Tracye McQuirter is a 30-year vegan with a master's degree in Public Health and Nutrition. She has written the nationally best-selling book By Any Greens Necessary, which was the number one recommended vegan book on The Huffington Post. She has helped increase the number of black vegans and vegetarians to more than three million people and has been named a food hero by Vegetarian Times. Tracye served as the program director for the nation's first federally funded vegan nutrition program, the Vegetarian Society of DC Eat Smart Program, and she served as a policy advisor for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Her website, byanygreensnecessary.com, offers recipes, information, inspiration, and practical help for living a vegan lifestyle. She has been teaching plant-based nutrition seminars for 25 years.
When asked what advice she has for people who want to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet, Tracye told Food For The Soul in a 2013 interview that adding rather than subtracting food is the key. "If you can think that about the fact that you already eat vegan foods, like you already eat vegetables, you already eat fruit, you already eat grains, these are all vegan foods. So, a lot of your diet is already vegan, its already plant-based you just don't think of it that way. Think of adding more of these foods that you're already eating." She suggests filling half of our plate with dark leafy greens like kale salad, stir-fried broccoli, or sautéed collard greens at least two meals a day. Next, add whole grain rice or pasta, and then fill in the last third of the plate with more vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Says Tracye, "This diet, this way of eating is about abundance. It's not about lack; it's not about depriving yourself. It's the opposite of that. It's about freeing yourself, opening yourself to an abundance of food that you just have not been eating. Opening your pallet up. So that's why I say really to think of it as adding to your plate."
When it comes time to think about dropping foods off the menu, Tracye takes a unique position based on her personal experience and the knowledge she has gained through that experience. Tracye says, "Cheese is absolutely addictive, and also one of the biggest sources of saturated fat in our diet. I suggest people get off cheese first, to try to let cheese go first because it's so addictive." As she recounts her journey transitioning to a plant-based diet, Tracy recalls that cheese was the last animal product to go. "I had to read, read, read about how unhealthy cheese is and what it does to the body. And finally, at some point it clicked that it wasn't worth the momentary pleasure of this cheese in my mouth, that wasn't enough to counter the effects on my health ... again it was just filling my mind with information until it clicked."
Tracye believes that having good nutritional information is vital and has made it her life's work to advocate for healthy food choices. She focuses her work on the black community. "I was brought into vegetarianism and veganism by Dick Gregory," says Tracye, "and then this thriving black vegetarian and vegan community here in DC." She wants to spread the word that black Americans can not only find hope for their future health in a vegan diet, but that there is a history and community they can draw on for support. "We are pioneers in the plant based food movement here in this country. There are already millions of us who are eating this way. So this is part of our heritage and part of our culture here. There are obviously many more who are primarily omnivore, but there are many of us who have been eating vegan food for generations. So I always like to start with that to say that this is nothing new in our community."
I met Tracye at HealthFest 2016 in Marshall, Texas. Her passion for health through dietary choices and her passion to take this message to the black community immediately caught my attention. HealthFest is a marvelous, vegan whirlwind weekend packed with lectures by locally and nationally recognized medical experts, nutritionists, chefs, and exercise instructors. Naturally, events like this have to charge a fee to cover their expenses. Tracye came to HealthFest 2016 to give a lecture entitled, "#BlackHealthMatters – African Americans and Veganism: Past, Present, and Future." Working with HealthFest organizers Ed and Amanda Smith, Tracye arranged for her lecture to be available to the general public at no charge. When we heard that, we got busy helping to spread the news of a free lecture that would be of particular interest to the African-American community there in East Texas. We visited a local African-American Seventh-day Adventist church and invited the entire congregation to Tracye's lecture. About a dozen of the church members came who otherwise would not have known about or attended the event, and it was fascinating to listen as Tracye laid out the history of black veganism and her vision for health and hope within the black community today.
In an interview with Veg News earlier this year, Tracye talked about the threats to life and health faced by black Americans:
We’re experiencing an enormous health crisis based on the unhealthful food the majority of us [are] still eating. It's important to know that just as there were more than 300 extrajudicial killings of black people reported in 2012, there were more than 300,000 preventable deaths of black people in 2010 caused by diet-related chronic diseases.
This is not a comparison game, but a reminder that unhealthful diets are a social justice and human rights issue as well, since there are state-sanctioned reasons that low-income African Americans, in particular, do not have access to healthful foods. That said, we don’t want to be active participants in our genocide. I see a day coming soon when thousands more people will be actively organizing around #blackhealthmatters AND #blacklivesmatter.
Meeting Tracye, learning from her, and enjoying her enthusiasm and preparation for her life's work was one of the highlights of HealthFest for me. I invite you to watch Tracye's interview below, conducted by Green Is Good Radio, and get to know Tracye and the expertise she brings to our community of plant-based professionals.