“I’m originally from the Bronx, New York, but I moved to Dallas, Texas in 2016. That’s when I was introduced to Southern cooking like brisket and dairy. I’ve had acne ever since I was a teen, but when I started a very meat-reliant diet, I realized that my face was getting worse. Both of my cheeks were entirely inflamed, and it was very painful. When I cut back on dairy though, I noticed that my inflammation went down. So then, I started to quit meat entirely. It definitely helped. Acne was my original reason for going vegan, and I’ve been vegan for over 3 years now, still have acne.
“Just last fall, my face became very inflamed. Normally, I am very outgoing and social, but when my skin was breaking out, I lost all energy to go out. It’s exhausting to look in the mirror and not like what you see. Doing normal things like posting on social media, jumping on a zoom call, or facetiming with friends was very difficult. Sometimes I would still go out, be loud, and make people laugh. But at times, that was very much a cover-up and a defense mechanism. Sometimes I think that if I present my personality as big and loud, maybe people won't look at my face and see what was truly going on.”
Destiny explains how veganism has impacted her acne journey.
When I first started eating fresh food, my body started detoxing, and it was coming out through my face. Dallas was my first time having consistent access to fresh food.. In fact, environment and circumstances have had a huge impact on my acne. Growing up in the Bronx was completely different from what I experienced in Dallas as an adult. I grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood that eventually became more populated with Brown and Black folks. And when it came to grocery stores, I lived across from a supermarket, but it was way overpriced. A lot of times my family would have to go to another part of the Bronx, different neighborhoods, or even Manhattan just to buy a good amount of groceries. We grew up on food stamps, but the impact of food inaccessibility was never something that I thought about. However, now that I’ve thought about certain experiences and have talked to my mother, I see now that things were hard. I’m an only child so luckily my mom didn’t have to feed a whole family, but even feeding one child on a low income while you can’t even afford the food near you is difficult.
I was raised by my mom and my nana, but once I moved out of their house at 20 years old, I experienced issues with food accessibility firsthand. I had to pay my own bills, my own rent, but I also had to feed myself. That was very difficult with the neighborhood that I was in because there was no access to fresh, healthy food. A lot of times, I would have to go all the way downtown, which is like an hour on the train, and carry my groceries back. As I got older, I began to reflect more, and I understand now how much having food is a privilege and how having access to fresh, healthy food is an even greater privilege. Eventually, I learned how to make fresh and healthy budget meals, and I began to share them on social media.
Because access to healthy food was a struggle growing up, I do a lot of activism with food accessibility through social media and through a nationwide collective called Veggie Mijas. I am a coordinator and work with the Philly, Orlando, Denver, Austin, Dallas, New Orleans chapters. We help communities find access to fresh food. We’ve done this by creating community fridges and community gardens around the U.S, and we host educational workshops about food justice in relation to environmental racism. We intersect things like queerness, race, and so many other things often left out of the vegan narrative. The vegan community can be very exclusive and difficult for Black and Brown people to enter because they don’t see themselves in it.
I actually think being vegan is a way of decolonizing my diet. My ancestors didn’t eat hamburgers, hot dogs, and french fries. They ate things that grew from the Earth and things that nourished their bodies. They put life into their bodies, and that’s what I try to share with others. Being plant-based isn’t just for one group of people. In Cuban and Puerto Rican culture, food is everything, but I can still be vegan and feel connected to my culture.
Going vegan was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do. Weaning yourself off of things that you’ve grown up eating is hard. I grew up eating meat, cheese, and drinking milk. When I first started going vegan, I actually had to go to the emergency room because my body was in shock. My body broke out in hives, and I had to get steroid shots to help. That’s why I tell my followers to pace themselves because everyone’s body is different. If you don’t know your body, you can really hurt yourself. Take your time, take things slow, and be gentle with yourself. You can’t mimic someone else’s journey.
However, I understand from personal experience that being vegan is definitely a privilege. I think about myself now, and I think about how even getting in my car and getting produce is a privilege. Where I live now, if I didn’t have a car, I wouldn’t have access to any food and definitely not fresh food.
That’s deeply problematic because when all you have access to is processed food like frozen burgers and frozen chicken nuggets, that’s not good for the body overall, and the first place toxins start trying to come out of is our face. That’s what happened to me growing up, but because I was used to it, I didn’t think the food I was eating had anything to do with my acne.
Also, growing up I had limited access to healthcare, and going to a dermatologist wasn’t something that my family could readily do. So, acne was considered more of a cosmetic thing, not a health thing. All I had were different OTC things to try.
But, it’s about more than just skin. When you don’t have access to fresh food, you literally can’t function. The way a person functions when solely eating processed junk food versus someone who eats fresh food is night and day. The way these two people will interact with people, learn and retain information, and hold conversations is completely different. With fresh food, you get to put things in your body that help you concentrate, be energized, and be more lively. A lot of people are just working with what they are given, and that is understandable. Many communities don’t have a farmer’s market, a Trader Joe’s, or a Whole Foods, and if they do, it’s often not feasible on a limited budget
While Whole Foods takes EBT, and you can buy things online, you will spend your whole month’s worth of food stamps on one shopping trip. If you have $50 in food stamps for the month, that’s barely a week of food at Whole Foods. EBT is a great program, but it doesn’t always give people the opportunity to feed themselves in a way that is truly sustaining.
When your body isn’t well because of your diet, you’re surviving rather than thriving. When we don’t eat well, it’s more difficult to go about living a healthy life so I truly want to break that cycle. I promote a plant-based diet because it opens up so many doors. It definitely has for me. I’m just trying to provide resources and teach people that doing this on a budget is possible, and ultimately, learning how to be kind to your body is possible.