Being a Vegan and Achieving Her Best Health
By Phenomgirl / September 14, 2018
Veganism: The practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.
There’s one good thing about social media. It has singled-handedly put vegan lifestyle into mainstream, making it more socially acceptable. A diet lifestyle that was somewhat a mystery to folks is now visible to millions worldwide at the press of fingertips on multiple electronic platforms. Instagram pages like @veganbysomi, @sweetpotatosoul, @veganrecipegirl and msjasminerose just to name a few, have lit up social media with variety postings of colorful, carefully plated mouth-watering vegan dishes as if to prompt meat carnivores into converting to veganism.
As veganism explodes through our mobile and desktops screens, it’s nearly impossible to find fresh and healthy food establishments in selective neighborhoods, especially if that neighborhood is economically challenging. Almost on every block in these communities there’s no problem choosing from the plethora of fast food restaurants serving up deep fried delicacies. In addition, when one business shuts down, up springs a liquor store, grocery stores that sells lotto and gas stations or another fast food joint. Sporadically, a hole in the wall proprietorship opens up to serve the community freshly squeezed organic juice then disappears into thin air; unable to compete with Popeyes and his merry men of grease, fat and cholesterol.
Over the years there has been a slight change where supermarkets now offer organic, vegan and healthy food selections to their consumers that’s sometimes economically affordable. But more education is needed for individuals to make logical and healthy food choices.
So what is like to be a vegan? Is veganism being practiced more by one group of people? To get answers we talk to Nzinga Young, vegan influencer, writer, model and entrepreneur. Nzinga is the Event Coordinator for Vegan Outreach. A non-profit organization on a mission to move society away from eating animals and their products. Ms Young organizes weekly events that teach non-vegans the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle. Here’s Nzinga Young.
So, you started out as vegetarian. What turned the tide for you to go strictly vegan?
I started a meditation practice called Vipassana. With Vipassana, there’s five precepts. One of the agreements is no killing. Even though I had already been vegetarian for a long time, I knew there was a lot of killing that went on in the meat and dairy industry. There is a process called chick culling, where all male chicks are killed once they hatch because to the egg industry the male chicks are worthless as they don’t lay eggs. As soon as they’re hatched – I don’t even think they live a day – they’re either put in gas chambers or they’re put in huge bags and suffocated. Within the dairy industry cows are constantly sexually assaulted once a year, maybe twice depending on the timing, just to get pregnant. They give birth to their calves, it’s taken away immediately because it can’t be around its’ mother because the calves will drink their mothers’ milk. The calves are then sent off to veal farms. Just imagine being pregnant every year and not being able to spend time at all with your babies. I think we now have a better understanding of the horrible way that animals are treated within factory farming. Free range doesn’t mean that the chickens have space and they’re grazing out in the fields. I think free range just means they’re not in individual cages. They’re in huge warehouses under horrible conditions. I knew that if I wanted to stay true to my spiritual practice it would mean going completely vegan.
Was it a hard or easy transition?
Mine was hard. It took me five years from the time I knew I needed to go vegan to the point that I actually went vegan, and the issue every time was when I would drink. In New York, City you can always find pizza no matter what time of the day. I would go out at night, party with friends, and then get hungry; and the only places that were open were pizza restaurants.
So, I’d be good for two months, and then I’d go and get a slice of pizza. I actually stopped drinking before I went vegan because I realized that the only issue was when I was intoxicated.
Is there a certain amount of stigma related to being a vegan and what are the misconceptions?
Some of the misconceptions are that vegan diet only pertains to white women in particular, that it’s a costly lifestyle, vegans are judgmental and vegans are skinny and scrawny. None of those things are true. I was raised vegetarian. I’m not the only black person who was raised a vegetarian or vegan. Veganism and vegetarianism are huge in the black community. In terms of the cost of vegan food. Any diet can be expensive depending on what you are buying, and I make sure mine is not so. It’s all about what you decide to buy. I eat a lot of stir fries such as vegetables. Buying a good sauce, some grains, either quinoa or rice are very affordable. There are many varieties of salads. I enjoy a good salad! There’s so many affordable vegan recipe websites that are amazing. Some of the specialty vegan meats can get a little pricy, but they don’t have to be a part of your everyday dish that you prepare. They can be standby dish or little treats.
Lastly, it just so happens that I’m skinny and scrawny, but I do not represent the body type of all vegans. There are muscular athletic vegans. Not as much as stigma as there used to be though, but it’s still around.
Have you experienced any negativity from folks in your circle when you went totally vegan?
I didn’t because I was already vegetarian.
What was the best result for you as you became more familiar and comfortable with your new diet?
I didn’t get colds in the Winters anymore. There’s so much mucus buildup that comes from consuming a lot of dairy. So, that definitely cut down on the amount of days I spent sick in the Winter. I do still get a little cold here and there in the Winter, but it’s not half as often as I used to.
I’m sure you heard the constant arguments of adopting a vegan lifestyle. You stand a good chance of not ingesting the nutrients, minerals, and proteins your body needs to sustain itself. What can a new vegan do to make sure that he or she is indeed getting the proper amount of nutrients?
That’s a good question. You’ve got to vary your diet. You can’t eat the same things every day. They’re a lot of vegans who stick with the same things every day, and that’s not healthy. Basically, proteins are just a combination of amino acids. As long as we’re getting all the amino acids that our bodies doesn’t produce ourselves, then we’re good. We call them complete proteins because they already have all the amino acids in them, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t find all those missing amino acids from other places. The classic example is rice and beans. They’re completely complimentary. When you eat rice and beans together in the same meal, you get the same number of amino acids as you would in eating meat.
There are a lot of different fortified foods that contribute to our recommended amount of B12. B12 is the only nutrient that you can’t find naturally in a vegan diet, so you have to take supplements and eat fortified foods. Many plant-based foods are fortified and have B12 in them, especially plant-based meats. I take my multivitamins every day. Multivitamins are really, really important in anyone’s life but especially in the life of a vegan.
"I am in complete control of my reality.
I can create whatever I want through my thoughts, beliefs, and actions."
In your case when you started as a vegan, did you miss anything from your vegetarian diet?
I have a crazy sweet tooth, a lot of desserts that I used to enjoy, I don’t have them anymore, but I’ve discovered a lot of really delicious – not necessarily replicas of the things that I used to have because there’s no comparison to the amazing things that I used to eat. But there are amazing vegan desserts that hold their own, and they’re not trying to be something else. They’re just delicious as they are.
What’s the best advice you can give someone who’s deciding to adopt a vegan lifestyle?
Do it. Just do it. Just start. It’s okay if there are mistakes. I made so many mistakes during my transition, but I eventually got there. It’s about setting the intention and deciding. You can decide today about an animal product that you’re not a huge fan of. Maybe you don’t really like turkey. So now you’ve made the decision that you’re going to cut out turkey. In a month or two later, you decide not to eat eggs anymore, you go a few months, then it turns into a year where you haven’t eaten meat, dairy or eggs.
You have speaking engagements. You globe-trot, blog, write, model and also an entrepreneur. Where does your energy come from?
That’s a very flattering question. I wanted to make sure whatever I was doing with this period of my life was substantial and could make an impact and was fitting with whatever I felt confident in and well-versed enough in. I was raised vegetarian, now I’m a vegan for three years, but being in this plant-based life for a good amount of time, I felt competent to be an example for anybody who wants to also make a transition. There aren’t enough black women in this movement. It’s growing, but there aren’t enough. If I could just be an inspiration for somebody to even make a transition that would be wonderful.
I don’t know if everyone’s going to adapt veganism immediately, but to plant the seed and for me to be a part of somebody’s journey towards going vegan is just amazing for me. I think that’s where I get my energy from. I always think I can be doing more.
What would you prepare for non-vegans to convince him or her that vegan dishes are delicious?
We do events where we get people to taste vegan food. I make a lot of chicken salad with vegan mayonnaise and vegan chicken. Chicken salad with mayonnaise is more about texture than it is about the actual chicken. Vegan mayonnaise and regular mayonnaise tastes exactly the same. Same with vegan butter which tastes just like regular butter. If you’re looking to change something in your diet which won’t be noticeable, those two are the way to go because it’s really all just fat and oil. Any chicken salad recipe that you like with vegan chicken tastes very similar; but as I said before it’s more about the texture.
I would prepare vegan Beyond Meat’s chicken strips, vegan mayonnaise, and add vegan ingredients like parsley, salt, pepper and mustard in the chicken salad. People love it! It’s really easy to make and that’s like my go-to. That’s my favorite dish to make. Stir fries are easy and delicious, and you don’t have to change very much to make it a completely different dish. You can change the sauce, you can change the vegetables, in the end it’s an amazing dish.
"I'm proud of my internal locus of control and avoiding harm to animals. I’m proud of being the same size since high school and feeling beautiful under all circumstances."
"I’m proud of my efforts to socialize despite my anxiety, showing up to everything 15+ mins early, and taking ownership for (most of) my crazies."
Is it expensive to dine out as a vegan?
It can be expensive to eat out, absolutely. I’m in New York City, and the vegan restaurants are not cheap; but no restaurants are cheap in New York.
Presently as a vegan, was there anything you have learned that you wished you had known while you were a vegetarian in the past?
No. I wasn’t thinking as a vegan when I was being raised as a vegetarian. During my vegetarian lifestyle in the past I wasn’t aware that I was being deprived of any information in regards to the harm to my health and how animals were being treated on farms. Nothing during my vegetarianism would have moved me to veganism.
It was during my meditation practice where I learnt about what was happening within the dairy and meat industry. The more I learned the more aware I became that I could attain a more healthy lifestyle. But I think I would have been okay with my still-relatively low harm to animals lifestyle of vegetarianism.
Your dedication to educating folks about living life as a vegan seems to be of great importance. Why?
So many brown people are dying unnecessarily from the food that we’re putting into our bodies. Many of the diseases that are so prevalent within the brown community – heart disease, hypertension, diabetes – there’s just so many things that can be prevented, and I really want people to be as aware as possible. With social media being such a big thing, if I can post some pictures with information about the connection between great health and the food we eat and in turn gain eyes on my page, maybe this is something worth trying. Veganism isn’t the white movement that I thought it was. It’s not the expensive movement that I thought it was either. I’m not spending a lot of money.
As a model, how strict are you that the makeup products you use are cruelty-free?
Strict? Yeah. Not strict enough to the point that I threw all my stuff away. I think women know that makeup can last for years depending on how often you use them. I do have some things from my pre-vegan life so I don’t buy new things that aren’t vegan and cruelty-free. I will work with brands if there’s a good reason. For example, right now I’m in many Targets across the country because I did a campaign with Iman Cosmetics. Iman Cosmetics doesn’t test on animals but not all of their products are vegan. One, I have a relationship with Iman years before I went vegan; and two, it’s Iman, and it’s black beauty and that’s very, very important to me. So, I didn’t want to pass up on that opportunity because of my veganism.
That is where things get a little shaky with me. I can’t even front and say it was a hard decision, but I don’t know how much harm I did by participating in that campaign. I’m proud of that campaign, actually. You’ve got to pick your battles at the end of the day, and you have to honor that. I care about a lot of things and one of them are positive images of black beauty. To be involved in campaigns that support black entrepreneurs is important to me aside from veganism; but in terms of stuff that I buy, I still to this day never bought anything from Iman Cosmetics. They’ll give me things, and I’ll use them; but in terms of financially supporting industries that test on animals, that’s not something that I do.
"There's just no one I find more beautiful than the girl in this picture. I fit my *personal* definition of beauty to a T and it feels damn good not to compare myself to anyone else. Ever."
Has the modeling industry embraced vegan makeup?
The modeling industry have embraced vegan cruelty-free makeup. Cruelty-free is more of a buzzword because something could be cruelty-free and not tested on animals but can still have dead animals inside the lipsticks. How does that count as cruelty-free? For example, a lot of reds are made from crushed beetles because they give strong red pigmentation. That’s still considered cruelty-free even though bugs have to die.
Do you have a favorite beauty brand?
In terms of quality I would say Kat Von D. She’s got vegan and cruelty-free products.
Is there a beauty product that you have to have at all times?
Yes. My Clarisonic has cleared up my skin so much. It’s a rotating brush head that really cleans your skin like no other. After I take my makeup off, I wash my face with soap and water with my hands and then use the Clarisonic. It takes off excessive residue of makeup left on my face. It’s amazing. Definitely a big fan of Clarisonic.
What is it that you hope to accomplish in the foreseeable future with all your efforts of veganism teachings?
My goal is always to get one person to go vegan a year. That’s it. It’s hard because people don’t report back to me. I’m pretty sure I’ve converted more than one person but I have to know for sure that I’ve influenced someone greatly to go vegan. I have my person for this year. My boyfriend. He probably went vegan before the start of 2018, but he didn’t tell me until late January 2018. Now my goal has been accomplished earlier this year. Maybe I should try and get one more person. That would be great!
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