By Any Greens Necessary, by Tracye Lynn McQuirter, MPH, is subtitled “A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat.” But make no mistake – although it is one woman’s story of going from an omnivore to an ethical vegan, it is a thoroughly enlightening, educational, and helpful resource for people of any race and gender who want to eat healthier. If I had to make a comparison, I’d say it was Skinny Bitch without the bad words and the snark. Although I first read it when it was published in 2010, long after I’d become a vegan, it’s a great for those at any point in their vegan journey.
McQuirter tells the story of how she first became a vegetarian at Amherst College after listening to comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory, who explained how his commitment to nonviolence led him to stop eating animal products. He traced the path of a hamburger from cow to plate to heart attack. This is something that McQuirter does in her book with all animals, including fish, who find their way into the food system, or whose eggs and milk do.
Despite the difficulty in being a vegetarian on a college campus in the 1980s, McQuirter stuck with it, and even convinced her mother and sister to make the switch with her. She eventually became a vegan, and went back to school to get her Masters in Public Health (MPH) degree. She uses her education to discuss the hazards that we face because of our diet, and how African-Americans can often be at greater risk. She points out that 80% of black women are overweight, and 50% are obese. Black women are also up to three times more likely to develop lupus, an autoimmune disease that has been linked to dairy proteins. As she says, cow’s milk is meant to turn a 60-pound calf into a 600-pound cow. How could it possibly fit into a healthy diet plan?
In talking about the dangers of dairy, McQuirter’s statistics about lactose intolerance are an eye-opener. The incidence of lactose intolerance varies greatly depending upon race and ethnicity. While only 10% of European Americans are lactose intolerant, 50-60% of Latino/as, 65-75% of African Americans, and 90+% of Native and Asian Americans are lactose intolerant.
She quotes Dick Gregory from his book Dick Gregory’s Natural Diet for Folks Who Eat as saying, “The quickest way to wipe out a group of people is to put them on a soul food diet.” That’s not to say there is no such thing as vegan soul food. It is growing in popularity all the time, and McQuirter includes some veganized soul food recipes in her book.
By Any Greens Necessary covers just about everything a person would want to know if they were giving even a passing thought to eating a plant-based diet. As noted, she traces the path of how animals live and die to make our meat and dairy products, and all of the chemicals, hormones, and just plain gross stuff that end up in these foods. She further addresses the impact of this food on our body in the short term, and our health in the long term, with increased heart disease, cancer, and any number of other problems.
McQuirter devotes an entire chapter to chicken, which has a long history and significance in the African-American community. She tells the story of how a woman at a party once heard her say how long she had been a vegan. “She looked me up and down and said, ‘You mean you haven’t had a piece of chicken in twenty years?!’ When I said no, she rolled her eyes and walked away, shaking her head at me for the rest of the night.”
As with other animals, she goes through the tortured lifecycle of a chicken, whether destined for the broiler or raised to lay eggs. She does the same with cows, turkeys and pigs. She also talks about what happens to fish, which many people consider, as she puts it, “an honorary vegetable.” She discusses the toxins found in fish, such as methylmercury, and the dangers of salmonella poisoning.
Throughout the book, McQuirter sprinkles quotes from well-known African-Americans, such as Russell Simmons’ famous quote that “I personally don’t feel it’s a good practice to eat anything that might run away from you,” and author Alice Walker, who said, “As we talked of freedom and justice one day for all, we sat down to steaks. I am eating misery, I thought, as I took my first bite. I spit it out.”
The book includes a full week’s sample menu and a chapter on “How to Transition to Vegan Foods,” complete with personal stories. She discusses how to eat healthy on a budget, like buying your basics in bulk. She offers advice on how to come out, as it were, to your family as a vegan, from grandparents to spouses and children, as well as how to handle dating as a vegan. She discusses such things as how to rebut people’s inaccurate notions about vegans not being able to get protein – something that vegans are always having to explain to friends, co-workers, family, and sadly, even to our doctors.
McQuirter’s book includes recipes (complete with mouthwatering color photos) for appetizers, main dishes, vegetables, side dishes, sauces and dips, drinks, and desserts. She also provides resources, including a comprehensive grocery shopping list, books, vegan starter guides, animal advocacy groups, and much more.
By Any Greens Necessary is available online at Barnes and Noble and Amazon, as well as other booksellers, and via McQuirter’s website. The site also includes information on her cooking classes, as well as a blog, recipes, videos of her media appearances, and a free weekly e-zine with tips for healthy living and eating.
Whether you are a long-time vegan who just wants to refresh your knowledge about your diet and get some great recipes, someone trying to eat healthier, or you want to give a friend or family member a gentle nudge toward a plant-based diet, By Any Greens Necessary is a wonderful resource.
Images Courtesy of By Any Greens Necessary