FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.
We all want to be healthy - avoiding diseases like diabetes, lowering our cholesterol. Well, now a growing number of African-Americans are embracing a way of eating that offers lots of health benefits: vegetarianism.
Traci Thomas is the founder of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia. She says comic Dick Gregory inspired her to stop eating meat more than 12 years ago.
Ms. TRACI THOMAS (Founder, Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia): In the media, you just hear so much about the high rates of all those chronic diseases are plaguing people of color in particular. And now we have like type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions plaguing our youth as well.
So it was just a wake-up call that I wanted to just embrace the lifestyle and be preventive before something happened, and not always trying to react and make some proactive moves later in life.
CHIDEYA: Now I've been on this fitness challenge for the past six months or so. And although our nutritionist Dr. Rovenia Brock says vegetables are the key to a healthy lifestyle, she also says that if you replace meat you have to know what you're doing in order to get enough protein. So how do you balance your diet?
Ms. THOMAS: Everything that comes from the ground has protein in it. That's one of the biggest myths that's out there. The cow is loaded with protein. So if anything, we need to mimic the cow, eat like the cow, not get the protein second-handed and say, well, hey, I'm going to kill the cow and dive right in.
As far as protein, as far as a vegetarian goes or a vegan, I select my foods from a variety of different fruits and vegetables. And like almonds are very high in protein and calcium. Broccoli is another rich source of calcium and protein as well. And if you're eating a large number of green leafy vegetables, I mean you're okay, you're more than okay.
I go in about once a year and just have my numbers all checked. And I mean I'm always normal across the board in everything.
CHIDEYA: But there are some people who I've met who were basically like bread and cheese vegetarians. They'll eat pizza every day for every meal. I don't know that that's healthy.
Ms. THOMAS: Those are two of the deadly foods that are out there. You know, it's like seven of those foods that you really should just leave alone in cheese, dairy and bread tops the list. I've met other vegetarians that eat a lot of pasta, eat a lot of potatoes. (Unintelligible) as being a vegetarian, there were a potato-terian, a pasta-terian, you know, and on and on.
CHIDEYA: Now you live in Atlanta. I've been there many times. I have some family there. And I've seen some of the great co-ops where you can get fresh organic fruits and vegetables. How aware do you think the black community in Atlanta is of vegetarianism as a life choice? Are there a lot of people in Atlanta making that choice?
Ms. THOMAS: Oh absolutely. We're the founding chapter of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia. We have over 400 members. We have a lot to shout about.
CHIDEYA: Now you've mentioned already some of the benefits of a vegetarian diet. I understand that there are different types of vegetarianism. What kind do you practice and what are some of the different kinds?
Ms. THOMAS: Well, I'm a vegan. Meaning that I'm exempt from all dairy, you know, of course, flesh. And there's a lacto-vegetarian who consumes dairy and eggs, but there again no flesh. And then there's a ovo-vegetarian who may consume eggs but, you know, do not consume dairy, and again no animal flesh. And flesh is like whether it's derived from a cow, pig, chicken, turkey, fish. You know, it's all flesh. It all has eyes and it all bleeds.
CHIDEYA: Finally, you help other black vegetarians create support groups and forums around the country. And your group is part of a network of black vegetarian societies. Tell us a little bit more about that kind of work that you do.
Ms. THOMAS: Okay, absolutely. We have sister chapters in Texas, Chicago, Raleigh, North Carolina, New York, and soon to start is Washington, D.C. and a chapter in the Virgin Islands. So we just basically help them with start-up information, letting them know about resources, marketing tips, you know, things that they can get the word out in their local area. They're all independently operated, but we share a lot of information.
CHIDEYA: Well, Traci, thanks so much for sharing this time with us.
Ms. THOMAS: And thank you.
CHIDEYA: Traci Thomas is the founder of the Black Vegetarian Society of Georgia. To find out how to reach their Web site and more information on the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle, visit our Web site, NPR.org.
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