Friday, February 8, 2013


My girl, Leah (a fellow Caribbean islander), shares with us how she approached bangin' bird food from an objective perspective.

1.  Tell us about your journey towards embracing a "bangin bird food" lifestyle.

My journey has involved putting plants at the bottom of my food pyramid, becoming more aware of issues of food quality and access and acknowledging the problems with current dominating, farming practices.

I continue to find enjoyment in what I eat, not only because of the taste, but also for the positive steps that I’m taking towards the prevention of illness.  

2.  Did you have a light bulb moment when you decided, "Okay, I am making this change now"? If so, what was it?

For me there was no single moment. After 4.5 years I’m still developing my “bangin bird food” lifestyle. I entered into veganism as a temporary challenge. At that time I was focused on how I was going to rearrange my diet so that it was healthy and vegan. Due to the well-meaning concern and curiosity of family and friends I have been pushed to really examine my veganism.  Now my light bulb moments are concerned with food quality and access. I also think about the relationship between the foods that I eat and my productivity. Briefly, having grown up on St. Croix (a part of the US. Virgin Islands) I think about the politics and sustainability of food transportation and access. I consider why most of the food found in local grocery stores comes from places like California when we have local farmers and fertile land as well as island neighbors with similar resources. 

3.  Was it difficult to make the switch?
The switch was not difficult. Addressing newly developed questions in regard to my veganism did take time. My questions included the following: 
1) Is veganism the only or best path to healthy AND sustainable living that acknowledges that the earth is a share and limited resource and privilege? (My answer to this is actually no)
2) What should my food pyramid really look like and who profits from the idea that meat is an essential component of every meal?

4.  What was the hardest food item to give up along the way?

I did not go through a chicken, steak or cheese induced withdrawal period. That said, the hardest food additive to avoid, which dominated my college-late night snack choices was gelatin.  It’s in most gooey snacks and avoiding gelatin meant coming to terms with the fact that I’m going to want to snack on something when I’m up late and working. At Swarthmore, there was a significant “shift” in your on-campus (really Swarthmore area) food options after 10pm.  Honestly, it was not until graduating that I got a grip on the notion of bringing or preparing food for late nights to avoid eating something that was “real fruit flavored” but not from a specific fruit, sugary and with no really fulfilling taste. 

5.  What sources of information (articles, books, videos, documentaries, blogs, etc) were helpful to you during the transition?

Like I mentioned earlier, I’m still developing the what, why and how of my veganism, so I have had many mini transitions and it has not been a linear path. So, here’s my growing list, which includes some sites and articles that actually caution against veganism. The included links that are luke-warm to cold on a vegan lifestyle are beneficial in that they raise questions that I believe are beneficial for transitioning vegans  to consider. Neither link makes erroneous or dramatic claims about the impact of a vegan diet on health or sustainable living. 

Resources that are excited about veganism:
  • Happycow App (for finding restaurants)
Mixed, luke-warm and cold:

6.  Was there anyone who particularly inspired you to make this lifestyle change?

When I first made the choice to transition to veganism in the summer of 2008, I was surrounded by a group of friends that like me were in Seattle, WA working in biomedical research laboratories and were about to enter college. We were excited about this next phase of our life and were eager to try new things and challenge ourselves. 

7.  How did the switch affect you emotionally, mentally and physically?

During my third year as a “bangin bird food eater” I felt appreciable emotional, mental and physical changes. It would be a misrepresentation of my journey to lay things out in a cause-and-effect manner and say that these changes were the result of being vegan. I can say that around this time I started to take self-care and my personal impact on others more seriously.  Addressing these issues, in part, meant creating a healthier and happier lifestyle that included re-examining what I ate among many other factors (such as learning to pick my battles wisely, saying no, managing my time, prioritizing my goals, recognizing my limitations, gaining new skills to erase some of my limitations). 

8.  What was the single the greatest thing about becoming a "bangin' bird food" eater?

Becoming a “bangin bird food” eater was a door opening experience. I have greater control of my health and I’m more aware of issues relating to food accessibility, quality and security in my various home communities. 

9.  Has your "bangin' bird food" lifestyle had an effect on anyone around you?

Some family and friends.

10.  Did you ever struggle with what you thought people would think about your new lifestyle? If so, how did you overcome that?

Popular images of vegans or of “bangin bird food” eaters in general are often attached to white, at least middle class and very thin people.  I have benefited from knowing many people that complicate and counter these popular images. 

Furthermore, I have also encountered the argument that veganism is a homogenizing lifestyle that excludes the culturally rooted cuisine of many communities of people.  My daily personal experience of enjoying Crucian-style “bangin bird food” has countered this argument for me.  Rather, I would say that the threat of a homogenized and unhealthy lifestyle stems in part from food inequality in the US that is fueled by racism and classism, in both illegal and legal form (like housing segregation). Inequality in food access and quality enables organizations like McDonalds to sell food cheaply while whole foods, vegan or not, are subject to significant price hikes that make eating a plant-based diet seem too expensive and groceries stores geographically more inconvenient than junk-food restaurants in some place. 

11.  How have you been able to maintain this lifestyle? Has it been easy or difficult?

Now that I cook for myself year round and have good quality food, easily accessible and reasonably priced where I live, it has been easy. 

12.  Any restaurants you want to recommend?
Philly, PA: Essene Market and Vedge
Blacksburg, VA: Gillie’s
Fredriksted, St. Croix (USVI): Yuca, Rosa’s booth (for vegetarians and pescatarians)
Christiansted, St. Croix (USVI) Vegan Haven
San Juan, PR: Bebos (I always order the same thing, mofongo relleno de vegetables, but I plan to branch out soon)

13.  What is your favorite bangin' bird food?

Sorry, can’t pick one.  But briefly, mangoes and genips are in my favorite fruits pool.  Yuca, a restaurant on St. Croix, makes the best vegan pate. I’m referring to the type of pate that is rooted in Caribbean cuisine and not the French style of pâtés that’s associated with liver.

Leah has dropped so much knowledge as Swatties do.  I love the varying ideas and opinions that everyone in this series contributes in their interviews.  This is what discussion and truth-seeking is all about.  Making a decision that you are happy with involves considering information from all angles.  I will also take full liberty in promoting bangin' bird food that does not disregard culturally-rooted cuisine.  After all, I am Jamaican.  Those recipes will be coming in soon so stay tuned...... 

Feel freeeeeeeeee to comment and share your thoughts.
Thank you for reading!  My people, I appreciate you all so much.  Be happy and healthy.  Ciao!

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