I can’t believe it’s February already! And since it’s also Black History Month, this gives me another wonderful opportunity to talk about some of our legendary pioneers in the vegan movement, past and present.
As with any list such as this, it does not begin to include everyone who deserves to be mentioned. There are many more black vegan pioneers, known and currently unknown, whose stories can fill an entire volume (and that book will be written!). In the meantime, please feel free to let me know of more names of vegan pioneers that I can add next time around. Enjoy!
17 Black Vegan Trailblazers in the Healthy Plant-based Foods Movement:
A naturopathic physician, Dr. Alvenia Fulton opened Pioneer Natural Health Food Store in the 1950s as the first health food establishment on the south side of Chicago. She later mentored Dick Gregory in his transition to vegetarianism and she led fasts for peace in Atlanta with Ralph Abernathy and other Civil Rights luminaries. Learn more.
Nation of Islam
In the 1960s, the Nation of Islam promoted healthy plant-based foods (not exclusively vegan) to its legions of followers with the classic book, How to Eat to Live, written by Elijah Muhammad. Learn more.
Legendary human rights activist and comedian Dick Gregory became a vegetarian in the 1960s, as a result of the philosophy of nonviolence he practiced as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. Gregory later influenced Dexter King and Coretta Scott King to also become vegans. In 1974, Gregory with Alvenia Fulton went on to write the iconic book, Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat: Cookin’ with Mother Nature, which influenced generations to become vegetarian. Learn more.
Ausar Auset Society
A Pan-African religious organization founded in 1973 by Ra Un Nefer Amen, the Ausar Auset society practices and teaches veganism as one of its primary tenets, and has established vegan restaurants across the country. Learn more.
African Hebrew Israelites
Founded 50 years ago by Ben Ammi Ben Israel, the African Hebrew Israelites of Jerusalem started Soul Vegetarian restaurants in the 1980s, which became the largest vegan restaurant chain in the world, currently with a total of 14 locations in the US, Israel, Ghana, and the Caribbean. Learn more.
An icon in the vegan movement for more than 40 years, Queen Afua has trained thousands of people worldwide to teach and practice optimal health using plant-based nutrition. Her groundbreaking, best-selling books include Heal Thyself and Sacred Woman. Learn more.
Aris La Tham
The father of gourmet raw vegan cuisine, Aris La Tham, originally from Panama, began popularizing the cuisine as a master chef 30 years ago. A world-renowned restaurateur, celebrity caterer, and teacher, he has mentored many of today’s best known raw food leaders. Learn more.
A guru in the raw vegan movement, Karen Calabrese owns the longest running raw food vegan restaurant in the country, Karyn’s Raw in Chicago, and has since created a vegan mini-empire in the windy city. Learn more.
Makini Howell and Ayinde Howell
Makini Howell and Ayinde Howell (sister and brother) are lifelong vegans, chefs, authors of Plum and The Lusty Vegan, respectively, and fourth-generation culinary entrepreneurs. Their parents started the first vegan meal delivery service in Seattle, Washington, in the 1970s, influenced in part by their involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and their later practice of Rastafarianism. To learn more, check out Makini’s legendary restaurant Plum Bistro and Ayinde’s fabulous new cooking show Like A Vegan.
The first all-vegan cafes and stores in the nation’s capital were started by African Americans in the mid-1980s near Howard University. Many in this large community were influenced by Dick Gregory and Elijah Muhammad, as well as the Black Panther Party, which promoted healthier eating as a form of liberation, particularly with the establishment of their pioneering free school breakfast programs for children.
Straight out of Morehouse College and influenced by Aris La Tham, Imar Hutchins started the first raw vegan restaurants in the nation’s capital in 1992, called Delights of the Garden, with locations near Howard University and in Georgetown, and additional locations in Atlanta and Cleveland. Hutchins also authored three pioneering vegan cookbooks beginning in 1996: Delights of the Garden, 30 Days @ Delights of the Garden, and The Vegetarian Soul Food Cookbook. Learn more.
Traci Thomas founded the first and largest African American vegetarian society in the nation more than two decades ago in Atlanta, and has mentored many others in starting similar organizations across the country. Learn more.
A. Breeze Harper
As the editor of the groundbreaking anthology, Sistah Vegan, the first book to explore how race and gender shape the myriad experiences of black women vegans in the United States, Breeze Harper is a leading critical theorist whose work also focuses on the intersections of food and social justice, sexuality, environmentalism, classism, and animal rights. Learn more.
As a pioneer in the holistic maternity wellness movement, and the author of Mama Glow, Latham Thomas integrates plant-based nutrition, spiritual development, and yogic practice to help women cultivate optimal health during pregnancy and beyond. Learn more.
Marya McQuirter and Tracye McQuirter
I’m honored to say that my sister, historian Marya McQuirter, and I started one of the first ever vegan websites 17 years ago–and it was also the first vegan website by and for African Americans. I was inspired by Dick Gregory to become vegetarian, then vegan, nearly 30 years ago, and have been teaching people how to go vegan for more than 25 years. Learn more.
Today, there are an estimated three million African American vegan and vegetarians–about 6 percent of the black population in the US, according to a 2012 Vegetarian Resource Group study conducted by Harris Interactive. And of course, that number is growing every day.
In fact, I predict that the NAACP Image Awards will start giving Lifetime Achievement Awards to black vegan activists within the next 15 years. Mark my words!
Have a wonderful weekend, family!