting the journey on a blog called The YoungBlackVegan. Back then, that intention alone fueled me with enough drive and passion to keep going. It lasted for 3 strong years.

Year 4 and 5 was shaky for me. Due to my body getting used to my eating habits, I started to gain back weight. Cooking and research no longer felt exciting. I even decided to let go of veganism in early 2016 because I felt overwhelmed with all the health facts. It seemed like I couldn’t eat anything, based on contradicting studies and theories.

While my mind was grateful for the break, my body wasn’t. I decided to come back throughout late 2016-2017 but the backsliding continued. I needed a new jolt. I needed another intention besides health to help me stick to veganism once more.

Then came What The Health. The newest Netflix documentary has transitioned meat eaters to vegans in 2.5 seconds. Granted, I knew that it wouldn’t be that easy for me. I’ve seen so many documentaries and read so many articles that I felt that this new film wouldn’t tell me anything new. But my favorite health role models and friends kept ranting and raving about it. So, I checked it out one cool Saturday.

Besides a few new facts like, diabetes isn’t only caused by excess sugar, it relayed information that I already knew. However, Dr. Milton Mills, a critical care physician, gave me a new perspective on why I should be vegan.

“73% of African-Americans are lactose intolerant. 95% of Asians, and roughly 70% of Native Americans, and about 53% of Hispanic Americans are lactose intolerant. Our government is encouraging Americans of color to eat foods that it knows is going to make them ill. Ultimately, what that boils down to is that the government is telling me, as an African-American, to eat foods that’s going to make me ill. Not for a health benefit, but so that it will benefit dairy farmers. That’s a form of institutionalized racism.”

Wow. Institutionalize racism?

I never thought of it like that. And it’s true. I think about my time in elementary school, chugging chocolate milk because it was “good for me”. But I also remember the sluggish feeling and upset stomach I had afterward.

My schools pushed milk for years saying it was great for me, filled with vitamin D and calcium. Yet, the smallest amount of milk will have me in pain and that’s the case for many people of color. Why is this being pushed in our faces?

“Personal is Political.”

This quote was introduced to me through an event that author and good friend, Bilphena Yawon, hosted a few years ago.

I remember guest speakers talking about their identities and lifestyles and how it intertwines with their politics, as well as the politics of people around them and beyond.

This was my first time even hearing politics used in a different light. I hated politics and avoided it like the plague. My thoughts about politics were white men in suits, C-SPAN, and elections. I did not think that politics really affected me.

Clearly, I was naïve and misinformed.

With the recent political climate, I see that it’s the opposite. The recent attack on immigrants with the ban and DACA affects many families of color, including mine.  My parents are Jamaican immigrants and I am their first US-born child. It took my parents years to become US citizens. I still remember the day when I went to my mother’s induction. But I also have other family members who are not US citizens and came here to have a better life. I also have friends who are immigrants and only know the US as their home.

I think about police brutality against people of color and how it could be me and my friends. I think about my friends out protesting against the policies and mistreatment against our community. And more. And more. And more.

No matter how much I avoid politics, just existing is a political statement.

I know this now. So I go to protests, as well as support fellow freedom fighters out on the lines. But my favorite form of activism is to break the societal mold and express myself unapologetically. I do this to show another way to live as a black queer woman. To show that there are many forms to express yourself in this life and you too can live life authentically.

I do this by intentionally choosing the actions, the environment, and the community that supports my values.

And now, I want to make a bigger statement by committing to veganism.

It’s my protest against the sick food industry, against animal cruelty, against the destruction of the planet, against institutionalized racism and the systems that chain us. Not only do I feel good physically being a vegan BUT I feel good that I’m opting out of a practice that pains many.

Trust me when I say that I am not perfect and I will probably slip up while getting back to this vegan journey. I was eating a Standard American Diet for over 19 years, and the habit is hard to break. Also, I haven’t done the “materials, clothing, and goods” side of veganism before so there’s much more to learn.

But I cannot ignore the shift that is happening within me. It is time to stop making mindless choices and start conducting myself based on my values.

And as I evolve, my actions must follow.

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