FEATURE: Debra Murphy

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What does it mean to you to be a woman of colour and a vegan?

Growing up biracial in a predominantly white community, I already felt different. And that experience makes you stronger, less afraid to stand out for other reasons, because you already do. Becoming vegan made me feel different from the mainstream in another way, and a positive one, in choosing to live as ethically and compassionately as I can. It also highlighted some preconceptions about what a black or mixed race person is. This idea that "Veganism is a white thing," and that it's elitist or exclusive. To me, it never felt that way. And with heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems being so prevalent in the black community, I was looking for a diet and lifestyle that would improve my day to day quality of life, and have longer-term health benefits as well. To me, veganism is about choosing an ethical and environmentally sustainable way of living, and about providing good quality plant-based foods and good nutrition for everyone on this planet we share. It's accessible to everyone. It doesn't have to be expensive - you just need to learn to cook.

The Jamaican tradition of Ital cooking that comes to me from my mother's side is a brilliant example of this in practice: it's founded on great food with bold flavors, not expensive ingredients. She used a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and beans, all cooked from scratch. Growing up, I also had friends from different cultures who exposed me to the rich diversity of vegetarian cuisine - south Asian, Chinese, Middle Eastern. So I already had a head start. And, I might have the world's largest collection of vegan cookbooks - it's a bit of an obsession.

How did people react to your decision to live a vegan life?

I was confident and resolute in own my choice, so people's reactions didn't really affect me very much. Holiday meals and traditional foods were a challenge sometimes. People often have strong emotional ties to the foods they eat, and some people have a defensive reaction, as though my choices reflect badly on them. Others are more curious. If they're curious, I usually take the opportunity share my experiences and the things I've learned over almost a decade as a vegan. I always try to lead with kindness, without judging or preaching. Above all, I try to lead by example, and support people who want to find out more.  

When did you first hear about veganism?

Both sides of family had ill health from their 40’s onwards, so I started to do my own research into a healthier diet. I read a lot - The China Study by T. Colin Campbell made a strong impression on me. Ethical reasons came later, as I learned more about the violence our food system does to animals and people, watching films like Forks Over Knives, or Earthlings. Then I was inspired by the likes of Breeze Harper, Angela Davis, Raj Patel, and Bryant Terry, who got me fired up about the links between social justice and food justice. As a student in the US, I became aware of food deserts in black communities, that access to good quality food is shaped by factors like race and economic status. I decided I couldn't be vegan without being concerned about the politics of the wider food system: the conditions of migrant workers, or the environmental racism evident in industrial-scale hog farming, for example. It's about more than just the food we choose to eat - it's about how it is produced, and whether it's sustainable.

What advice do you have for others considering a switch to a vegan diet?

Do your research on nutritional needs, and make sure your choices are covering everything your body needs to thrive. Find out more about the impact of factory farming on the lives of people of color and our environment. Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people. And learn to cook!

How has your veganism influenced your career path?

I knew I wanted my career to align with my personal values, so I got a job in the natural health sector, and I’ve never looked back. Before long, I dreamed of having a brand of my own. But my real passion is vegan advocacy. And now the two have finally come together with the launch of Bumble Bloom, our plant-based honey alternative. My partner James and I have worked really hard to create a brand that’s focused on positive, ethical, and sustainable choices. We’re very excited to see it grow! The future is vegan!

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