Amina Burrell is a student at San Jose State University pursuing her Masters in Public Health. She also works with the Champions for Change program serving African American communities in the Bay Area. She educates and motivates families to eat and cook healthier, while keeping the traditional cuisines enjoyed by their families through generations. Also, when we met with her, Mrs. Burrell was pregnant with her daughter. She has been a vegan (she doesn’t eat meat or dairy) for over a year and she was happy to share her diet experiences with us – and talk about how they affected her pregnancy…
I Live in San Jose.
What is your age?
I am twenty-seven years old.
What inspired you to work around nutrition?
As an undergraduate, I began to realize that many of the ailments and discomforts so many people face is directly connected to the types of food they eat and don’t eat. Realizing this encouraged me to study preventive approaches to disease which ultimately included nutrition.
Why did you decide to become a vegan?
I decided to become a vegan after I learned about our food system here in America. Many environmental concerns we have and physical diseases we experience related to how we grow and produce animals and animal products for consumption. Changing the way I ate was one thing I could do to not contribute to environmental and health-related challenges we face everyday.
With a restricted diet how do you get all the nutrients and vitamins you need (such as protein, B6, and B12 that are only found in poultry)?
Well, the first thing I do is I don’t think of my diet as restricted. I have eliminated only two items from my diet, meat and dairy. The key to maintaining optimal health as a vegan is eating a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, legumes, and nuts. So on any given day I can have any item from the fruit and vegetable rainbow; for breakfast I could have steel cut oatmeal with acai berries, blueberries, and currants with fresh squeezed OJ; for lunch I could eat a veggie sandwich on rye topped with avocadoes, sprouts, tomatoes, purple onions, cucumber and pickles with a small side salad of spinach, kale, and purple cabbage with spiced pumpkin seeds and a bowl of veggie chili; for dinner I could eat veggie lasagna with vegan mozzarella cheese, salad and fresh cut melon. In a day I have not only more than exceeded my daily recommendation for fruits and vegetables but I have also had something delicious and interesting to eat at every meal all the while keeping my contribution to the environmental crisis to a minimum.
Because the B12 vitamin and other b-vitamins is only found in animals I take a supplement. Complete proteins can be found in a very diverse diet and Quinoa (a whole grain); the body is incredibly efficient at recycling and using protein.
What were experiences when you eat out with friends who are carnivores?
You know, my experiences have been fine; I have friends and family who are supportive of my decision to be vegan. It’s some of the menus that are out there that have given me the most trouble in the past and you’d be surprised at how some waiters will look at you when you say “no cheese”.
…Check back next week for the second half of our interview. We’ll talk about Amina’s diet and how it related to her pregnancy…