Now everybody’s asking me about it
By: Naliaka Wakhisi
In October 2013, I completely changed my diet. Nobody was looking, nobody cared; I just woke up one day and I told myself, “I’m going to be vegan for three months straight.” This came after a scary visit to the doctor who told me that I needed to lose weight and that I may be at risk of some serious health issues. I figured that being vegan (dairy-free and animal protein-free) would be a path to a healthier lifestyle.
So, I just did it.
There is more to the story than that, but that’s how it started. Never in my life did I think that I would adopt a 100 percent plant-based diet, but it felt good. Not just a little bit good, but AMAZING.
Although my body felt good, I was also met with extreme judgment, especially by the black community. I was told that I was adopting an elitist diet, that veganism was something that white people did, and that black people cannot afford to be vegan.
The way I saw it, I couldn’t afford not to. My three-month journey turned into a four-year lifestyle because I learned so many things that have led me to a healthier way of living. Plus, I’ve actually found it way more affordable to be vegan. My groceries, which used to include fish, milks, cheeses, pastas, pastries and frozen pizzas, now include quinoa, beans, fresh greens and fruits, nuts, sweet potatoes and seeds. Surprisingly much cheaper, and absolutely MUCH healthier!
Being vegan for me meant no more trips to Starbucks, no more late-night pizza runs, and no more morning bagels and muffins. There are vegan versions of all of these things, but once you really start to pay attention to ingredients, as many vegans do, you start to naturally become healthier.
So what made me stay vegan?
The information. I tried to go back to eating salmon and pizza. It just wasn’t working for me. I found myself at my favorite pizza restaurant trying to retrain my aching stomach to digest dairy again. But why would I want to reintroduce something into my body that was making me feel so bad and causing so much suffering for the animals? Just like that, I stopped.
I haven’t looked back and I’ve never been happier. I decided to find a way to use real ingredients from the earth to make comfort foods that are both delicious and health supportive. I’ve created things like my infamous pumpkin mac using butternut squash as the “cheese”, or coconut milk as the cream sauce over brown rice noodles. I enjoy a variety of vegan foods, but the ones I love to create and share with folks are the ones that will benefit your health.
People always tell me how they want to be vegan but it’s too hard. I completely understand, and I’ve never told anybody that they have to be vegan. Just know that most people who are vegan or plant-based probably once said: “I could never do that.” So if it’s something you want to do, be easy on yourself, be forgiving, take your time, find a community, and ease in.
Naliaka is a Miami native who currently resides in Brooklyn, NY. She moved to NYC to complete her master’s in interactive technology at NYU to give young people a way to tell their stories powerfully using new technologies. With a passion for education and empowerment, she now works as an educator with various NYC organizations and nonprofits. She also has a passion for fitness and nutrition and has been working with people for the past six years in the fitness industry. Outside of the gym and the classroom, she works as a chef assistant at the Natural Gourmet Institute and organizes many events around food justice, healthy eating, and plant-based cooking. The focus of her food is health supportive, comfort soul food. She runs an active meetup group called NYC Vegans of Color, where she organizes several monthly events. Additionally, in an effort to expand messages around plant-based eating and community, she has started a company called The Black Theory, a new culinary and travel experience for people of color through a plant-based lens. To find out more about Naliaka’s classes, recipes, gatherings, and social media, check her out at www.theblacktheory.com or follow her on Instagram @theblacktheory.