​Black Vegans Step Out, for Their Health and Other Causes
By KIM SEVERSON   NOV. 28, 2017

Tassili Ma’at, who owns Tassili’s Raw Reality in the historic West End community of Atlanta, teaches students how to make raw collard salad for Thanksgiving at Sevananda Natural Foods Market. She was vegan for 30 years, and changed to a raw-food diet about eight years ago to improve her health.
Photo Credit Audra Melton for The New York Times

Like many food trends that seem new, black veganism has historical roots. Eating vegan has long been a practice, especially for followers of religious and spiritual movements like Rastafarianism and the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem, a religious group with black nationalist underpinnings that rose up in the 1960s and still runs a chain of vegan restaurants in cities like Atlanta; Tallahassee, Fla., and Tel Aviv. 

Avoiding meat is also a core principle of the Nation of Islam, whose founders believed that pork was at the heart of the slave diet, and preached vegetarianism as the most healthful diet for African-Americans. Many people who give up eating animal products do it for their health, or for animal welfare. The same is true for the new veganism among African-Americans, but there is an added layer of another kind of politics. 

“It’s not just about I want to eat well so I can live long and be skinny,” said Jenné Claiborne, a personal chef and cooking teacher who recently moved to Los Angeles from New York. Her first cookbook, “Sweet Potato Soul,” is due out in February. “For a lot of black people, it’s also the social justice and food access. The food we have been eating for decades and decades and has been killing us.”

Ms. Claiborne, 30, is part of a new generation of vegan cooks who are transforming traditional soul food dishes, digging deeper into the West African roots of Southern cooking and infusing new recipes with the tastes of the Caribbean. As a result, ideas about the dull vegan stews and stir-fries that were standard-bearers among the early generations of black vegan cooks are changing — albeit slowly.

Tassili Ma’at, 60, owns Tassili’s Raw Reality in the historic West End of Atlanta. She raised her youngest two children as vegans, and now eats only raw food. She’s a member of the Atlanta chapter of Hip Hop Is Green, which she says is a way to help young people identify veganism as both “something cool and something political.”

“I acknowledge my customers for being modern-day revolutionaries without picking up a gun or having to throw a grenade or pick up a picket sign and carry it down the street,” she said. “We are defying the death industry.”

**PLEASE NOTE: This is an excerpt from the November 26, 2017 article in the New York Times. To read the entire article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/28/dining/black-vegan-cooking.html

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