By Kiara Timo
There are a plethora of racial disparities in the healthcare system. For example, it is common knowledge that in the United States, Black maternal mortality rates are significantly higher than that of other demographics. Additionally, in April 2019, the National Partnership of Women & Families released a fact sheet containing information from the U.S. Census Bureau stating that Black women experience substantial disparities with access to the US healthcare system. Nutrition counselor and shareowner of Urban Vegan Kitchen, Samantha Bailey, knows this experience firsthand.
Right before she graduated from the University of Miami, she experienced the unimaginable departure of her mother. With that loss, Bailey also lost her healthcare insurance. It was now up to Samantha to figure out how to take care of herself, and like so many others, she started with the internet. Googling was her introduction to self-care, which later inspired her to become a proper nutrition counselor and receive her certification from the Academy of Healing Nutrition and Cornell online.
Samantha Bailey talks to Bronze Magazine about the importance of understanding our health, the benefits of veganism, and her NYC restaurant.
Where did your interest in becoming a nutritionist come from based on your music degree background?
I decided to start learning how to have a healthy body because I can’t help accidents from happening, but I could help how healthy my body is. So as things came up—I was in my 20s at this point—so it’s acne, UTI, headaches, I was going down the rabbit hole like, “Okay, what did people do for this a hundred years ago?”
Once I learned how to eat better for longevity and ward off disease, I got impassioned. I was like—If everyone knows, we can all live better!
As someone active in the profession, how would you describe a nutrition counselor?
A nutrition counselor assesses the lifestyle of the person who has come to them for help. Diabetes is the number one [issue] people come to me for; cancer is the second—and all sorts of it, from organ to bone to blood. Also, kidney failure, autoimmune disease, things people haven’t gotten a diagnosis on, and neuropathy issues.
What benefits do you see for your clients when they switch to veganism?
The easy chronic issues to reverse are diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. So simple it hurts me that people are suffering.
All Westerners are eating too much fat. What happens when these people go on a plant-based diet? When I say plant-based, I mean real food, not talking about all the vegan cheeses and fake meats. I’m talking potatoes, rice, beans, tomatoes, bananas, apples, cabbage, herbs, mushrooms, and seasonings. When they do it immediately, their blood pressure drops quickly.
The second thing is there’s no cholesterol in plant foods; there’s no cholesterol in nuts; there’s no cholesterol in fruits and vegetables, beans and grains. It’s only in meat, dairy, and eggs. So, if you immediately take that out, your cholesterol drops, and you don’t need a drug. It pains me because most people suffer from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. We could fix it by making different decisions with what we put in our bodies.
In a data report published by Statista, they found that 8% of their respondents identified as vegetarian, and only 4% identified as vegan, and those respondents were between the ages of 30 and 49. There was a slight decrease in respondents between the ages of 18 and 29, but that was only by approximately 1%. Based on your experience, why do you think the percentage of veganism is so low, and what would you do or say to advise people to consider switching to different food habits?
You want to introduce veganism to this culture? It takes time. One of the biggest reasons why the amount of people that identify as vegan, or even vegetarian, is so low, even though it shows so many health benefits, is because the marketing of such is not strong.
The culture that we are in is a meat culture. If you turn on the TV and look at any food or restaurant ads, you will see it in your face. It’s on the bus ads; it’s on the tv ads; it’s on the bus stop ads; it’s at the relatives’ houses; it’s at the parties. Our culture is so inundated with deep-fried foods, meats, wads of chips, and lots of things of that nature—cheese snacks. That is so normal.
On top of that, the worst foods are marketed and normalized for children. So, the processed school meats, the processed school cheeses, and the terrible quality milk are all in schools. You normalize that when you’re a child. When you are in your 20s, and nothing seems wrong, you think it’s ludicrous that you’re not eating well and you should change to this diet that looks like a lot of fruits and vegetables; it’s jarring.
When it comes to someone changing their diet, there is no supportive community. It’s funny. I’ve noticed, “okay, I’m going to change my diet” a week later, there’s a party at the office, and this is what everyone says, “Oh, it’s just Wednesday though, it’s just this party.” You have that cake during that party, but over the weekend, you also have a baby shower, “Oh come on, it’s just for my shower, please.” Then you do it again, and before you know it, you regularly eat the foods you don’t want to eat anymore.
We don’t have recognition in our culture that we are addicted to these foods, so we don’t act as if it is an addiction. We don’t support the people who have at least decided for themselves, “I want better for myself.” There is no support.
A report found that while 8% of the general population identified as vegetarian or vegan, that percentage is double within the African American and Black demographics. So why do you think African Americans and Black people seem more attracted to veganism?
There have already been long-standing black populations that have been a vegetarian-like or vegan-like lifestyle. The Black population of 7th-day Adventists and Rastafarians is already like that.
There’s already this existence of people that live this way that other Black people have already been adjacent. Second, the ethnic population in America that eats the most greens is Black people. Everyone is shocked to hear this. So, when nutrition scientists want to study the effects of people who eat greens, or more vegetables or not, they always go into the Black population because it’s the X-factor of people who eat a lot of greens. They compare it to other people.
Another reason is these foods affect us the worst. Caucasians and white people can handle dairy okay. Black people cannot. Probably none of us. Enough people in the black community have figured out that if they have ice cream, their stomach gets torn up, and they have to go to the bathroom, so they try not to eat ice cream, or if they eat grilled cheese sandwiches too much, they start hawking up a lot of phlegm. That’s because we’re allergic.
It’s just Europeans that seem to be able to consume dairy with not so much issue. You access dairy in a natural environment because there’s nothing else to eat. The gene to properly develop the enzyme to digest all other animals’ milk is poorly developed in almost all other people.
The enzyme that digests lactose goes down by 95% by age 5. We’re meant to breastfeed off our moms. It was never supposed to be for other animals.
During the 60s and 70s in Black revolution groups, one of the spinoffs of the revolutionary civil rights movements was Black people eating more naturally. Actress Cicely Tyson became a vegetarian in the ’70s. There were Black people who were trying to connect to African behavior and routines, and one of the things Black people in America were discovering yams and real foods. So, there was a subset of a small population of Black people with a revolutionary spirit to eat more like how indigenous Africans were eating.
We know that Black women have a different experience with the healthcare system than other demographics. So, what would you want them to know if you were speaking directly to Black women about the benefits of veganism?
Absolutely. Over 60% of Black women do or will have fibroids. Fibroids affect things, including the quality of menstrual cycles, but also fertility and pregnancy. A solution for intense and aggravating fibroids has a hysterectomy which is the full removal of the uterus, which takes away your ability to procreate completely.
Last time I looked a few years ago, 474,000 hysterectomies were performed in America. Black women are about 12% of the female population. Four hundred seventy-four thousand hysterectomies were performed, and 74% were on Black women.
Our bodies are affected by dairy so much more than anybody else on the planet. One thing that comes from consuming dairy is the abundance of growth hormones and estrogen. These things grow because it’s meant for a 60-pound calf into a 2,400-pound cow.
What does that mean if we absorb more estrogen? The things that make us look like a woman become more enhanced, hips, breast size, and periods start early and are more painful with more bleeding and growth hormones, so cysts, fibroids, tumors, and cancer. All those things affect Black women the most in a society that fails to acknowledge the discrepancies of our natural biological bodies in the medical system because, within the medical association, it is racist to say that our bodies behave differently. But unfortunately, it is just a fact that our bodies behave differently.
Because of the racism within the structure of America, we’re not treated the same and so to default to a hysterectomy is easy for doctors to go to because it doesn’t feel so urgent for them unless you have a Black doctor. Most doctors are not Black. That’s why there’s such a disparity in the hysterectomies in this country. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Outside of veganism, Black women should never consume cow’s milk under any circumstances, especially not in childhood. It’s setting you up for a life of fertility issues for adulthood.
Are there any common concerns or misconceptions about veganism?
Protein is 22 amino acids together. The protein within our musculature is connected, so our body must use certain enzymes. We don’t have too many, but we do have pepsin. Pepsin did come with evolution to break up meat, but it’s the only thing we have, unlike lions, who have a bunch of stuff to break down meats. If you’re eating a mango, you’re getting certain amino acids.
There are amino acids everywhere; you don’t have to break them down. You have better amino acid absorption when eating plant foods because your body doesn’t have to break it down.
65% of people over 55 have some type of kidney malfunction. Their kidneys begin to not function. Kidneys filter organs with the liver, so the things that are not digested will go through your filtering systems. The excess protein starts damaging the capillaries in the kidneys, so the more meat you eat, you’re tagging on the end of your life kidney malfunctions.
The other false one is calcium. People keep associating calcium with drinking milk. The countries with the highest dairy consumption also have the highest rates of osteoporosis because the calcium in dairy is not doing our bones any good.
We need to pull minerals to even our PH, including calcium, including phosphorus. What people don’t know is bones are 50% phosphorous. Everyone’s harping on calcium because the milk industry knew it was great marketing to say calcium is good for bones. Calcium is good for bones; calcium is not the biggest component of bones. It’s not even 20% of what bones are. Drinking milk and eating meat takes away the bones’ strength and leads to more fractures and osteopenia. If you get off dairy, you have stronger bones if you do weight-bearing activities. Calcium is ridiculously abundant in everything green. Broccoli, spinach, and kale are ridiculously abundant and far more absorbable.
Another concern is iron. Iron in meat is not very digestible. Iron in plant food—just like calcium, is superabundant. It’s also in everything green and other stuff like beans and rice and things like that.
B12 does affect vegans more than other people. However, 60% of people who are b12 deficient are meat eaters, and 40% are vegetarians or vegans, so you should take a sublingual b12 supplement.
As a Co share owner, you are in a city that, at least pre-COVID, has over 10,000 restaurants. What should draw them to your restaurant specifically?
Vegan restaurants had the reputation, and it was true, of being pretentious. That wasn’t what people from the north Bronx, Yonkers, Mount Vernon, or from areas of Brooklyn were looking for. Urban Vegan Kitchen is New York.
On the website, you guys have a donation option. The statement on the website says, “Help us feed people in need! Support plus feed provides nourishing, plant-based meals for children and families, seniors, homeless and domestic abuse shelters, food banks, and capitalized LGBTQ plus centers in marginalized communities.” Can you talk more about how this supports the values of Urban Vegan Kitchen?
From the beginning, the creator of Urban Vegan Kitchen was always into exposing [veganism] to other communities. So, when support and feed came along during the pandemic, it was perfect. Support and Feed take donations and support vegan restaurants and send food to people, whether it’s shelters for women and trans women or children in certain school districts.
If you are interested in contacting Samantha Bailey for nutrition counseling, then you can email her at email@example.com, and you can follow her on Instagram @sameatsplants_