Should You Become a Vegetarian? Think before You Eat. Go Veg for Life. (Health & Fitness)

Article excerpt

BLACK vegetarians are sprouting up everywhere. A-list actress Angela Bassett, singer Erykah Badu, pop music icon Prince, hip-hop mogul/entrepreneur Russell Simmons, R&B sensation India.Arie, rap artist Common, actor Darius McCrary, model/actress Traci Bingham, members of the hip-hop group the Roots and civil rights activist and icon Coretta Scott King are all among a growing list of African-Americans who have sidestepped the traditional delicacies of soul food in favor of living a meat-free existence.

King was introduced to the vegetarian lifestyle several years ago by her son, Dexter King.

"I feel blessed that I was introduced to this lifestyle more than 12 years ago by Dexter," she says. "I prefer to eat mostly raw or 'living' foods. The benefits for me are increased energy, a slowing of the aging process, and I have none of the diseases like hypertension, heart disease and diabetes that many people my age seem to get."

Her son, Dexter King, CEO of the King Center, says in his memoir, Growing Up King, that changing his diet changed his life. "On January 30, 1988, my twenty-seventh birthday, I became a strict vegetarian," he notes. "I developed a passion for health and nutrition. My diet consists of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and legumes only, and has for the past 15 years now."

These vegetarian notables are not alone in their decision to hold the beef. Although there are no hard and fast statistics about the actual number of vegetarians, the Vegetarian Resource Group, a non-profit educational organization based in Baltimore, reports there were a whopping 4.8 million on the scene just two years ago, and that figure is on the rise.

But this is no secret.

Chances are you may have overheard one of those vegetarians ordering the salsa Boca-burger at your favorite burger joint. Or you may have been totally awestruck at the family reunion when that health-conscious cousin refused your famous baby back ribs, and opted for a homemade soy latte instead. Or perhaps your formerly obese Uncle Woodrow, an occasional vegetarian, has dropped 50 pounds and significantly lowered his cholesterol level just by shunning the breaded lamb chops every now and then.

Whatever your brush with vegetarians and vegetarianism, one thing is certain: It's a health trend that is spreading in the African-American community, gradually changing the traditional soul food menu in Black kitchens all across the land.

Dick Gregory, 70, who penned four books on the subject, and who introduced many old school African-American vegetarians to the lifestyle, says the boom in vegetarianism is hitting Black communities all across the country, and he's not shy about taking credit for it: "I'm the one who changed the whole thing in the Black community," he says.

Traci Thomas, founder of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia, a nationwide support group for Black vegetarians with chapters throughout the country, says many Black people are becoming vegetarians in an effort to prevent many of the traditional illnesses that disproportionately afflict Blacks.

"People across the board are living longer, and they want to live better and in good health," says Thomas, a health and fitness events planner. "When we reach the age of 30, for the most part, we have a parent or grandparent or friend or neighbor who is suffering from preventable diseases such as diabetes or hypertension. So many Black vegetarians want to embrace a preventive lifestyle, so that we may reduce those health risks."

Those who decide to choose a vegetarian lifestyle to improve their overall health apparently have plenty of good reasons to do so. …