February 26, 2011

We Still Need Black History Month

I wrote about this last year, and because nothing has changed much since then, I felt the need to repost this:

Unfortunately, we do still need Black History Month.  I say "unfortunately" because many African Americans find it unfortunate that an entire corpus of literary history and scientific contributions dating back to the turn of the late nineteenth century, have been reduced to a 28-day public service announcement.

I say "still" because the intent of the original "Black History Week" was to generate discourse about and compensate for the larger society's neglect of African American contributions.  Since American History and Social Studies texts had omitted African American stories from school curricula, "Black History Week" would pay tribute to those neglected Americans.  That was 1926.  Now, 84 years later, aside from a sprinkling of color, relegated to the margins of texts, African American history is "still" largely trivialized and marginalized.  Just as the Civil Rights movement has been reduced to The March on Washington and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, African American history has been reduced to a sort of "who's who" in black popular culture.

The problem here is that we still see African American history as somehow separate from American History.  We still need the qualifier - "African."  If there is doubt, one need only open any public school Literature or Social Studies text.  Undoubtedly, there will be a chapter (probably near the back), entitled, "Harlem Renaissance", in which all Black writers, regardless of whether or not they really were Harlem Renaissance writers, will be included.  In the Social Studies texts, African Americans are mentioned a bit more generously, but only to the extent that they reify their white counterparts.  History texts fail to depict African Americans in a subjective inclusive way.

As reductive as Black History month may be, what would happen if we scrapped it altogether?  African American stories would never get told. Africans in America would just become invisible.  The racial purging that slavery, jim crowism, and crack cocaine could not do would be accomplished by simply writing the African out of American history.  Africans in America would become the ahistorical people that many have claimed them to be for centuries.  Therefore, if we disapprove of the mockery that Black History month has become, we should transform it.  Better yet, we should challenge the American system of education to tell all of the histories not simply the version of history that serves white hegemony.

February 01, 2011

Plant Based Diets Could Cure Western Diseases

In some parts of the country (the South where I live), walking into a dinner party, family gathering, or restaurant, and announcing that you are a vegetarian or a vegan is akin to walking into a southern Baptist church and announcing that you are an atheist.

Saying that you are a vegetarian or a vegan usually elicits silence from the average southerner.  Following the silence, a long diatribe-like defense of meat ensues.  Meat eaters (and I know this because I used to be one), are usually convinced that their bodies need meat simply because they crave meat.  It's like a drug addict trying to convince themselves that they need the drug, and the drug is doing them no harm.

I started to become suspicious about my own eating habits, or rather my addiction to meat, about a year ago on a visit to my wonderful holistic doctor, Dr. Lisa Robbins.  I have been trying to manage my hypertension naturally for years.  However, all measures have failed until now.   Dr. Robbins showed me that even when I am at the pinnacle of fitness, running four days a week, and "reducing" my meat protein to 30% like the American Heart Association suggests, my blood pressure was still lingering around (140/90).  She strongly encouraged me to change my lifestyle to a plant-based diet.  Of course, I told her she was crazy, and that God made me a carnivore.  She gave me some reading material (which I trashed), and I scheduled my next visit.

When I returned six months later, I had done some thinking and decided to revisit her earlier suggestion. Before my consult with her, she popped in a video about Dr. T. Colin Campbell's The China Study (2005).  In short, the study posits "American," or "Western" meat-based diets as the cause for heart disease, diabetes, and female/male cancers (prostate, breast, ovarian, and cervical).  Of course, Campbell is not the only doctor who has made this assertion over the last 20 years.  Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Dean Ornish of California have been treating patients using the nutritional science behind plant-based diets for the past 25 years.  The premise of their research is the same:  cultures around the world that eat plant-based diets have virtually no occurrences of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.  When those same cultures become "industrialized," "developed," and begin to eat like Americans, they soon begin to die like Americans.

There are some critics (The China Study: Fact or Fallacy) of Campbell's work who claim that there is not enough evidence that meat "alone" causes "all" cancers.  However, most of Campbell's theories about heart disease and diabetes are irrefutable.

Armed with this information, I made an instant yet steadfast decision to transform my life.  Some twenty years ago, I became a vegetarian for about a year and a half.  However, I was 22 with normal blood pressure; therefore, I had no real motivation to make my decision permanent.  Now, at 40, I have been battling with hypertension for over ten years.  No matter how fit I am, the hypertension persists.  One constant in my hypertension equation has been meat (and lots of it).  Now, I have decided to bring the fight to the hypertension instead of the other way around.

I started to collect my own informal data on my family (both my husband's and mine).  The findings were simple.  All of the adults in our family over 30 have at least one of the following:  high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer.  And I don't think that our family is particularly pathological.  I would venture to say, that most black folks in America have a similar family tree.

With these kinds of risk factors, I would be a fool not to seriously consider a plant-based diet.

Already, I have reduced both my systolic and diastolic blood pressure by ten points, and I have only been a vegan since the New Year.  I am working closely with my doctor to monitor my progress.

Former President Bill Clinton has made the switch to a plant-based diet as well.  As we all may remember, Clinton had bypass surgery in 2004.  In 2010, he adopted a plant-based diet in an attempt to reverse his heart disease altogether.  So far, he has lost over 20 pounds, but there is no update on his heart condition.  Only time will tell.

Too often, many of us who are over 30 hear about people close to our own age dying of cancer or dropping dead of a massive heart attack, and we just assume that it was "in the cards."  We somehow feel like the cancer-heart disease-diabetes matrix is just some kind of inevitable bullet we all hope to dodge.  Maybe the cure and the prevention cannot be found in any six mile walks or low fat cheese.  Maybe the cure has been right in our gardens and under our noses all along.