Emani Corcran: Being Vegan Doesn’t Change Your Experience Of Blackness

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Emani Corcran is the creator behind BLK+Vegan on Instagram, Tiktok and YouTube and the author of the upcoming cookbook, “BLK + Vegan.” In this edition of Voices In Food, she shares how the way she eats now is still deeply connected to her African American roots, even though she grew up eating meat. She sets the record straight, busting myths about veganism that exist both within the Black community and outside it.

I grew up eating meat three times a day. You might think I’m joking when I say that, but I’m really not. I grew up with my aunt and a typical day of eating for us was grits and bacon or sausage and a biscuit for breakfast, a deli sandwich and chips for lunch and maybe a pot roast or rib tips for dinner. I actually remember this one dish my aunt used to make a lot, which was meatloaf wrapped in bacon. So yes, you could say that my childhood was very meat-centric.

All of that changed literally overnight in 2019 when I watched a documentary called “What The Health” with my boyfriend. For the record, I did not want to watch this documentary. “I want to live in ignorance!” I told my boyfriend when he was trying to get me to watch it. Why was he trying to ruin bacon for me? Ultimately, he won out and I agreed to watch it. That very night I gave the meat I had in the freezer to my roommates and swore off animal products for good.

The change really was overnight and I think the reason why it was so easy for me to make the switch went deeper than what I saw in the documentary. My mom died of cancer when I was 10 years old and in part of the movie, experts talk about the connection between a diet high in meat and cancer. That really stayed with me. I always thought that what happened to my mom was destined to happen to me too because we shared the same genes. But when I learned just how impactful food and lifestyle are to health, it made me feel empowered. I’m not saying that veganism is a sure way to protect yourself from cancer or other illnesses. Sometimes you can drink all the green juice in the world and still get cancer. But the connection between food and health is undeniable.

“There is a stereotype that vegans are primarily white, wealthy and female. … But the reality is, 8% of African Americans identify as vegan while only 3% of the general population does.”

– Emani Corcran

Unfortunately for my family, I had decided to become vegan right before the holidays. Normally, I am the one to make the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas ham and now I was telling them that I wasn’t going to do it. And oh, by the way, I’d be making the mac and cheese with almond milk and dairy-free cheese.

Shortly after becoming vegan, I started blogging. I called my site BLK and Vegan because that’s just who I am. I am Black and I am vegan. There is a stereotype that vegans are primarily white, wealthy and female, and when I started blogging, I did notice that most of the other vegan bloggers who had the biggest followings fit this mold. But the reality is, 8% of African Americans identify as vegan while only 3% of the general population does. I think the reason there’s this disconnect is because Black vegans’ voices aren’t being heard as loudly. I hope — and believe — this is starting to change. I launched my blog in 2019 and we all know the racial reckoning 2020 brought. During this time, many white creators amplified my voice on their platforms, telling their followers about me.

It’s important for people to see others who share their culture included in the vegan space. Otherwise, they may think it’s not for them and be reluctant to try it. Some people within the Black community may think veganism is at odds with our culture, but it’s not. Even though I eat differently now, I still make my grandmother’s greens. I even make many of the foods I grew up eating — I just put my own spin on the ingredients list.

I want people to know that changing the way you eat will not change your experience of Blackness or the connection to culture and food. Those connections will always be there. Cooking (and eating) comes from the heart. Baked into my recipes are my grandmother’s experiences growing up in the South, my own experience growing up in California and my experiences now as I continue to interact with the world in new ways. One day, my kids (when I have them) will grow up making the dishes I made and then they’ll put their own ideas into them based on their lived experiences.

There’s another misconception I’ve faced within the Black community about veganism: that vegan food just doesn’t taste as good. The first time I made vegan cookies for my aunt, she refused to try them. It wasn’t like I was asking her to try Buffalo wings made with cauliflower or some concoction with tofu — they were cookies! But over time, my family has come around. They like my cooking now, even if it is vegan.

Something else many people believe about veganism is that vegan food is automatically healthy. There was a time when I was pretty much living off of vegan cookies and cinnamon rolls and I can tell you that it definitely wasn’t healthy. If you want to eat healthy, you have to be mindful of your nutrient intake — and that goes for whatever type of diet you follow. One easy way to make sure the vegan lifestyle you’re living is a healthy one is to eat more brown foods. Dietitians often tell people to eat the rainbow, but so many nutrient-rich foods are brown. Beans, chickpeas, brown rice, nuts, mushrooms… Can we get some justice for brown foods, please?

I ended 2022 the way I usually end the year: with my family. I spent Thanksgiving with my dad, sister and grandfather. I didn’t make turkey, but I did cook. I made meatballs with Beyond Meat and mushroom gravy. I made vegan macaroni and cheese. I made yams. I made cranberry sauce and my grandmother’s greens. For Christmas, I made Italian food, including a vegan lasagna with tofu, plant-based ricotta and roasted eggplant. We feasted and we celebrated. And you know what? No one missed the meat.

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