Thierry Lamour is a Baltimore resident and committed vegan of 21 years who encourages others to start eating healthier. (courtesy photo)

By Marnita Coleman
Special to the AFRO

The pandemic has awakened sleeping Americans to the disparities and inequalities that exist in minority communities. In a nation where African Americans make up about 13% of the population, the number of Blacks who died due to COVID-19-related illness was a whopping 24%. According to the Color of Coronavirus Project, that percentage equates to over 73,000 African Americans. Deficient health, obesity and diabetes were major contributors to the barrage of fatalities in the Black community. 

It is no surprise that African Americans are turning to plant-based eating for optimal health. The Black community is consciously stepping away from meat, disease-causing products to shift the trajectory of their well-being. 

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 8% of Black Americans are strict vegans or vegetarians, compared to just 3% of the general population. This disputes the narrative that veganism is a “White people thing” or an “animal-rights thing,” although many support strict vegan practices. Veganism can be traced back to Africa, pre-slavery.

On the other hand, vegetarianism was practiced throughout the 1960s and 1970s by Black activists who wanted a healthier lifestyle to endure the cause of their fight. Dick Gregory wrote a book titled, Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet For Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ With Mother Nature, wherein he shared how a vegetarian lifestyle and fasting led to his dramatic weight loss. He also developed a diet drink called “Bahamian Diet Nutritional Drink” and went on TV shows advocating his diet and to help the morbidly obese.

The Black community is consciously stepping away from meat, disease-causing products to shift the trajectory of their well-being. (courtesy photo)

Nowadays, celebrity vegans like Samuel L. Jackson turned their plant-based way of life into a compelling feature-length documentary titled Eating You Alive, which addresses how poor health can be reversed with a plant-based diet. Kimberly Elise is also proactive about her veganism and tells why, “With the deletion of meat and animal products from my diet came a physical blossoming I never planned on. My skin cleared up, my hair grew thicker and stronger, my moods became more peaceful and more joyful.” Elise’s website Natural Living highlights plant-based living with delicious vegan recipes.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reported that in a study of more than 25,000 people they found that vegetarians have a much lower risk of getting diabetes than meat-eaters. According to PCRM.org, the consumption of animal products has been conclusively linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. 

When you know better, you are supposed to do better. So, what does the transformation of omnivore into vegan really look like? The AFRO spoke with Thierry Lamour, a Baltimore resident and committed vegan of 21 years, about his personal trek to veganism and his recommendation to help others pivot into this standard of living. 

MC:  What motivated you to become a vegan?

TL:  Observation and practicing the lifestyle. I was a pescatarian, eating fish and dairy. I attended a seminar introducing veganism. The presenter was diagnosed with kidney failure and told she would be a dialysis patient for the rest of her life. She became a vegan and reversed the kidney failure.

MC:  Why are Black Americans following vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan habits now?

TL:   More information is available, unlike decades ago when it wasn’t as popular. If you research, you will find information, articles, videos, and recipes about plant-based eating. These are real facts with benefits. We see with COVID the difference in eating, when you’re a vegan, the immune system is stronger to fight diseases, and an added bonus is you don’t age as quickly as others. 

MC: Were you always a healthy eater?

TL: No. I grew up eating fast foods. I ate pork, beef, lamb chops just like everyone else. I am the only one turned vegan. My family praises my success but they are not indulging in veganism because they love meat too much.

MC:  What is your recommendation for someone transitioning into a plant-based lifestyle?

TL: I recommend a 30-day vegan challenge, feel the difference, and see the difference. Begin adjusting your diet with diminishing meat and increasing fruits and vegetables. Do the research and set the goal. Discipline yourself. Go for it.

Becoming a plant-based practitioner is an important decision. Vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan eating in the Black community is a trend in the right direction. The plant-based food category was valued at $5.6 billion in 2020 and expected to exceed $10B billion by 2027. It is here to stay. Wellness is a connection of paths: knowledge and action! (Joshua Holtz)