What started at the kitchen table of husband and wife duo Zak and Robyn Wallace, their plant-based fast food restaurant, Local Green, has expanded from Atlanta to now nourishing the nation as Disney World’s first Black-owned food truck.
“My husband would constantly bring some of the plant-based lifestyle and eating habits into our home, so he is truly the brainchild of Local Green. And now we make it our goal to only serve things that we would eat or what we would serve our children in our restaurant,” Robyn told Reckon.
Local Green, which opened five years ago, prides itself on serving wholesome food options based on its vegan, vegetarian and pescatarian menu.
Some of their most popular items include the ‘”Rapper’s Delight” Salmon Philly,’ which is stacked on a brioche bun with fresh grilled salmon and peppers, mushrooms and onions; their ‘Oh Boy classic beyond cheeseburger’ is made with soy-free beyond meat topped with melted vegan cheese and vegan mayo spread across the bun. Each of their menu items is crafted to introduce customers to more plant-based foods.
“Although veganism feels like a trend right now, we are really at the beginning of a shift,” Robyn said.
As Black veganism places folks in pursuit of a plant-based lifestyle, there has been a rise of Black-owned businesses like Slutty Vegan and Mo’ Better Brews, as well as Black creators and influencers like Tabitha Brown and Brooke Brimm, as they make veganism less about trendiness and more of an active choice toward their total wellness.
“Having a healthier diet produces healthier outcomes. That’s why we really need to change our thinking around food, what we like and how we prepare it,” Robyn told Reckon.
Her career in public health and a previous role as a data scientist for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studying chronic health issues showed her how access to food can impact the health of a community.
With nearly 20% of Black individuals experiencing food insecurity in 2021—more than three times the rate of white households — Local Green sees itself as a public health initiative to make food more attainable as well as nutritious for their communities.
“It is a way to ensure people have access to healthier foods and allows us to see how that impact changes the community,” Robyn said.
Robyn knows that people who lack access to food, eat whatever is near them. And when it comes to HBCUs a lot of times nearby off-campus options are minimal and unhealthy – effectively making these communities food deserts.
An alumnus of the largest public HBCU in the country, North Carolina A&T State University, Robyn aspires to ensure HBCU students and their staff have access to healthier foods.
Because of her journey at an HBCU, she not only knows the difficulty of finding food options near campus but also how it has continued to affect students’ health today.
“You shouldn’t have to drive off of campus to get something to eat,” Robyn said. “I have heard more and more from HBCU students that at night the food is terrible and I’m hungry, my parents have sent me here and my tuition is X amount of dollars but I don’t like this food.’”
Intentional discriminatory policies like redlining have created barriers in Black communities when it comes to accessing basic necessities, such as food and health care. And because most if not all HBCUs are located within Black communities, The Food Security Learning Community at Texas State University reports that pursuing higher education while navigating food insecurity has the potential to negatively impact academic performance, as well as mental and physical health among college students.
Robyn says she wants to make Local Green available to HBCU colleges and that her business understands that students need variety and that she wants to provide them with options.
Because HBCU legacy runs deep throughout Robyn’s family with both her father and mother being graduates of Howard University, she has watched and understood how traditional eating habits in Black families have caused chronic health illnesses.
“My mom passed away when I was 15 from colon cancer. She was a Black woman that was very aware and educated, but when it came to understanding how to eat and live – it wasn’t anything that she knew how to do.”
By amplifying the importance of making conscious decisions on what Black folks eat, Robyn believes it can change how a whole community of people thinks about food.
“Sometimes as Black folks, we don’t always get the chance to live because we are too busy surviving.”