Confessions of a Southern Vegan
Shyne Khm Yahra (Photo: Shyne Khm Yahra)
by Shyne Khm YahRa
I was born in Virginia, moved to Georgia when I was 12, and then Texas when I was 16. Needless to say, I’m Southern. I grew up on foods and meals for which the South is infamous—the kind that give you heartburn. In fact, I remember feeling heartburn as I was growing up—and I knew something wasn’t right about it. Then, over the years, as Netflix grew in popularity, so did documentaries about the food industry. I watched those documentaries, and they significantly disrupted my reality: Slaughterhouses, caged chickens, fish farms, and the like became a disturbing truth I had to face. The acclaimed productions scarred me, and I lost all trust in meat distributors.
But that didn’t matter much—I didn’t have enough discipline to stop eating meat or a sufficiently compelling reason to make such a change. Then I stumbled across fascinating information about the bioelectric chemistry of the body and how much plant-based regimens improve health. I was already battling old injuries from a decade of playing football and had to deal with acne on my face and back. I decided to shock my system and go vegan, “cold turkey.” The irony of using that expression is that it was two days before Thanksgiving. My decision just happened to land during the most gluttonous week of the year in America. I embraced the ultimate challenge. I knew that if I got through Thanksgiving without eating meat or dairy, then I could put to the test the laudable effects of veganism. So, I skipped Thanksgiving altogether—both the family gathering and food.
On Thanksgiving Eve 2012, I explored an array of fruit-and-vegetable delicacies. It was pretty fun, and I appreciated how my body felt when I went to bed. On Thanksgiving Day, I skipped the entire line-up of visits to friends and family and stayed home to fast and meditate with my dog. It was totally spontaneous. The next day, I decided I wasn’t going anywhere: I laid in bed, analyzing my body while drifting in and out of sleep. My Thanksgiving was total bliss that year. I was thankful to be alive, to know how to be better, and to be strong enough to do better. I had something to prove to myself.
One by one, each friend and family member that I stood up on Thanksgiving interrogated me about my whereabouts. Most of them thought I was secretly dating some girl I wasn’t ready to introduce to them. It was laughable when they heard the truth. I was mocked, ridiculed and scorned by loved ones for committing to a higher quality of being. The fact of the matter is they felt judged by my decision not to participate. If I was rejecting Southern food, then, to them, I was rejecting them. They decided I considered myself “too good” to eat what the family had been eating for generations. Apparently, I had abandoned the culture. I had betrayed the South.
I was alarmed at people’s utter disregard for the health benefits that my choice was providing me. My family’s generally negative sentiments about my lifestyle change made me feel as if they did not really care about my well-being. I began to question the loyalty of a lot of people, and many relationships got put on the chopping block. This veganism thing got really dramatic, real fast.
Before I knew it, I had only one family member to connect with regularly; he embraced the veganism walk of life as well. But we eventually attracted more vegans, which led to new relationships. After a few years, veganism began trending in mainstream and social media. It was laughable to me after what I’d been through. But eventually, one by one, old relationships began to heal. Old friends started calling to consult with me about what a plant-based future might look like for them. Some commented that I appeared to be aging backward due to my new eating habits. Now, I just feel honored to serve as a vegan consultant to my network. Life can be quite poetic.
Shyne Khm YahRa is CEO of YahRa Studios in Atlanta and a Kemetic Yoga instructor. Contact him at [email protected] or 321-345-6548.