BVR Interview with Chef Babette

Aph Ko had the privilege of asking Chef Babette a few questions about her personal vegan journey. Chef Babette is a world class healthy chef, fitness expert, motivational speaker and grandmother of two.  She's a chemist in the kitchen and is the owner of the healthy soul food restaurant, Stuff I Eat, in downtown Inglewood, California.

Chef Babette tests the boundaries of what can be done in the kitchen without the use of animal products because its an interesting creative and philosophical way of thinking. At the age of 40, a simple change in lifestyle created her fountain of youth. Fueling her body with the nutrients to allow her to continue the active lifestyle and body she proudly displays at the age of 66. 

Not only has she guest starred in a episode of HBO's hit series Insecure, she is also an advocate for animal rights. On January 4, 2017, Golden Globe winner Viola Davis praised Chef B as her #WCW seen for her work with Mercy for Animals. Below is our interview with Chef Babette.

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BVR:  When were you first exposed to veganism and when did you decide that it was the right lifestyle for you? (You can also tell me a little bit about your parents and your family growing up...what was their diet like? How did they raise you? How have they influenced you?

Chef B: Growing up my mother did domestic work and often worked two or three jobs so she had to board us out. When I lived with my Godmother, she was a Seventh-Day Adventist so we ate a vegetarian diet, however, most of the time we did not have fresh food...it was either frozen or in the can, but it was vegetarian. I was first introduced to vegan food twenty-seven years ago when my boyfriend, now current husband, invited me over for dinner. I ate the food and it was delicious and I did not have any of the after meal indigestion issues that normally followed my meals.

BVR: How has your local community reacted to your vegan restaurant? 

Chef B: The community has been very welcoming. Who would have thought a vegan restaurant In Inglewood would be successful? We also attract people from other communities who have heard about Stuff I Eat, as well as many people from other countries (Africa, Brazil, London), who come specifically because they either have been here before or heard about if from social media, or word of mouth. We have done no form of advertising and rely on word of mouth and we are now going on our tenth year at the same space.

I can safely say that the welcoming of our restaurant is due to the familiarity of our menu, which even though is vegan, is very tasty filled with foods that people love to eat. For instance, our soul food platter is a delicious rendition of what your mother made but a healthier version, and the fact that a large part of our patrons are not vegans speaks volumes to our food and the fact that a lot of people, if given the chance, would eat healthy if they love the food.

 BVR: How has your own vegan journey impacted your family and their food choices? Are any other members in your family vegan?

Chef B: I do believe my journey has been an inspiration to both my friends and family. Because I can still do pushups, run up hills, etc, so people admire my level of energy at 66 years old. My husband, obviously is a vegan, and my daughter has now come around to a healthier/vegan lifestyle. She also specializes in diets and helps others prepare meal plans to suit their health needs.

BVR: Running a restaurant is tough work! What are some of the best moments you've experienced throughout your tenure as a restaurant owner?

Chef B: I think some of the best moments are when we have a restaurant full of happy customers, and most of them are not vegans or vegetarians. Seeing them try and enjoy food out of their comfort zone makes me happy.

BVR: What does vegan soul food mean to you? How would you define it for people who have never heard that term before?

Chef B: Now vegan soul food means a healthy slant on the traditional southern meal. People who have never heard of it, I would say, we no longer have to eat the food knowing down the line there will probably be health repercussions.

BVR: What advice do you have for people who feel like they can't adopt a plant-based diet because they've been eating a certain way for so long and they feel like it's too late to reap any benefits from eating healthy at their age? 

Chef B: So here's the advice I would have for anyone, especially someone who has reached the age of forty: I would suggest that they reconsider the way that they nourish themselves, and understand that the older you get, the more important nutrition is in your diet, and it’s never too late to nourish the human body.  Also you owe it to yourself, especially when you are battling issues like high-blood pressure and diabetes. Educating yourself is key, because you cannot do or live the same way and expect a different result.

BVR: What does it mean to you when celebrities like Viola Davis publicly celebrate your activism and work?

Chef B: It’s always nice when anyone recognizes and appreciates your contribution. I have respect for Viola Davis and her talent, and the fact that she took time to acknowledge my contribution speaks volumes.

BVR: Who are some of your favorite vegan people? (Are there any musicians, artists, authors, or chefs that you admire?)

Chef B: I really love Erykah Badu, she’s been vegan for a while.  I love her expression of her ethnicity and how her artistry and her lifestyle are balanced.

BVR: Tell us what's next for you--you've already accomplished so much and I know you've probably got more lined up. What can we expect from Chef Babette in the coming years?

Chef B: A cookbook series is in the works called Cash In On Cashews, which features desserts made from various nuts. I want to do more guest appearances and eventually have my own lifestyle show.

BVR: Is there anything else that you think the Black Vegans Rock audience should know?

Chef B:  I think they should know that Chef Babette, in her attempt to create balance in her own experience, understands and appreciates life, which includes every being on this planet. This journey is not just about myself...it’s about all of us.

Here is a video spotlight on Chef Babette for Mercy for Animals:

FEATURE: Tatum Davidson-Lohse

I decided to go vegan two years ago, but it didn't exactly stick. I come from a West Indian family where I had people telling me that I am basically abandoning my culture if I decide to no longer eat meat. After six months of the back and forth and the jokes, I went back to eating fish and then chicken and eventually everything else. I felt so guilty every single time because I knew why I wanted to become a vegan in the first place, so in December of 2015, I decided that I wanted to be the voice for those that have none. I decided to give it another try and I didn't care what my family had to say about it and have even surprised everyone because I cook the same Caribbean dishes with vegan meat substitutes and they love it just the same. I have transitioned every aspect of my life and stopped using anything with animal products or anything that has been tested on animals.

The hardest hurdle being vegan has been from my battle buddies and leadership in the US Army. I constantly get made fun of for my decision to go vegan...they can't fathom why anyone would ever want to stop eating meat. When I explain that it's for the animals they laugh. In order for my lifestyle to be accommodated I had to find a religion that supported it in order for them to provide some kind of meals for me. When they did, it was always vegetarian...not vegan...so most drill weekends I would have to bring a cooler with food and go to my car and eat. I am a part of an organization that has no intention of changing anytime soon and I truly feel like it is a losing battle but I still try.

It has honestly been my vegan support groups that have gotten me this far; I follow Black Vegans rock, Vegans United, Vegan ammunition & we are vegan for life just to name a view.....it has gotten to the point where I have no friends on fb besides my immediate family because I am tired of seeing people posting meat and tagging me in it just to bother me.

Some may ask: how do you negotiate being vegan while being in the military? To be honest it is a huge contradiction for me....when I first joined back in 2007 I felt a little iffy about it because I was a Christian at the time and now, 10 years later now, I am vegan and Buddhist. I am definitely against the violence that the military represents. This is not knocking anyone that chooses to stay in the military to fight for this great country but as for me? I am actually getting out completely in 2018 because it conflicts with my beliefs! Not to mention the daily struggle of being a vegan in the military. It's just NOT conducive for the life that I want to live.

FEATURE: Tayla Morris

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I'm a 23 year old pre-med student and part-time model. I have been a vegan for a year now. My journey has been rather long, as convenience was the main reason I did not become vegan sooner. I first tried to go plant based many years ago for modeling (to maintain a slim figure) and health reasons, I failed after three months. Then, I tried being pescatarian, which lasted for about a one year. I still spent much of my time researching a vegan lifestyle by following youtubers, vegan doctors, and Facebook vegan groups. Eventually I told myself I had to change for good and for the animals, not myself. 

I’m very proud of myself because I used to be a huge meat eater. I never cared what animal it was, I would try it. Ironically, I would refuse to buy fur, I would feel guilty for going to zoos or aquariums, I would feel guilty for buying products tested on animals, but I would intentionally disconnect myself. I even looked up to vegetarians and vegans since I was a child. However, I simply never thought I would have the discipline to follow in their footsteps. I do regret not becoming vegan sooner, but I’m thankful to make the change at such a young age.

Veganism has changed the way I view life and my level of happiness. I feel more connected with myself. Other benefits that I’ve experienced include: I don’t get random headaches, I have a better digestion, I no longer have low potassium and muscle spasms, all of my labs are normal, I have better recovery after my workouts, my skin is not as oily, etc. 

At the moment, I travel often with my boyfriend, who is mostly vegetarian. We're always trying vegan food all around the world, which is very exciting and fulfilling. In the end, I would like to become a doctor and help change the lives of others through a vegan lifestyle. I also think I would enjoy modeling for vegan clothing brands in the future. 

My favorite vegan quotes:
“Veganism is not a sacrifice. It is a joy.” -Gary L. Francione

"Peace is not just the absence of war. It is the presence of Justice. Justice must be blind to race, colour, religion or species. If she is not blind, she will be a weapon of terror." -Philip Wollen

Social Media

IG: @modeltaylamorris
FB Fanpage: https://www.facebook.com/Tayla.K.Morris/
Tumblr: Tayla Morris
Twitter: TaylaKMorris
Google+: Tayla Morris
 

FEATURE: Michelle Rojas-Soto

Michelle Rojas-Soto is Managing Director of Better Eating International, a new nonprofit dedicated to vegan education through targeted videos and other support materials.  She was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to California in 1997.  She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and four children, ages 5 to 11.

I switched to a plant-based diet in March, 2012 as a result of watching ‘Forks Over Knives’.  The night my husband and I watched the documentary on Netflix, I had just gone food shopping and filled our refrigerator with blocks of cheese, yogurt tubs, a dozen eggs and frozen meat.  The documentary convinced both of us that eliminating all animal products from our diet was the right thing to do for our health and that of our children.  But still, I was SO angry that I would no longer be able to eat the things that gave me so much pleasure, like eggs, cheese and yogurt.  So I chose to truly savor all the flavors in my refrigerator one more time before saying goodbye to them.

As the refrigerator emptied, I was left to wonder, how would I now feed my family?  I checked out several library books on vegan cooking, to get ideas, and I purchased some that I thought best reflected our tastes.  It was a major adjustment for our family of six, to say the least. Within a month, and without expecting it, our tastebuds adjusted and we discovered an explosion of flavor with vegetables, legumes, fruits, grains and spices.  And what’s more, I noticed health improvements in myself and in my kids within weeks, which have lasted to this day.

My short-term experience with plant-based eating made me very curious about the ethics of diet with regard to animal rights, social justice and environmental stewardship.  Two books in particular helped me significantly: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism, by Melanie Joy, and The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.  Cowspiracy and The China Study also provided me with important important food for thought.

My journey in veganism is a work-in-progress.  Five years since making the switch to vegan eating, I continue to read and talk with people who know so much, I have visited two farm animal sanctuaries, I check what my clothes and shoes are made of, I watch out for animal products in hair and skin care products, and I research companies before buying their products and services.

I have the pleasure and the honor of sharing what I learn with my children, which is a beautiful experience of discovery and critical thinking for all of us.  Books like The BFG, Charlotte’s Web, The One and Only Ivan, and That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things, have helped us have conversations about veganism, mainstream messaging, value systems, and how the choices we make shape us and those around us.

I am very excited to work at Better Eating International in helping my fellow moms, Blacks, Latinos, scientists, social justice advocates, busy professionals, and all of my good neighbors in this global village discover veganism and how it will deepen their connection to everything and everyone they already care about.


Social Media:

Website: Bettereating.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BetterEating/

FEATURE: Gina

Hey everyone! I'm Gina and I live in Southern California. 

Before I even knew how to tie my shoes, I knew that I didn't like eating meat. There was something about my molars accidentally crushing chicken bones and the way the squishy pork fat glided in my mouth that repulsed me. I almost always left the meat on my plate untouched. However, I absolutely did enjoy eating other foods. Whenever I ate cheese pizza before I began my vegan journey, I never left a crumb on my plate. Before my vegan transition in 2012, I was so addicted to cheese; I almost always had a meal that contained it.

As a vegetarian growing up, my health was relatively good, but I had acne breakouts from my mid teens to mid 20's. By the time I was 26 years old, my sinus infections had worsened and I researched natural ways to relieve my adverse symptoms. I read an article stating that an excess of mucus could be the cause of sinus issues and that removing dairy and eggs from the diet could help. After taking the article's advice, my sinus pain stopped keeping me up at night and I was finally able to simultaneously breathe out of both of my nasal passages for the first time in years. 

That was just the beginning of my vegan journey. Today, I continue to research natural health remedies and I'm learning something new everyday about medicinal herbs and the nutritional value in fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health benefits of a plant-based diet are endless and so are the blessings and love that come from being compassionate towards animals. 

I'm currently sharing my health and wellness journey on my YouTube channel where I provide plant-based recipes, health tips, and motivational messages. 

Website:

https://www.naturallygina.com/

Social Media:

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC679L5-nIeXg2kxvCeq-5Wg
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/naturally_gina/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/naturallygina/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/naturally_gina

FEATURE: Marq Taylor

I went vegan during college. During this time I had not even heard of the words vegan or vegetarian. My roommate was an amateur bodybuilder who went on after college to compete. We worked out together and did our protein and meal plans together. One day I got this extreme idea that I was not going to consume any meat/fish or dairy products and see what would happen. Now, I’m 46 years old and I stopped consuming animal products in the late 80’s early 90’s. I had no idea what I was doing. Everybody, I mean literally everybody told me that I was going to die. I went home during summer break back to Cleveland and shared this news with my family with roots in Tennessee and North Carolina. I remember my mother saying “Well, now you have really lost your god-damn mind! and this is not of God.” 

During those years, I did cheat and have fish every now and then. The year I graduated from college in 1993 was when the lights came on for me. Up until this time, I was like a junk food vegan probably eating every processed food there was on the shelves. I was very uneducated about this whole vegan thing. I kept telling myself you will see. Friends and family were very curious and concerned. I went into my first health food store Atkins Natural Foods and I was in heaven. I remember there was a book by the counter called Diet for a New America by John Robbins (of the Baskin & Robbins ice cream empire). I didn’t have enough to get the book and my groceries. So I put half of my food back just to buy this book. I got back to my studio apartment and opened the book and could not put it down. YEAH!!! There were people out in the world like me. 

Over the years, now living in Montecito,CA and after helping run Vegan Meetup Groups and attending many festivals and meeting some really wonderful vegans, the journey has been worth it. I’m quite active now teaching yoga, running & cycling. I am a lover of life and all that it has for us to enjoy, including some good vegan food. Not to mention my husband of 17 years, who has not yet gone completely vegan. But, he does not eat any red meat and eats pretty much vegan most of the time. I let my actions and my voice speak for me when possible. There is not a food I miss because I can veganize it! 
 

FEATURE: Courtney Cox

Hello, my name is Courtney Cox. 

 I am 22 years old, I am a proud bisexual black woman, and daughter to a single father. I’m a full-time student at SRJC majoring in chemistry to transfer to UC Davis. I’m a farmworker on an organic farm in Sebastopol, CA called Earthworker farms. We grow microgreens and edible flowers.  I live in an RV on a communal eco village, which is still being established where my rent is my skills as a farmworker and herbalist.

My work as an activist in my community; North Bay Organizing Project Intergraded Voter Engagement Team, and a group called Community Action Coalition. My work with NBOP has been working on the campaign for rent control for Santa Rosa, and my work with CAC has been holding Sonoma County Sheriffs responsible for the murder of Andy Lopez, and making Santa Rosa a “Sanctuary City.” In our city it’s called “The Indivisible City” which we won. In all my activism work, my main focus is to address executive orders, laws, polices, ordinances, etc. by the new administration, and any government office which is illegal, unconstitutional, violates human rights and liberties, and only serves to uphold white superiority by means of structural control over every aspect of life.   

Veganism for me is not something that happened overnight. I view veganism as an unrealized journey everyone is on, stepping stones leading towards a realization and ultimately veganism.  

I was born in Hamilton County Chattanooga TN, I moved to LA when I was a child. As a child I didn’t drink a lot of cow’s milk, but loved Silk brand chocolate milk. I would eat around the meat on my plate, and ask my Dad to buy me tofu. These to me are unrealized stepping stones towards veganism, the small choices I made throughout my upbringing slowly rejecting the dominant narrative. As a teenager I ate what was given to me but, when I had to cook for myself I always ate vegetarian. It wasn’t a choice that I thought about, I never once thought about adding meat in my diet. My reasoning in hindsight is that in 2008 an E-Coli breakout happened killing people in LA. I was in 8th grade. I remember the whole middle school was freaking out, many students weren’t eating the school lunches, and the whole community in Tujunga slowed down considerably on in taking meat products. I believe for a few weeks it wasn’t even sold at two stores because of confirmed E.coli contamination.  

A few of my friends went vegetarian and still are where the majority of the school and community went back to their regular diets the next month. This breakout in 2008 had an effect on me. 8th grade was around the time I started to learn how to cook. I was too afraid to cook meat properly so I cooked the same meals but with tofu. I wasn’t vegan yet nor did I know what vegan was. I just didn’t want to cook meat, but continued to eat meat that was prepared for me.     

Moving forward into adulthood, I considered myself to be an environmentalist. it was even my major. I researched the environmental impact of my actions. I started to homestead, making a lot of my foods I would normally buy from boxes in the grocery store at home with bulk whole foods, as a zero waste initiative. I invested in a commuter bike, and even switched to cloth menstrual pads. All good things but I was ignoring the cow in the room. I’m not sure what I watched first...I believe it was a documentary at college that had a small section about beef cattle...or I read something in my textbook for environmental science. There was a chart that showed main greenhouse gas contributors. We talked about industrial business, transportation, big ag, and listed solutions to each including personal changes to be made, but when the chart showed cattle in the US (which was more than any other section), the only recommendation was to cultivate grass fed cattle in the US...That’s it.     

I was confused by what I was taught in school so I started my own research. I watched the documentary, Mad Cowboy. Needless to say it was a wakeup call. Over the next few weeks I started watching more documentaries, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings, Cowspiracy and all of the vegan YouTube channels: Bite Size Vegan, Dr. Greger and yes, Freelee the Banana Girl. Along with tons of recipe channels. I had the education, and I realized I had to make the change. I went vegan “overnight.” These educational resources were stepping stones that brought me to a decision; I could either shut out what I had just learned and feel guilty and double down on my bad behavior to justify my choices OR side with logic and go forward on my life journey as a vegan. I moved forward living vegan.

I canvassed for FARM. I do screenings of the film Earthlings in my RV for friends and classmates. This semester a vegan yoga teacher at SRJC will be creating a vegan club which will focus on outreach and education on campus where I will be taking a leadership position. As for intersectionality in veganism, I’m disappointed for so many reasons. There are some black people I know who say to me that, “Veganism is white people food”. To me, this is internalized racism perpetuating the idea that health and plant foods belong to one race of people. There are also white vegans who say "All lives matter” which is their white privilege. They feel like they are doing enough by simply being vegan but not realizing vegan means compassion to all life and yes, including the respect of human beings. They need to take an ally ”backseat” and learn and listen to those who are being harmed and oppressed.  

Yes, mainstream anything has a long way to go before coming intersectional, and veganism is no exception, but every single black vegan is the exception to the dominant narrative. By simply living and engaging our communities, we are smashing stereotypes and coming one stepping stone closer towards intersectional veganism.

FEATURE: Nuri and Terika

Our names are Nuri and Terika. We are @VeganFriedChicn. Here's a little bit about us!

Nuri @n.urri : I'm 18 and very passionate about my online activism. I use the platform I've created to have a voice for the communities I belong to. I've been making posts about things I've experienced like racism, white supremacy, homophobia and misogyny, since I was a junior in high school. Being socially aware is what caused my veganism. It took me about 2 years of pescetarianism, then becoming a vegetarian and now being able to call myself Vegan.💕

Terika @cherifreshmedia : I'm 20 years old. I'm a videographer and I love film. What inspired me to become a vegetarian was my hamster (Izeah)😊. Having him in my life was really the first time I had formed a connection to an animal other than human. When he passed away I promised him I would never eat meat again. Some might think that's silly but he opened my eyes to the bigger picture. 

@veganfriedchicn :We are planning on starting a vegan food truck. We're reaching out to the community to help us with our start up funding. More than half will come from us but we need some support with the rest. Check out our Facebook, YouTube video and GoFundMe to learn more. Thank you to everyone who has helped us out! 

Social Media

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/veganfriedchicn
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/veganfriedchicn/
YouTube: https://youtu.be/NUiXfJCG8BI
Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/VeganFriedChicn