Vegans of Color

Because we don’t have the luxury of being single-issue

“Vegans Eat Like the Poor People of the World” August 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. Amie "Breeze" Harper @ 2:25 pm

Sometime in my life (rather soon), I would like to give birth to a child. In April of 2008, I had been searching for midwifery service for about 7 months. In April, I left a message for a midwifery practice.

Within the same day, one of the midwives called me back. She basically told me that it’s too dangerous to be a vegan, while pregnant, because it will destroy my body and I will become anemic, protein deficient, and calcium deficient. She said I can’t get what I need, through non-animal based products. The BABY would be fine, because all the nutrients I’d be eating would go toward the baby. She says I would be stripped of my own nutrients, lose muscle mass and calcium from my bones. I honestly do not understand why I can’t get what I need through nuts, grains, seeds, and beans, in terms of protein. And if I get 26 mg of Iron per day, by drinking two shots of wheatgrass, drinking nettles leaf powder every day, and taking in 1 tablespoon of a mixture of spirulina and blue green algae, how would I become anemic? And if I’m taking 600 mg of DHA vegan sourced pills per day, 3-4 TBSP of Omega 3-6-9 oils, and then taking 1200 mg of a Calcium supplement (in addition to drinking Kale) everyday, how would this not be sufficient? A cup of lentils has 40 g of Protein in it. Kidney beans has 48 and is a complete protein. Tempeh is amazing. What is wrong with these particular protein sources? A cup of quinoa gives me 87% of the iron I need for the day. Why is this “not as good” as a steak?

Since I’m severely lactose intolerant, how would I be able to drink and eat a bunch of dairy products, “for my calcium”, without making myself sick?

I take plant based 100% organic mutli-vitamin, every day. This company also makes a pre natal formula that is 100% without animal products. It would give me everything I should need that is whole foods sourced (not synthetic).

This midwife told me that vegans have come to her, while pregnant, and that it was VERY difficult for them to not become anemic or protein deficient. I don’t understand this “belief” and “statement”, as there are many who have had healthy pregnancies as vegans and or raw foodists. I’m very confused and a little shocked that , in Berkeley, this midwife is so convinced that a vegan pregnancy is DANGEROUS. I say this because the East Bay Area of Cali is known for having a high population of alternative foodies that “appreciate” that not everyone wants to eat the SAD.

And what I find startling, is that there are PLENTY of omnivorous females who also have nutritional deficiencies during their pregnancies (and I know there are plenty WHO DO NOT). There are plenty of omnivorous females that are anemic, during pregnancy who eat animal products… This makes no sense to me that a vegan pregnancy CANNOT be successful, as long as I pay attention and eat what I need to eat.

Oh, and the midwife told me that vegans eat like the “poor people in the world”. She associated that those who are “poor and malnourished in the world” are “like vegans”. I’m not making this sh*t up. Once again, how the hell does a STRONG MUSCULAR horse become healthy? How does its body not become deficient, while going through a vegan/herbivorous pregnancy? It’s an herbivore and the animal is fine. It gets what it needs through plant based diet… And what about a strong powerful elephant? Wow, they’re herbivores too! And if people eat cows to get protein and iron, how does the COW get it? Well, last time I checked- and before they were imprisoned in the Agricultural Industrial Complex- cows ate plants all day! Wow, a cow gets its iron and protein from plants! And then human beings eat the cow to get the nutrients that the cow got, through grazing… Am I not making any sense here? I’m just really shocked by the conclusions that this midwife has drawn.

All this time, I had embraced a whole foods vegan diet to combat the crazy health disparities in the Black community in the USA. It was as if my diet, in her eyes, was “irresponsible”– even though it was how I have decided to shrink (over 70% it has dereased) my uterine fibroid (which are over 3x more prevalent in the black female u.s. community). I’ve also “cured” my “incurable” eczema and asthma. Amazing that this isn’t “proof” enough that a well-planed vegan diet would be optimal for pregnancy.


Breeze Harper


24 Responses to ““Vegans Eat Like the Poor People of the World””

  1. Marco Says:

    I’m curious, is the equation of a vegan diet to a “poor folks’ malnourishment” unique to this particular midwife or is it endemic to midwifery and/or the medical profession in general?

  2. breezeharper Says:

    Thus far, she is the only midwife who has openly conveyed to me her “opinion” about vegan pregnancy. However, except for 1 practice in Oakland, I have yet to find a midwife that can support a vegan pregnancy. By “support”, I mean “trained” in nutritional wisdom around helping a pregnant woman achieve a healthy vegan dietary regiment. They simply seem to have no training (or interest to be trained) in vegan pregnancy. Vegetarian, yes, but “no” in terms of veganism or raw foodism.

    Interestingly , the practice/collective of midwives and doulas that I found in Oakland, CA are of African descent AND are completely familiar with the womb nurturing vegan regiment of Queen Afua. I used Queen Afua to guide me, as she approaches veganism and raw foodism as a way to decolonize the black female (USA) diet, cure psychic and physical trauma from 400 years of colonialism on the womb of black women, and to achieve a healthy spirit, mind and body…

    …not that you asked all that 🙂

    The practice in Oakland is called Sacred Birth Place.

  3. supernovadiva Says:

    get outta here! i have a 1 yo. people love to scare new moms into and out of everything. believe me, there has been some discussions in the dr’s offices. the baby will get everything she needs anyhow. good god AS IF there’s no vegan suppliments to balance everything out. i was on over the counter veg prenatals, extra calcium, and efa because my eating was off. everyone’s different. i really needed to suppliment the calcium to protect my teeth etc. since the women in my family experienced their first cavities during pregnancy. PLUS ffs, you only need about 300+ more calories than you usually consume depending on your weight. that’s what? a smoothie?
    girl you could get me on an angry rant about dealing with people’s ignorance while pregnant. po people diet? leave that heifer where she is. leave her poor by not giving her any of your cheddar (LOL i need to go to sleep). well on what you said you consume, believe me you will be fine. if you ever become a mommy i would happily yell online in support.

  4. Dani Says:

    What about the flip side of what this midwife is saying? If she is saying vegan motherhood is irresponsible because vegans eat like “poor people in the world,” then she’s also expressing a troubling belief and statement about the motherhood of the poor people in the world; the majority of whom are people of color. I think this is a very disturbing sentiment coming from someone whose profession involves assisting mothers; seeing how the motherhood of poor women in the world, especially women of color, is often viewed as “irresponsible” in order to control them.

    @Breeze – I’m glad you shared the info on Sacred Birth Place. I was actually curious if there would be difference of attitude between Berkeley and Oakland, given that the former is mostly White and the latter is mostly POC; especially considering the implications of what the Berkeley midwife said.

  5. supernovadiva Says:

    that’s the thing, dani. some docs come in the examining room instantly with assumptions about you either through discussion on the phone OR as i’ve experienced- just by looking at you (i was instantly an uneducated,poor, single mom). either way you dodged a bullet, breeze. unfortunately, many docs are untrained when it comes to nutrition. (i used this article because many of the doctors we deal with have been one for a while. also midwives are trained RNs depending on the laws of state).
    also not to come down this woman throat, she’s been trained in the way we all have. the US government/ FDA lies very comfortably in the arms of the food industry.

  6. Bronnie Says:

    I had a homebirth 4 years ago. I lOVED my midwife… except her nutrition advice! It was exactly what you’d expect to hear from mainstream medical – totally oldschool. I just pretended to do what she said, but the only supplement I actually took was iron, and only half the amount she advised. That took care of anemia. And my baby was a healthy 7.5# girl.

    Interesting the reference to poor people: from my studies overseas (as well as many others’), the low-income folks who consume enough calories have the best diets on the planet. Maybe midwives need to travel a bit.

  7. ThoughtCriminal Says:

    If you speak with this midwife again, have her check out The Farm in Tennessee for proof that many vegan mothers have healthy vegan children (and with assistance of vegan midwives!).

  8. Sally Westbury Says:

    I would like to say.. as a homebirth midwife who has supported many vegan women .. that vegan women create awesome healthy babies, birth beautifully, breastfeed and grow their babies without problems and recover magnificently after their birth journey. The vegan women i’ve jouneyed with are better educated about diet and nutrition than i am and have taught me heaps!!

  9. Julia Says:

    as a fellow vegan of color, who also happens to be an RN who specializes in prenatal nutrition, I am shocked by this statement. I work for a non-profit as a visiting nurse for teen (and usually poor women of color) pregnancies, and though I rarely deal with vegans, I would never discourage veganism during pregnancy. Most vegans are so much more conscientious about what they consume than the typical American, poor or otherwise. My 14-month-old baby is proof positive for me vegan moms do just fine. I had a trouble-free pregnancy with a vegan doula and thoughtful midwife (however I went through two doulas who continued to focus on my single-parent-ness).

  10. Health care practitioners in general–nurses, doctors, etc–are taught vurtually no nutrition in their schooling. At least not in any comprehensive way. So unless they actually study nutrition in an extensive way, what they know is what they decide to know, what they pick up. It’s really sad. What people put in their bodies the most–food–is a mystery wrapped up in an enigma for the health care field. People who care about what they eat are basically left to fend for themselves and research on their own. And most of that information can be pretty wacked out.

    When I visited the Castskill Animal Sanctuary last year, I had the herbaceous animals are huge! revelation, Breeze. I was like, ok, if these horses and cows eat plants all day and are HUGE and heavy, I think it’s possible for other animals like humans to eat plants and get their needs met.

  11. Sara Says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about this–and obviously you are MUCH more consciencious than most people, period (I meant this diet-wise, though I suppose it goes for other things, too). Your baby will be so lucky to have you as a mom.

  12. lagusta Says:

    Hey, vegans DO eat like poor people around the world! And that’s why I’m proud to be vegan. I don’t need all the heart disease, refined food, planet destruction, and other assorted ickinesses that are the result of your standard rich white dude’s diets. One of the great things about being vegan is learning about the amazing dishes that typically poor women have created out of what is available throughout time and throughout the world. I’ll take a quinoa salad over a steak, always, thank you very much!

  13. joshivore Says:

    my 3.5 year old vegan daughter and lovely partner who had a healthy, completely natural birth would beg to differ with this person. i’d argue the EXACT opposite of this person actually, that too much protein, calcium, and all the rest that comes with the SAD is detrimental to a pregnant woman’s health.

    our doc, who is a pretty awesome dude, when we informed him that we were vegan, educated about that topic, and this was an immovable fact, said “i’m sure you know more about nutrition than i do.” he was looking at my partner’s chart and seeing how healthy she was and decided, instead of going on the prejudices and misinformation most folks have about vegan health and nutrition, would actually go with the facts on the page in front of him and the two healthy vegans standing there.

  14. supernovadiva Says:

    well it seems that meat equates your status in life to some people.
    i have pride in my ‘poor people diet’ too. since becoming vegan and cooking from scratch i have slashed my grocery bill in almost half, am losing weight and health is improving. so if poor eating is wrong, i don’t wanna do right.
    this post did remind me to do a search for myself in planning my second child.

  15. vegeater Says:

    It actually sort-of satisfies me to be told that I “eat like the poor people of the world”. One of my very earliest thought lines that led me to veganism was the idea that by changing my diet I could, in a way (animal issues and health issues aside), remedy an injustice; or better identify myself with the poor of the world. Maybe that’s self-flagellant or something, but those folks need other folks to be sacrificial and deny ourselves the fat of the land. In no way do I imagine that I suffer, certainly not from hunger, but eating plants right along with the “poor people” seems more just.

  16. My younger sister was born at home with the aid of midwives. My mother had a very different experience than yours, though. The midwives were very pushy about trying to get my mom to go vegetarian.

    They were so pushy in fact that my mom still says she would have gone veg sooner if they hadn’t been so pushy. I completely disagree with her and think the midwives inspired her to go veg. My theory is that a lot of people believe they would have done something sooner if only someone else hadn’t been so rude/pushy/annoying/etc about it, but in fact people are strongly motivated by pushy people and just don’t like admitting it much.

    Anyway, that’s not the point. Your point is about the strange way this one midwife conflated vegan with poor, poor with malnourished, and vegan with malnourished. It’s terrible logic, it’s patently false, and moreover, it’s classist. Numerous studies show there are a variety of ways to be malnourished, some stem from poverty, others from affluence, and many from ignorance. Veganism is healthy, pure and simple.

  17. indo Says:

    crazy incident, breeze….

    although i understand some people’s impulse here to be proud that as vegans they “eat like poor people,” i think this response to the obvious class elitism of the midwife is misplaced. location is important, and in a variety of countries where meat is heavily subsidized (like the US but also brazil and increasingly asian countries), processed meat is among the cheapest/most available food around.

    we are now in a global grain crisis, driven by decades of trade imperialism and increases in the use of grain by energy producers and factory farms. given this situation, even a rice-and-beans vegan diet in the US, where imperialism has kept food in steady supply, may be much more privileged than the kind of economically-forced vegan diet available in places like haiti, which is experiencing massive grain shortages.

    in places where meat and other animal products are too expensive for rural peasant and working class populations, meat may be a central aspect of culture that the global economy has denied large segments of the population. in these cases people might take offense at their poverty being idealized by 1st-world vegans. we should take seriously that people feel real loss when neocolonial economic conditions under globalization deny people access to animal products they used to take for granted, even if our ultimate goal is to encourage more sustainable and less cruel diets.

  18. Kanika A. Hodges Says:

    Living here in the states I’ve always seen veganism (or eating healthy period) as something affiliated with privileged classes, so I am having a hard time trying to comprehend that statement…However as indo said, many people in other parts of the world don’t have access to meat and are forced to eat a simple vegan diet.

    Was the midwife American or from a country where a vegan diet was a poor man’s staple?

  19. veganverve Says:

    All I have to say is that is RIDICULOUS!

    I do want to know what multi vitamin you take that is 100% organic?? I haven’t been able to find such a vitamin!!!

  20. breezeharper Says:

    New Chapter Vitamins as “Every Woman”, “Every Woman II” (for over 45 years old) and “Perfect Prenatal”. I called them and asked if they were vegan last year, and they said “Yes.”

    Yes, it’s ridiculous.

    By the way, I am reading the new hot off the press book, “Skinny Bitch: Bun in the Oven.” Seems to be the first and only book I could find that is a guide or a vegan pregnancy. I’ll let people know what I think. I know there was a thread about the Skinny Bitch books, a while ago. I have never read their books, so I can’t make any critiques until I read this one. It seems like they consulted with all the “top folk” in vegan nutrition, including Neal Barnard. Thus far, I am enjoying it.

    In term of the “poor people of the world” comment, I found the remark the midwife made to be very hurtful on all levels that I’m sure we don’t really need to get into.

    On another note, I was a little surprised to see that some people on this thread felt ‘proud’ to eat ‘like poor people’. Perhaps we should be a little more reflective and mindful of making such statements, as there are many people who DO have access to whole foods plant-based diets even though they are socio-economically ‘poor’ by USA “standards”, and there are many who do not have access to proper nutrition who are ‘poor’. I just ask that we be mindful not to romanticize or universalize ‘being poor’, as I remember quite a few kids in my K-12 experience who were the ‘rural poor’ and suffered from malnutrition throughout most of their childhood.

  21. hortencia Says:

    I’ve been a vegan for a decade now, had a vegan pregnancy last year and now I have this beautiful vegan 1yr old. My dr. was supportive, she never made negative comments, just asked me to take extra iron because the baby was taking it all. Its so important to take them because you can bleed to death if you’re iron deficient. There are vegan alternatives to everything.

  22. Holly Says:

    You’re both wrong, but about different things. The thing you are wrong about is the whole horse analogy; for example, dogs can thrive and live into old age on a vegan diet, but cats cannot.

    That midwife was very wrong about your diet being dangerous, however. Your diet sounds much more safe and healthful than the average person’s diet, and the fact that you supplement calcium even while consuming a high-calcium diet will pretty much guarantee no bone loss during pregnancy. Just make sure (and you probably already do) that you get enough folic acid (mushrooms are great for that) and get some B12 in you; organic produce that is minimally washed has plenty. You are perfectly safe being a preggo vegan!

  23. Anonymous Says:

    Homo Sapiens have survived and evolved due to, at least in part, our vast variety in diet. We have been able to endure changes in the environment because we can adapt. A cow cannot adapt. Just as almost every other species, a cow has a specialized diet limited to certain foods. You cant feed a cow meat it just would’t work; their stomachs cannot digest it.

  24. skeptifem Says:

    yeah well, midwives are all trained in the brewer diet (its nonsense). Don’t mistake them for a medical professional.

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