Part I -Tracy McQuirter,
A vegan trailblazer, public health nutrition expert, speaker, and author, Tracye McQuirter, M.P.H., is passionate about inspiring people to live healthier, happier lives. Her best-selling book is titled By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat.
Hello. I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you for joining me on this beautiful autumn, October 5th. It is the 5th, isn’t it? Anyway, I am live today and live every day in my mind. On this show, it’s live. It’s happening right now if you’re listening right now. And if you’re not listening right now, it’s another right now for you. And I’m also on video. So if you’re on the Progressive Radio Network right now, you can click on the “Video” in addition to the “Listening to” or separate from the “Listening to.” And I’m waving hello on the screen. Hi, everybody. Thanks for joining me today. What do we do on It’s All About Food? We talk about food, my favorite subject. For those that are listening, it’s so important that we all do what we can to make this world a better place and we can do it every time we eat. It’s such a beautiful and empowering thing. Many people out there are doing different things to get this message out there. It’s so important to get the message out and we’re all working against big media and government and everything that wants us to eat foods that aren’t good for us and do things that aren’t going to be the best for us so all of us out there, we’re doing our part. I’m talking to two wonderful people today that are doing their part. First up we are going to be talking with Tracyee McQuirter. She’s a speaker, author, and 20-year vegan who helps people achieve extraordinary health through better food choices. She directed the nation’s first federally funded vegan nutrition program and worked on legislation to improve nutrition guidelines. McQuirter has been featured in the Washington Post, Ebony, and Essence and has been a guest on NPR, Fox 5, NBC 4, and many others. She was a contributing writer for Heart and Soul magazine and a nutrition consultant for the Black Women’s Health Imperative. McQuirter is a graduate of Amherst College and New York University where she received her Masters of Public Health and Nutrition. She’s the author of By Any Greens Necessary. We’re going to be talking a bit about that today and she lives in Washington, DC.
Caryn: Welcome to It’s All About Food, Tracye.
Tracye: Hi, Caryn. It’s great to be here.
Caryn: Gosh, you have no idea. I’ve been following you around for a long time and following your work and I’m so excited to be able to talk to you today.
Tracye: Thank you! Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.
Caryn: The first thing that I learned when I looked at your book, which came out last year but the information is so important today more than ever, is that we both became vegan in 1988.
Tracye: OK, excellent. Long time.
Caryn: A long time.
Tracye: We’re both going on about 25 years I guess.
Caryn: That’s right. We all have a different story and I think that every story is worth hearing because we’re trying to share this information with people and people need to hear things over and over again sometimes in order to get it sink in and let it work. Sometimes one story resounds better than another.
Tracye: It sure does. Would you like me to share mine?
Caryn: I sure would.
Tracye: I actually was introduced to vegetarianism in the 7th grade here in DC at Sidwell Friends School. I went there from 3rd through 12th grades. Our 7th grade teachers decided that our class camping trip should be all vegetarian. Two of my three teachers were vegetarian. I thought this was a horrible idea and I wrote a petition and tried to get my classmates to sign it to protest this. I was overruled. Only a couple of my friends signed it and so we had what I considered a horrible camping trip because we had vegetarian food: peanut butter and honey sandwiches on whole wheat bread and fruit juice and granola. I never gave vegetarianism a second thought after that. Fast forward seven years and I was a sophomore at Amherst College as you mentioned and our black student union brought Dick Gregory to campus to talk about the political, economic, and social state of black America. Instead he talked about basically how unhealthfully most black folks eat. I immediately thought back to my 7th grade teachers. I thought Dick Gregory was crazy too like them and I tried to tune him out. But what got me about his talk, he spoke for about two and a half hours, was that he graphically traced the path of a hamburger from a cow on a factory farm to a fast food place. I’m sorry, a cow on a factory farm, through the slaughterhouse process, to a fast food restaurant, to a clogged artery, to a heart attack. I do mean graphically. I had never heard anything like that before. I have to say that at that time, as a sophomore in college, I was questioning a lot of things about oppression and racism and sexism and homophobia and capitalism and all of these things, all of these ‘isms so I was open to questioning my food choices as well. I didn’t realize that but apparently I was. After his lecture I immediately gave up hamburgers and hot dogs for about a week and basically went back to eating meat because I thought it was too difficult. But I couldn’t get what he said out of my mind. So I went home for that summer a few months later and I read everything I could in the Library of Congress in the main library in DC about vegetarianism. My mother and my middle sister did the same and by the end of the summer we decided to become vegetarian. That’s basically what happened. It took me about another year and a half to go vegan after that.
Caryn: You bring up so many things that I want to talk about all at once. It seems that you were an activist from very early on and maybe you weren’t an activist about what you’re an activist about today but you did have this focus and this energy in you to speak out.
Tracye: Definitely. Yes, absolutely. I mean, I thought that, and I’m glad that you brought that up because not too many people have asked me that but it’s very true. I do see myself as an activist and I’ve always wanted to be some type of activist. I thought I was going to be a civil rights lawyer or an ACLU lawyer or a judge or a journalist. I love to write. I always saw myself as doing activist work forever. I never saw myself actually getting into nutrition and promoting veganism but I do see this as activism for sure.
Caryn: It’s making me think. It’s a funny thing that there are probably are a number of people that are activists by nature and want to speak out but because they don’t have the right information, they’re pounding the drum for the wrong thing. Anyway, I’m glad you’re on this path. That’s all I have to say.
Tracye: Thank you.
Caryn: And another thing: you were learning about all of these different ‘isms in college and I think they’re all related.
Tracye: Oh yes. I think they’re definitely linked and that’s one of the things that drew me to vegetarianism and veganism because of the way that I was introduced to it. Dick Gregory talked about being an activist in the civil rights movement and how the nonviolent philosophy of the movement basically influenced his decision to become vegetarian and then vegan. Other folks directly influenced him but that ideology really made a huge difference for him. I think…I took my junior year away from Amherst and I went to Kenya for the first semester and then Howard University here in DC for the second semester and it was there at Howard that I was introduced to this large African American vegan community that I did not know existed even though I was born and raised in DC. And all of these issues were linked for them. This is how I learned about how to become vegan and why to become vegan. All of these ‘isms are definitely linked to me.
Caryn: The whole vegan movement is so important to me because I think it solves all the world’s problems pretty much. I think it’s a lot for people to chew. No pun intended. A lot of people take up a cause and they feel really passionate about it, and it could be so many different things: a difficult disease and looking for the cure or some particular issue related to civil rights or different countries in turmoil or whatever it is. I really think that when it comes down to it, eating plant-based foods will solve most problems.
Tracye: It touches everything, for sure.
Caryn: It may sound so simple but it is.
Tracye: It’s actually quite profound in its simplicity. I think that is what…you know, people come at it and people enter veganism from different places as you know. I think that the fact that a person may enter for animal rights reasons or environmental reasons or health reasons or spiritual reasons…the different ways that people enter. They’re all wonderful reasons. They’re all valid and they’re all linked whether the person knows it or not. They’re touched by and they’re touching all of these other avenues. For me, that’s how I entered it but I talk to people where they are. Being that my experience is that most of the people that I get to talk to are interested for health reasons, they’re about the food and the food making them healthy. That tends to be where I enter. That tends to be my focus. About ten years into being vegan I got into the animal rights advocacy issues and I’m happy about that because it took me ten years to get to that.
Caryn: I’m really grateful that there are so many people coming to the subject from so many different angles because we need every angle possible. Different people are going to hear the message in a space that they are comfortable with. I’m not a religious person but I am thrilled that there’s a Christian vegetarian society and a Jewish vegetarian society and things that talk to people that are following those philosophies and religions. The same thing with different cultures, different age groups. Your book By Any Greens Necessary is a revolutionary guide for black women who want to eat great, get healthy, lose weight, and look phat with a “ph.” So in this book you’re appealing to a very specific community.
Tracye: Well, yes. I’m definitely targeting black women for sure. I’m doing that because I want to do it and also because…
Caryn: We need it. We definitely need it.
Tracye: Yeah. Everyone needs to be…every group, every demographic, definitely needs to be targeted. I wanted to target black women because…why not? We’re fabulous. But also because we happen to be experiencing some really serious health issues. We’re in a health crisis in a number of areas so I wanted to directly appeal to black women to say that many of these chronic diseases that we’re dealing with: heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, overweight, obesity—are diet-related and to get the information is the bottom line and then you can decide how you choose to use it. But I have found talking to people for 20+ years about veganism is that once people get the information, they tend to make some type of change right away because they have not heard this information before. They realize that they have been misinformed and they want to do something. So whether it’s adding more fruits and vegetables or more whole grains or deciding to go vegetarian and then vegan or something, I find that people make a change right away even if it’s just reading more about it. I’m really inspired by that.
Caryn: Does it blow you away sometimes after doing this for so many decades that there are still people that find this information new and surprising?
Caryn: Every day. Every day I say, “Oh, I don’t need to do this anymore. Everybody knows.” And then, no. I meet so many people and I wonder, “Are they really hearing this information for the first time or did they not want to hear it before?” But for whatever reason, people need to hear things over and over and over.
Tracye: Yeah. And people are at different points in the place where they hear it. I heard about it in 7th grade and dismissed it. A lot of kids, tweens, and teens, college students, they are getting into it. I just wasn’t ready to hear it at that time. It took me seven more years to hear it. So definitely it needs to be repeated. So, yeah. My next book is actually going to be talking about my reflections, my thoughts on veganism after 25 years, for the past 25 years. Because I have seen a lot of changes and I have had some frustrations around it that I want to talk about. Mostly joys but some frustrations and challenges too. I compare it to the cigarette ban and the movement around cigarettes, which, of course, you know it took 50 years for that groundswell to happen and I think that we’re in the middle of that. It is definitely going to happen that most people are vegan and it’s just going to be like breathing. It’s definitely coming.
Caryn: I’m looking forward to that and I hope I live long enough to see it.
Tracye: I think we will.
Caryn: But being vegans we have a good chance at that. Of living longer. You mention in your book a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that blacks develop heart disease and die at an earlier age than all other groups. That’s really something. Because already, Americans and other countries are having this epidemic with heart disease and diabetes and it’s hitting all of us. But why is it hitting the black community even more so?
Tracye: It’s heart disease and breast cancer. We get it. Black women tend to die of it quicker than white women do and we get diagnosed with it later. It kind of happens with other issues as well, other diseases. But basically it’s an issue of, to me, it’s an economic issue. It’s an issue of food availability. First of all, people are misinformed. The food industry and the USDA do not inform us about the healthiest foods to eat and that’s the issue. That’s the problem. So, #1, we’re misinformed. And when we are informed, when we’re lucky enough to get the information about vegan, plant-based foods, it’s not available in our communities. Most black folks are poor or low income and we just don’t have the access to healthy foods. Michelle Obama is talking a lot about food deserts in her Let’s Move campaign and it’s true. We don’t have access to it when we do know about it and what we have access to is plenty of the junk food, corner stores, fast food places. So it’s an issue of information and economics and that really takes a toll on us. So for me, it’s not just promoting veganism on an individual basis, even through organizations, but it has to be a governmental response. I think that that’s coming.
Caryn: Yeah, there are a number of different things that need to change. Certainly. I want to say that I read a lot of books on the vegan diet and I read yours and loved it. By Any Greens Necessary. I really, really did and for lots of reasons. I’m glad that so many of them are out there but some of them are not very good.
Tracye: I appreciate that compliment. I am a writer first so I really do appreciate that. I really tried.
Caryn: It’s calm. It’s straightforward. It’s real and I know it says it’s for black women but it really is for everyone, of course. I just wanted to pick up a few of them. So one of them is where you talk in the very beginning about the government with the food pyramid, which is now the My Plate, and they are encouraging people to eat proteins, especially the ones that are low fat and lean and you say that dry beans are naturally lean and low fat so it’s absurd to include them in the same category. It’s just something…I’m a big promoter of beans but I never saw them put that way and it’s beautiful.
Tracye: It’s definitely true. I did a lot of research for this book so hopefully…I either got that from myself or someone else.
Caryn: Whoever gave it, whatever, it’s good.
Tracye: It’s definitely true. There’s a lot of information. There’s a lot of response to this protein = meat issue and it’s just ridiculous.
Caryn: You write this little conversation here: “Honey, what’s for dinner? Baked, saturated fat dear. Great. How about dessert? There’s a pint of chocolate cholesterol in the freezer.” I mean, come on. Let’s get some commercials like that going. I love it.
Tracye: Thank you. Maybe I should talk to PETA or PCRM about that.
Caryn: You talk a bit about advertising. Personally that’s #1 on my list. If we can shift the advertising dollars and if the government could shift the subsidy dollars from the unhealthy foods to the healthy foods and we start seeing media talking about what’s good for us instead of what’s bad for us, things will change so quickly.
Tracye: I agree. And that’s the other issue. There’s another study that just came out recently that I just read that food advertising is heavily…in the junk food advertising, which is the majority of it, is heavily targeted to kids of color. And kids of color watch more TV than other kids, which means that families are watching it as well. So that’s another issue, that we’re being targeted with these horrible images and these horrible messages about food.
Caryn: I definitely believe in shifting the tax structure where these foods that aren’t good for us should be highly taxed so it’s not affordable and it’s not profitable. When organic broccoli and apples become profitable and affordable, people are going to eat them and we’re going to see more ads for them.
Tracye: That’s true but it’s also relative. I tell people that. There’s this knee-jerk (reaction) that organic and healthy food is expensive. Yes, it can be. It often is but it doesn’t have to be if you buy in bulk and there are a few other tips that I have in the book. But a bunch of collards or kale, organic, costs $2.49 or $2.99 a pound and you can eat off of that for two days or one day for a family of four. That’s not that expensive. Getting beans and some grains in bulk: not that pricey.
Caryn: You put dried beans next to any $1 meal or any fast food meal and you’re going to be saving tons of money. Dry beans win in any scenario.
Tracye: Exactly. Throw them in an electric crockpot on the counter and cook them while you’re at work or doing something else and get some great recipes for them and you’re golden. It doesn’t have to be that complicated.
Caryn: OK, we just have a few minutes left. I want to talk about chicken. Chicken: the feathered vegetable. You have here in your book: “Ladies, eating chicken does not make you black. It makes you blocked.”
Tracye: Yeah. I had to put a whole separate chapter about chicken in there because I say in there that’s the thing that people say to me. “I can’t give up my chicken” as if we’re attached at the hip to chicken. Of course it’s a culturally significant food. It’s part of soul food culture. I get that but it’s unhealthy. Chitlins are part of it. Ribs are part of it. All of these things that I ate growing up but came to realize are not healthy and not worth it. I just think that people…the interesting thing hearing is that people will say, “I am a vegetarian.” And if you probe a little further, just ask one or two more questions and they’ll say, “Well, I eat chicken. I only eat chicken and fish.” The dwindling down…
Caryn: What makes that OK? People got the message that red meat is bad but they’re still…And people really think fish is a great thing.
Tracye: I know. But just in these two decades, nobody is saying that they should eat these foods. They just say, “Yeah, I still eat these foods.” So there’s been a shift. I shouldn’t say that nobody is saying that they should stop eating chicken and fish because they do believe it’s healthy. But what I’m trying to say is that there’s a misunderstanding that there are no other options out there other than meat for protein. I think that is going to become more and more…people are going to become more and more conscious of that. In another 10 years, they’re going to drop the chicken. Probably in another 5 years, they’re going to drop the fish.
Caryn: Do you think that milk will be last to go? Which is the worst, right?
Tracye: Milk is a monster. Yeah, for sure. They’re all going to go. They’re all going to go. There will always be people who eat it just as there are people who smoke. That was hard for me to come to terms with but cigarette smokers understand what they’re doing. Meat and dairy eaters will understand what they’re doing and they may choose to do it and there may be nothing we can do about that but it’s going to be that they’re in the minority and not the majority.
Caryn: You have some statistics in your book from the USDA, is this from the USDA? Anyway, the percentages of people who are lactose-intolerant. I love telling people this because it’s just mind-blowing. 90-95% of Asian Americans are lactose-intolerant. 95% of Native Americans. 60-75% of African Americans. 50-60% of Latinos and 10% of European-Americans. A lot of people can’t drink milk.
Tracye: Most people in the world. That’s the majority of the world’s population. That’s a lot of people for the USDA to ignore.
Caryn: And yet we’re cramming it down all of our schoolchildren and they have tummy aches and it makes it harder for them to learn and it’s criminal.
Tracye: It’s basically the USDA helping the milk and dairy industry to promote it. That’s when a groundswell has to happen. It’s happening.
Caryn: Right. I’m just thumbing through the book here and another thing I pointed out is when you talk about some people who used to be vegan but they were so anemic they went back to eating meat. I hear that all the time. I know that if I was feeding those people, they’d still be vegan and they’d be feeling great.
Tracye: I guess drinking blood through meat is the answer to anemia but it raises a point that just because it’s vegan doesn’t mean it’s healthy. You have to be a healthy vegan.
Caryn: That’s right. Coca-Cola and potato chips…I was talking to someone today who said, “I really wish I could get my potato chips without salt.” Like, stop the potato chips. Period.
Tracye: You have to know what you’re doing. It doesn’t take a lot to know what you’re doing.
Caryn: Tracye, thank you so much for joining me. What’s your website?
Caryn: Great. byanygreensnecessary.com. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed talking with you. I probably could talk for many more hours with you and maybe we’ll have another opportunity.
Tracye: Thank you. I would love it. Thank you so much, Caryn.
Caryn: Look forward to your next book. Bye.
Tracye: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Caryn: Bye. I’m Caryn Hartglass. You’re listening to It’s All About Food. We’re going to take a quick break and while we do take a look at my website: responsibleatingandliving.com. There are lots of recipes and great stuff up there. We’ll be right back with Marisa Miller Wolfson and her new documentary, Vegucated.
Transcribed by Jennie Steinhagen, 8/13/2013