Many African Americans believe there are few to no black vegans around, especially males. Well, we want to introduce you to some black men over the next few months who have embraced veganism openly, and in some cases had been enjoying a vegan lifestyle for years or even decades.
The first in the series is a long-time Facebook associate of mine, Mr. Darrell Butler. All the years I’ve been interacting with him online, I never knew until recently that he was vegan, and has been one for more than 20 years! Meet Darrell.
Can you share with our readers a bit of information about who you are?
I’m President of Butler Consulting Group, a company which specializes in work environment productivity through personal empowerment and inclusion. I’ve assisted major companies, non-profits, governmental and academic institutions with innovative strategies to transform relationships to high performance results all over the U.S., Latin America, and Canada. Additionally, I serve as co-founder and Chair of Greater Orlando CARES Mentoring, an affiliate of National CARES Mentoring Movement. I’m also a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity and the National Black MBA Association. I’m married to my wonderful wife Jackie, and we have two daughters Kai-Lee and Zoie. I’ve been a vegan since 1994.
What was your diet and lifestyle like before you went vegan?
Growing up in St. Louis, with a traditional southern (Mississippi based) soul food diet. And yes, that included fighting over “chit’lins” at Thanksgiving!
Other than changing your diet, did you make any other lifestyle adjustments – like join a gym or take up running?
My vegan transition coincided with a spiritual transition from Christianity (grew up in a Pentecostal church) to not practicing any organized religion. I’ve had periods of weight-training, but never exercising to lose weight. I’m naturally lean, so my challenge is usually trying to bulk up.
Who would you credit for waking you up to changing your life via diet? What did he or she say that made the light come on? What was their approach?
I couldn’t say that it was one person, but I did learn a lot in my final stages of the transition from the late Dr. John T. Chissell. Direct conversations with him and reading his book “Pyramids of Power” helped me to articulate the concept of optimal health. The vegan diet was a natural approach to optimal health.
So what was your motivation to actually get on The Black Vegan Train? Was it animals, health, environment, or something else?
I was reading a lot; attending health based lectures; working in the pharmaceutical industry; and I’m a biology major. So with all of this going on in my 20’s, and noticing that most of the diseases our pharma products were treating (NOT curing, mind you) were linked to diet, I decided that I didn’t want to be dependent on the types of drugs I was selling (hypertension, high-cholesterol, etc.) when I reached my 50s and beyond. Two other influential books at the time, both by Dr. Deepak Chopra, were “Ageless Body; Timeless Mind” and “Perfect Health”.
What do you eat now in a typical day?
Breakfast might include cereal (with almond milk), oatmeal, pancakes/waffles, veggie bacon/sausage
Lunch options: sandwiches with veggie bologna (or other meat analogs), hearty salad with veggie protein like tofu, beans, or tempeh, etc.
Dinner ranges from bean, quinoa, tofu or TVP based dishes styled with curry, teriyaki, or gravy, etc. for protein; brown rice, couscous, potato or noodles for starch; and what ever fresh veggie is available.
How have the people around you adjusted to your new lifestyle?
The four-year transition for my mother was challenging, as I would visit her 1-2 times per year with “something else I’m no longer eating”. But now that it’s been 20 years, she’s adjusted, as has everyone else who’s known me since before the transition.
My wife has only known me as a vegan, so her challenges were in our early dating phase, prior to her transition of being mostly vegetarian. Most of those challenges centered around choosing a place to eat out that’s mutually enjoyable. Of course that’s an ongoing challenge when mixing diet styles in social settings.
What would you say were the biggest obstacles you faced making the transition with your family, friends, or yourself?
Again, the biggest challenge is when we dine outside of the home, especially in the company of mixed dietary styles. People often still think vegans are okay with just eating a salad at a mainstream restaurant. I remind them that like almost everyone else at the table, I’m waiting for my main course after the salad as well. And it had better be more tasty than a plate of steamed vegetables over rice!
Have you noticed any specific benefits in your health, well-being, self esteem, or romantic life since changing your diet and lifestyle?
I think since I made the transition in my late 20’s and I was already healthy. The biggest difference is that I don’t have the onset of many diseases I see family and friends struggling with now as we moved into our 50’s.
Do you find that the African American culture makes it more challenging to become vegan, or do you think it’s the same across the board?
The simple answer is yes. Take for example of the many Black-owned eating establishments in Orlando, unfortunately I’m able to find a fulfilling meal at only one or two. I have similar challenges when eating at the home of friends. But, friends and my in-laws of Caribbean decent are often very accommodating, as many of them grew up on a heavy vegetable diet without putting a label on it.
What recommendation would you make to others who are where you were and confused about what to do or how to do it?
My top three resources that I recommend for the vegan transition are
www.vrg.org (research & resources that’s not biased by manufacturers)
www.pcrm.org (their vegan starter kit is excellent)
www.happycow.net (eating out, stop here first to find a great spot)
What are the top 3-5 tips on making the switch to vegan or plant-based eating would you give to a young person who is currently eating the typical US diet and struggling with his or her weight or health?
Mind. Body. Spirit.
- Mind: What worked for me was changing my association of pain vs pleasure. Once I replaced the “pleasure” taste of meat with the “pain” knowledge of the long-term damage it was doing to my goal of optimal health, the motivation for eating meat stopped. I’ve never returned to eating anything animal-based.
- Body: I let my body tell me what it no longer wanted over the 4 years of transition. I knew at each stage that it would be the last piece of chicken or beef or fish, etc. that I was eating.
- Spirit: the spiritual awakening (e.g. Dr. Chissell, Dr. Chopra) allowed me to receive the messages that the body was sending letting me know it really didn’t want the bad stuff. It was probably always sending those messages, I was just not awake yet. The knowledge gained through self-study helped to awaken me.
Do you cook your own meals? What are your favorite vegan dishes to cook and/or eat?
My wife is a much better cook than me, but some “daddy favorites” that the family enjoy include vegan pancakes; sautéed kale; pan-grilled tofu; marinated Boca burgers; chickpea wrap.
Any closing comments or words of wisdom, especially for the fellas?
We’ve opened the eyes of many friends with great vegan meals not often present in “mainstream world”. We often hear “well if I could eat like this I’d eat vegan more often”. So I suggest leaving the comforts of familiarity and using vegan recipes (books, online, etc.) as well as vegan-friendly restaurants (download the happycow.com app to your smartphone) to expose you to new meal ideas.
Start with simple recipes (e.g “Meatless Meals for Working People from VRG.org) and build your cooking skills from there. If eating out with non-veg friends, choose a place from HappyCow that’s veg-friendly so everyone in the group can enjoy a meal (and the vegan doesn’t have to just eat a salad).
And to my Brothers, we cannot afford to ignore the signs of aging, bad diet, lack of exercise, etc. Taking chronic medical therapy so you can continue eating ribs at the barbecue and slowly kill yourself is not a conscious way to live. We must eat to live, and enjoy both along the way!
Category: Veganism and African Americans