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In middle school, I made a decision that somewhat changed my family’s world: I became a vegetarian.
At that point, I was 90-ish pounds due to anorexia. Going meatless not only helped me repair my relationship to food, but it also helped me find joy in food again. But this wasn’t easy because vegetarian products were scarce then. My poor mom had to grocery store hop just to find veggie patties.
Now, I feel like Black Southerners are sitting at the helm of a plant-based empire. Pinky Cole has blessed the cover Essence’s Magazine after opening Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan just a few years ago. North Carolina native Tabitha Brown has become a household name after she used social media to heal the Black community through positive vibes and veganism.
All this Black excellence is changing the face of a historically white-centered industry. More Black cooks are getting their chance in the spotlight as they sprinkle their own melanin magic over plant-based dishes. So, forward this newsletter to your fam and pals so we can all say it loud: we are Black, plant-based and proud.
Livin’ the vegan dream
Way before she started serving vegan comfort food at The Veggie in Huntsville, Ala., Chef Adyre Mason was huge fangirl of Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”
She was charmed by the celebrity chef’s charisma and seasoned culinary skills. But she also loved the show’s unique format: two chefs turn up the heat against each other as they whip up their best dishes using an ingredient of Flay’s choosing. A star-studded team of judges pick which chef advances to the next round to compete against Flay himself.
“So, it was always a bucket list item to be on this show without ever imagining that I would actually be on there,” Chef Adyre said.
Well, sis manifested her dream – and then some. Chef Adyre, who grew up in tiny Sheffield, Ala., made a historic national TV debut during her appearance on the first all-vegan episode of “Beat Bobby Flay,” which aired January 20. She competed against California restauranteur Tamearra Dyson, who adds her own vegan flair to Creole cuisine at Souley Vegan.
Although Chef Adyre’s German potato salad didn’t beat Chef Tamearra’s coconut milk-based etouffee during the first round, Chef Adyre remained in good spirits about the show. She gave me and Reckon sis/videographer Kavolshaia Howze the rundown about how it felt to be on her favorite show and how veganism transformed her health. You can check out the video below and read more about Chef Adyre’s passion behind serving healthy meals.
Chef Adyre applied multiple times to appear on “Beat Bobby Flay.” Her third attempt turned out to be the charm, and producers flew her out to New York City to shoot the episode last October. It was a long day of filming, but Chef Adyre said it was exciting to shake hands with the show’s co-hosts, billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban and Food Network personality Sunny Anderson. The entire experience taught Chef Adyre a lesson that she wants to share with other Black entrepreneurs.
“When you become an adult, you don’t have anybody crafting your life anymore. Nobody’s telling you when to get up and go to school,” she said. “They say you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take. The worst you will hear is, ‘no’ or ‘not this time.’ And even that gives me more motivation to get ready for that next opportunity. So, just go for it and bet on yourself all the way.”
The last five years has been about Chef Adyre going hard for her big dreams. She left a 10-year-long career in systems engineering in 2017 and cashed out her 401(k) so she could have startup funds for The Veggie. She wants to help every customer cultivate a healthy lifestyle, especially after witnessing her mother suffer through diabetes, fibromyalgia and two strokes before passing away.
She hustled to get her vegan cuisine out there by doing pop-ups, attending farmers markets and making deliveries. When she posted her first menu for The Veggie back in January 2018, Chef Adyre remembers having the biggest grin on her face as she made deliveries across Huntsville. She felt that same burst of joy while hanging up the sign at The Veggie’s brick and mortar location in January 2021.
It’s important to embrace the small wins, Chef Adyre said.
“I think, especially as Black people, we tend to tie our contentment to our abilities, tasks, and accomplishments,” she said. “I think because I’ve tried to use my new career to cope with my grief of losing my mom, I’ve also tried to be even more intentional about finding those joyful moments. It’s so important not to take any of those moments for granted – from your first dollar, to the biggest sale you’ve ever had, to being on national TV – all of those moments mean something.”
Eat more plants
Chef Thyme Randall has been vegan all his life. With 11 years of professional chef experience, he’s trying to introduce people to more plant-based dishes as the head chef at Juniper, a restaurant and bar in Birmingham, Ala.
While he is happy to see more plant-based items in grocery stores and fast-food menus, Chef Thyme said items like the Impossible Whopper are still processed foods that lack nutrients. So he depends on mother nature for ingredients.
Chef Thyme has spent years studying what makes people crave meat protein. He then uses that knowledge to mix different plants and oils to mimic those textures and flavors. For example, his vegan crab cakes are made with garbanzo beans and heart of palm, a vegetable harvested from the core of certain palm trees. Grounded seaweed and Old Bay seasoning bring out that seafood flavor.
Chef Thyme believes it’s liberating to see more Black people take charge of their health. The origins of soul food stretch back to slavery, when enslaved people were given the worst and the last of their owner’s leftovers. They were able to transform those items into the staples of Southern dishes. Thyme said we must make sure we are enjoying soul food in a healthy way.
“Headaches, diabetes – a lot of those diseases are food generated and it comes from a history of eating a certain type of way,” he said. “Looking at the history of the foods given to us as a culture, we have to realize we didn’t choose those foods. Those foods were given to us during times that really wasn’t representative of who we are now. It’s up to us to make a change when it comes to our health and healing ourselves as a culture.”
Going meatless, even temporarily, can be daunting for some people. So Chef Thyme gave us some tips for those of us who want to enjoy more plant-based meals in their diet:
- Start with what you like: You don’t have to become Tabitha Brown overnight and go completely vegan straight away. Think about what vegetables you love already. Make yourself a plate of those veggies, whip up some cornbread, and boom, you have a meal, Chef Thyme said. “Start off small, then build your way up to vegan,” Chef Thyme said. “You don’t want to shock your body because our bodies get addicted to the habits that we have already created.”
- Don’t overthink it: One question Chef Thyme is asked repeatedly is how to cook vegan food. He said the ingredients and techniques needed for vegan cooking aren’t far out of reach. You can also start off by Googling one recipe and then use the technique you learned from that recipe with other plant-based foods. You can also look up different substitutes. For example, smashed bananas and grounded flax seeds with water make great substitutes for eggs.
Craving some vegan cuisine after all that reading? Here are some Southern stops you can check out or follow on social media:
- The Southern V: Black family-owned and operated, this Nashville-based restaurant will make your mouth water with their vegan soul-food dishes.
- Underground Vegan: Khalilah Sowell has been hustling since 2019 to get her vegan meals on the map. After about a year of racing across Birmingham, Ala., in her food truck, Underground Vegan opened a brick-and-mortar location in the Magic City’s Five Point district in 2021. Hit this gem up and enjoy plant-based delights, like “chikun” and waffles. I’ve taken a bite of Underground Vegan’s take of a shrimp (or as UV calls it “Skrimp”) po’boy and it was *French kiss*.
Eat your veggies and keep spreading your Black Joy! See ya’ next week!