Aph Ko got tired of hearing that eating vegan was something only white people did. So in 2015, she created a list of 100 black vegans for a website. It included pioneering figures like Dick Gregory and Coretta Scott King and younger, less famous writers, film-makers, cooks and activists.
“When you say ‘vegan’, a lot of people tend to only think of Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which doesn’t reflect the massive landscape of vegan activism,” said Ko, 28, whose favourite dish at the moment is the spinach pie in The Vegan Stoner Cookbook. “The black vegan movement is one of the most diverse, de-colonial, complex and creative movements.”
So many people wanted to be included on the list she started a website, Black Vegans Rock. It spawned a Twitter hashtag (#blackvegansrock) and a T-shirt business. Last year, she published Aphro-ism: Essays on Pop Culture, Feminism, and Black Veganism from Two Sisters, a book she wrote with her older sister, Syl Ko.
Jenné Claiborne, 30, is part of a new generation of vegan cooks who are transforming traditional soul food dishes, digging deeper into the West African roots of Southern cooking and infusing new recipes with the tastes of the Caribbean.
As a result, ideas about the dull vegan stews and stir-fries that were standard-bearers among the early generations of black vegan cooks are changing – albeit slowly.
Claiborne grew up in suburban Atlanta and moved to New York after college to pursue an acting career. Her father was raised vegan, according to Hebrew Israelite beliefs, and still eats that way 90% of the time, she said. She grew up eating everything but red meat, and learned to cook soul food at her grandmother’s side.
Claiborne wasn’t a vegan when she started a food blog in 2010 to pass the time between auditions.
That came a year later, when she got a job at Peacefood Café in Manhattan. Now she dedicates herself to countering the notion that soul food has to include meat, and that childhood classics need milk or butter.
She adds butternut squash to sweet potato pie to create the texture usually contributed by eggs. Oyster mushrooms stand in for shrimp in Creole étouffée. She puts jackfruit in her jambalaya and cooks down collard greens with soy sauce and smoked paprika instead of pork.
Health is often not enough of a reason for people to give up meat, she said. The challenges that come with being black in America can be. “When it’s bigger than you, and it’s political and it’s spiritual, that is an entrance point for people,” she said.
The toughest cultural touchstone to let go of is fried chicken, she said. “People tell me: ‘I can’t do without the chicken. I’d rather die a painful death than have to give up chicken’,” she said.
To help, she created spicy chicken-fried cauliflower, in which she builds a crunchy crust by dipping large florets into seasoned flour and a batter of hot sauce, Dijon mustard and soy milk.
The New York Times