Black Lives Matter-Black Hearts Matter! 

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February is both Black History Month AND American Heart Month, so I’d like to address the topic of plant-based (vegan) eating in the black community. Such a shift could alleviate and even reverse the high mortality rates from heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other deadly chronic diseases that afflict this demographic.

Disclaimer:  I am a white, cisgender female healthcare professional in my early 60’s.

My White Privilege

I am very fortunate to be able to afford and prioritize my personal health and well-being. While I choose a lifestyle that supports optimal health for myself and my family, I live in a safe community that also values healthy living and is structured to make that convenient and desirable.  I have many options for outdoor and indoor physical activity near by, and even without even getting into my car.  I regularly buy, prepare and eat fresh and nutritious food. The closest supermarket is five minutes from my house, my town has a local farmer’s market weekly, and the nearest Whole Foods market is barely more than a ten minute drive for me. I am employed in a meaningful career in which I contribute to the greater good of the community.  I have health benefits and excellent medical care. I am deeply rooted in a strong network of family and friends, and am very involved in my community. I am aware that a large part of why I have access to all these variables that contribute to my lifespan and healthspan is because of my white privilege.

Food Apartheid

Communities of color have historically been geographically located in zip codes devoid of “healthy” supermarkets, and are conversely overpopulated with fast-food chains and corner liquor stores.  Ironically, not only have those in low-socioeconomic neighborhoods had very limited access to health care, but also to retailers that carry fresh produce and nutritious foods.  With the higher than average incidence of almost every chronic health condition (heart disease, diabetes and cancer) highlighting the racial disparity in health care.  I have known this first hand in my professional experience as a nurse.  However, as I have shifted to the area of Lifestyle Medicine and Plant-Base Nutrition, it seems so clear to me that incorporating whole food plant based eating would profoundly benefit the health of Black Americans. I’ve started to wonder if most people learning and implementing this knowledge and correlating interventions are middle to upper class white individuals seeking to improve their already superior health status. 

Is Veganism an expression of White Privilege?  

Actually, a high percentage of Black Americans are vegan as compared to their white counterparts, and statistically Black Americans are the fastest growing group shifting to vegan eating. This article interviewing Tracye McQuirter describes this social trend, and many Black chefs are espousing plant-based cooking in homage to their cultural roots. Ms. McQuirter’s website byanygreensnecessary.com has an excellent and free African American Vegan Starter Guide which I think is valuable for anyone.

But remember, vegan does not always equal healthy. There are plenty of ultra-processed foods that qualify as vegan.  To optimize health, choose “whole” foods, and create a plate rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and legumes, and some seeds and nuts.

Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, I invite and even challenge you to watch the documentary They’re Trying to Kill Us.  In this riveting film, Executive Producers Chris Paul and Billie Eilish integrate salient political perspectives, medical expertise, and public health issues to generate a very concrete message: making nutritious food accessible to and desirable for the black community can profoundly improve the health outcomes in communities of color.

Here are a few more respected resources I want to share with you:

What can you do to support racial equity in your community and the surrounding communities?

Make a commitment to seek out and support black-owned businesses and restaurants, especially ones with healthier menu options and food choices!

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