I have been vegan for almost three months now! That’s pretty incredible considering my last attempts at being vegan didn’t go so well (this is actually my third attempt). I gradually become vegetarian throughout my final semester in college and after graduating in December of 2018. This made the transition to not eating meat a lot easier. But the two things that were hard to cut out for me were cheese and soul food. For me, just learning about different plant-based cheeses wasn’t too hard. It took a while to find the right cheese that I did like and reminded me of dairy cheese (personal brand favorite is Miyoko). But finding vegan soul food was a whole other issue to tackle.
Black people can define blackness in their own unique way and for me, eating soul food is a very big part of my cultural identity. Every Sunday, my mama would make some sort of soul food dinner: neckbones, greens with ham hocks or turkey neck, cornbread, man n cheese, black eyed peas, dressing with chicken or duck… Every thanksgiving visiting family in Kentucky, houses upon houses were filled with good cooked food. And in that food, you can taste the love of the mama or auntie that made it. You can smell the resilience and creativity that Black people had taking the scraps that White people gave them during slavery and turning it into flavorful food. Soul food to me isn’t just another type of food that appeals to my taste buds; soul food tastes of home and community.
So while meat and dairy have substitutes food and/or drink substitutes, what was the substitute of for cultural identity? For a sense of belonging? A sense of community? Or feeling at home? As a black person, I found that community by searching for black vegans in Google. The first thing that popped up was a cookbook by Bryant Terry called Afro-Vegan. I have yet to try it but boy am I excited to one day buy that book! The next was a cookbook by Sweet Potato Soul by Jenne Clairborne. This once I did purchase when I first became vegan and I made her crabless cake and smothered cabbages recipe…. Oooooo-weeee that was so good! The next recipe I want to try is her mac n cheese recipe!
One of the the biggest black vegan affirming things for me was by ordering from JustVeggiez, a Black owned midwest based pop-up shop. To know that this food was made by black vegans and helps to maintain black culture is so healing! I ordered their Sunday Soul Food plate and… It tasted like how I remember my soul food Sundays at my mama’s house. That gave me so much comfort. I also tried Soul Vegan, another black vegan pop up shop, during Madison Vegan Fest. Their peach cobbler was absolutely delicious!
Beyond finding food curated by Black vegans for Black vegans, I have found many Instagram accounts of people like me, living their Black vegan lives unapologetically! Here are a few of my favorites:
To know that I can be vegan without compromising my culture as a Black person is incredibly freeing. Even if I didn’t find vegan soul food recipes and restaurants, my new vegan lifestyle and eating choices would be a part of my Black experience. Because no matter how or what I eat, as long as I’m Black, it’s a part of my Black experience.