I’ve always known Tracye as a vegan, health educator, and one of the most attractive energetic, and positive people you’ll meet in the capital city. As an omnivore, I credit Tracye’s pluses to her choices and priorities especially when it comes to food. I was honored when Tracye asked me to host her book launch for By Any Greens Necessary: A Revolutionary Guide for Black Women Who Want to Eat Great, Get Healthy, Lose Weight, and Look Phat. This wasn’t going to be a food fight. Vegetarian and vegan food have come a long way from the days of home yogurt makers, juicers, and alfalfa sprout salads. Today there’s more variety. More choices. And much more flavor.
Tracye is the pioneering vegetarian in her family. As a 20-year and counting vegetarian and now vegan, Tracye is bringing a story of hope a wider audience. Tracye received her masters in public health nutrition from New York University. She’s created and facilitated healthy eating workshops especially for people living in communities where access to farmers markets and fresh produce is limited. She’s also the co-founder of Black Vegetarians New York as well as the Black Vegetarians website for the U.S.’s 3-million-plus African American vegetarians. As director of the first government funded vegan nutrition program, Tracye has been a passionate advocate for getting people on a healthy track with a plant-based diet.
2010 was a big year for Tracye McQuirter and what better way to bring the year to a close for eclectique916.com but with an eclectique interview to get a fresh start on 2011. And btw, there’s a recipe at the end for “All Hail the Kale Salad.” Serve it up with some black-eyed peas and rice.
Happy New Year!
E916: 2010 was a big year for you. What’s happened since the publication of the book “By Any Greens Necessary”?
TMQ: The book has received tremendous support. It’s now a national best-seller, and we’re into a second printing. I’m very excited about that! I think people are very interested in eating healthier and are seeking out good resources to help them do that.
For me personally, writing this book has changed everything. First, while I was writing it, there was nothing else in the world I would rather have been doing—even through all the exquisite joy and pain of the writing process. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing and that was an incredible feeling.
Then, when I actually held the book in my hands and in a bookstore for the first time, I cried both times. It was so satisfying to my soul to have achieved this lifelong dream of writing a book.
And finally, to receive such positive testimonials from people about how the book is changing their lives is an overwhelming honor.
So for me, my paradigm has shifted. I can truly see that my goals are limitless and attainable, and so is my ability to create positive change in the world. I encourage everyone who wants to write, to write!
E916: Your journey as a vegan began in college. What were your struggles at that time in making your decision? What was the defining moment when you said “you weren’t turning back”?
TMQ: During my sophomore year at Amherst College, our Black Student Union brought Dick Gregory to campus to talk about the economic, political, and social state of African Americans. But instead, he flipped the script and talked about the plate of black America.
What I remember most was that he graphically traced the path of a hamburger from a cow on a factory farm, to a slaughterhouse, to a fast food place, to a clogged artery, to a heart attack.
At the end of the lecture, I sat there in a state of shock, especially since his lecture was right before lunch. Well, that day I immediately gave up hamburgers and hot dogs. But that only lasted a few days. I decided that Dick Gregory was crazy and nobody in their right mind gives up meat. But even though I went back to eating hamburgers and hot dogs, there was something in the back of my mind that made me wonder if what Dick Gregory was saying was true.
Plus, I gained 25 pounds my freshman year in college from eating all the unhealthy food I wanted because I was away from home for the first time. So at the rate I was going, I was probably well on my way to that eventual heart attack that Dick Gregory talked about.
I remember calling my mother and middle sister after the lecture and telling them that I thought I should become a vegetarian. Now, in college, I was questioning a lot of things. I was questioning imperialism, sexism, racism, homophobia, classism—all of these “isms” I was studying really for the first time. I was actively seeking to free myself from these oppressive cultural norms. So I was open to questioning what this society dictated I should eat and discovering for myself what was healthiest.
A few months after the lecture, I went home for the summer, back to Washington, DC, and I read everything I could find in Martin Luther King library and the Library of Congress about whether eating meat was unhealthy. And my mother and middle sister read the same books, too. And we, in fact, discovered that what Dick Gregory was saying was true. So by the end of the summer, we all decided to become vegetarians.
It would take another two years for me to let go of cheese. As I say in the book, cheese was my kryptonite! That decision was mind over matter, because I loved the taste of cheese. I had to finally decide that the momentary pleasure of a piece of cheese in my mouth was not worth the health risks. When I was able to make that decision after a two-year struggle, the desire for cheese eventually just went away.
E916: Besides not eating meat or dairy, what did you notice about yourself when you became vegan?
TMQ: Well, over the past twenty years I’ve noticed that my skin glows, my eyes are clear, I look younger than my 44 years, my weight has remained steady, my menses is light and cramp-free.
I’ve also evolved into an ethical vegan, which means that I also don’t wear the skin or hair of animals. This was totally unexpected. I even resisted changing when I started to become aware of the cruelty involved in that process. I just did not want to give up my leather, wool, suede, silk, and fur—at all! But there came a point when I could not justify perpetuating violence for the sake of fashion. Having said that, it is challenging at times to satisfy my vegan fashionista side, especially when it comes to shoes*. Fortunately, though, the fashion industry is now becoming more vegan-friendly, right along with the food industry.
Being vegan has also led me to practice yoga, to meditate, and to develop my spirituality. I also feel I’m giving love back to the universe by choosing to live and promote a healthy, vegan way of life.
E916: What vegans or vegetarians do you admire and why?
TMQ: My mother inspires me the most. She became vegan when I did more than 20 years ago and she was already in her 50s. That was no small feat for a woman from South Carolina.
Today she’s 74, has excellent health, exercises vigorously six days a week, and still has an hourglass figure. As I say in the book, my mom is healthy and phat!
And of my mother’s thirteen siblings who have survived into their senior years, she is the only one who has no health issues at all. Not to mention that both of her parents died from chronic diseases. So she has single-handedly changed that entire health paradigm. I think that’s extraordinary.
E916: Is Michelle Obama’s White House garden and her efforts to curb childhood obesity a boost or nod to what you’re doing?
TMQ: Michelle Obama is shining a spotlight on childhood obesity that is absolutely critical. If we don’t make dramatic changes in what we eat and how we exercise, this could be the first generation of children that will not outlive their parents.
I spent the past year leading food demonstrations and nutrition workshops on the benefits of healthy plant-based eating to DC public school kids, parents, and teachers—and I know how valuable and practical this approach is. So I hope to work with Michelle Obama to promote plant-based foods as part of her initiatives to prevent and reverse childhood obesity.
E916: What is the best vegan dish you make? Don’t be modest.
TMQ: Well, I can say that THE most popular potluck dish I make is All Hail the Kale Salad. Runners up include Mediterranean Curry Chickpeas, Spicy Black Beans, Spicy Collards, and Strawberry Cheesecake (all vegan, of course!).
E916: Got a recipe you’d like to share for the interview?
TMQ: Sure! Here’s the recipe for All Hail the Kale Salad:
2 or 3 bunches of curly kale, washed and chopped or torn into small pieces
1 small red onion, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
4 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 or 3 TB Bragg Liquid Aminos
2 TB nutritional yeast (optional)
Cayenne pepper to taste
Place the kale in a large bowl and pour the olive oil over it. Toss with salad tongs to make sure all leaves are coated. Add in the rest of the ingredients and toss well. If possible, let marinate at room temperature for about an hour and a half before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.