Ishmael Shakur is a 38-year-old has been a vegetarian for six years. He becomes upset when soul food — comprised of barbecued ribs, fried chicken and pork chops, ham, black-eyed peas and green beans with ham hocks, corn bread, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and a delectable list of desserts — is labeled traditional African American food. “A lot of people think a real good, wholesome meal is when you sit back bloated and full and nod off,” he said. “To me, soul food is food that adds to your spirit, gives you energy, gives you life, and helps you feel vibrant.”
Shakur is among a unique niche`of African Americans who are becoming vegetarian and vegan. Their diets contain a plant-based diet as well as grains, fruits, nuts, and seeds and exclude red meat, poultry, and seafood. Within those groups, there are subgroups such as: lacto vegetarians who eat dairy products but not eggs; ovo vegetarians eat eggs but not dairy products; lacto-ovo vegetarians eat both eggs and dairy products, and vegans who do not eat honey or any animal products whatsoever. Also, pescetarians eat seafood but no other flesh.
There are no firm numbers to indicate the popularity of the vegetarian and vegan lifestyles in the African American community; however, anecdotal evidence indicates a rising interest in vegetarianism and veganism among African Americans. There has been a growing list of Internet sites and cookbooks geared to those groups, including “By Any Greens Necessary” by Tracye Lynn McQuirter; “Vegan Soul Kitchen: Fresh, Healthy, & Creative African American Cuisine” by Bryant Terry, and “The Ethnic Vegetarian” by Angela Shelf Medearis.
Prominent African American figures who maintain the meatless lifestyle are athletes Hank Aaron and Carl Lewis; Hollywood’s Cicely Tyson, Angela Bassett, and Vanessa Williams; entrepreneur Russell Simmons, and musician Lenny Kravitz.