FEATURE: Erika Mendence

I transitioned to a plant-based diet nine months ago and it’s the best, most transformational decision I’ve made in years!

I have always been fascinated by folks who’ve made the conscious decision to live life on their terms, so throughout my life I’ve had many friends who were vegan or vegetarian.  Several times since high school I had toyed with the idea of changing my diet, but never put it into practice.

Last fall I went to a vegan festival in North Carolina with no intention of being converted, but being in the presence of such thoughtful individuals had a profound affect on me. I made up my mind a few days later—I would finally commit to a plant-based diet. I believe my decision was spirit-led, a type of divine intervention. In order to get to my next position spiritually, emotionally and career-wise, changing my relationship with the food I put into my body was necessary. Up until that point, I had poured so much time and energy into ensuring that what I fed my brain and spirit was nutritious. It was time for me to apply the same standards to what I fed my body.

So, why was becoming vegan the best decision I’ve made? Let me count the ways!

1. Switching to a plant-based diet has made me a more compassionate person. I transitioned to a vegan diet for health reasons, but since the change, I’ve begun to feel empathy and compassion toward all creatures.

2. Transitioning to a vegan diet has reinforced my freewill. We enjoy the standard american diet, not because we HAVE to, but because it is our societal norm. In the same way I can deviate from societal norms diet-wise, I can deviate in other areas of my life (the way I view my body, my career path, the timeline society puts on our lives, etc). Being vegan constantly reminds me to be present in my decision-making.

3. Another benefit has been my relationships to cooking! Before going vegan, I rarely cooked. I married a guy who loves to cook (which was either a lucky coincidence or great planning on my part) and he prepared all my meals—breakfast, lunch and dinner—because the thought of cooking pained me. He cooked, I ate. Since transitioning to a plant-based diet, cooking has become one of my favorite types of meditation. I love to break recipes down and make items from scratch—hummus, tortillas, bread, tofu. I often try new recipes and have even been caught stepping on my husbands toes on his nights to cook because I’m so excited to get in the kitchen!

Since that initial festival,  I’ve attended several more in other cities. Going to festivals and vegan restaurants in different cities allows me to continue to experience and build on the sense of community that initially brought me into veganism. I look forward to meeting more vegans and continuing to cooking up a storm!

“When you become more mindful of what you put in your body every day, that mindfulness will seep into everything you do. Instead of sleepwalking through your life, you’ll be more adept at living in the present moment. And the present, as I like to say, is the only place where good things can happen to you in life.” 

― Russell Simmons, The Happy Vegan: A Guide to Living a Long, Healthy, and Successful Life

Social Media

Instagram: @bunny_food_

FEATURE: Daudi McLean - The Vegan Guru

Daudi is featured with Russell Simmons 

Daudi is featured with Russell Simmons 

How it all "Vegan", 

Well let me just start by saying this:  I lost 115 Lbs in 11.5 months without missing a meal! When I changed from a "Die-T" to a "Live It"!

Originally, I just wasn't feeling good about myself. It wasn't necessarily just an external aesthetic thing, but I was really unhealthy and under-nourished. I felt like I couldn't even run from a dog if I had to...I would be a dog's lunch in New York if that day ever came. I grew up in NY and in 1993 I moved to L.A. I had never seen a mountain or been on a real beach coming from the concrete jungle of the east coast.

In Los Angeles I was introduced to plant-based food by my first manager in the music business. Then I learned the importance of drinking water to curb one's appetite and I also read a pamphlet that suggested going vegan and eliminating animal products from my eating plan..."It's not a 'Die-t' It's a 'Live It'..." I lost 60 Lbs in 2 months on my new plant-based vegan program, along with hiking in nature and on beautiful beaches, natural strength training and daily calisthenics.

Eventually I lost 115 Lbs naturally without missing a meal. I'm not necessarily saying you should go vegan to lose weight, because everyone has a different story, and beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. I'm not into fat-shaming anyone. I'm just talking about my own personal journey in hopes that if you relate to me, you will feel inspired.

I became a celebrity vegan chef, restaurateur and high energy Vegan Guru motivator. Be looking out for my new cooking reality show and book "The Vegan Guru" - No Gym Required, which details how I lost 115 Lbs in 11.5 months by going vegan coming summer 2017! 

Social Media

IG: @daveganguru
FB: Daudi McLean
FB: The Vegan Guru

#VeganCelebrityChef #veganmogul



FEATURE: Tabatha James

 My vegan journey has been truly remarkable. I had always considered myself to be athletic and healthy. I gained 70 pounds during the birth of my daughter, and following the pregnancy, I ended up in the back of an ambulance due to dehydration, sleep deprivation, and exhaustion. My eating habits got out of control and I was not taking care of myself. That experience made me get back to being focused, and I lost all the weight, plus 15 more pounds! I was happy to be myself again, but there was still a problem...

Although I lost the weight, I would still have bloating, digestive issues, and a mysterious rash would continue to appear and disappear on my hands, fingers, and face. I tried creams, ointments, etc. but nothing worked. For the bloating I tried tablets, prescriptions, etc., but continued to have the problems. At that time, I was still eating meat and dairy.

About a year and a half ago I stumbled upon some vegan documentaries. I was mortified. I was shocked. I cried. Most importantly, I knew I could never eat or purchase animal products ever again. I literally became vegan overnight, and it’s one of the best decisions I have ever made!

Today I have an active vegan blog, I speak on the topic, and share my story as much as possible. And by the way...those digestive problems and the rash? They both went away when I became vegan and never returned. I love my vegan life!

Social Media

Blog: www.thesensiblevegan.com

Instagram: #thesensiblevegan

Facebook: The Sensible Vegan

I am also a talk show host on a new women's channel that is about to launch called Wdaily. I cover health, fitness, and wellness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R64voZE3I_A

Feature: Shanay, MPH

Shanay, MPH is a Stanford medical student, holds her Master’s degree in Public Health, is a former Wilhelmina model, and has recently started a non-profit called The Friday Project that delivers vegan burritos and cookies to homeless children and adults in the Bay Area and LA. She also mentors at-risk girls in Berkeley, is a contributing health writer for the Huffington Post, CNN and Essence, and is launching a vegan pregnancy line with her classmate, exclusively for Target in 2019. Last but not least, she is competing in the Miss California pageant this December!

What inspired me to become vegan? Ok. So I should preface that I never really ate meat as a kid. It truly just grossed me out. With corn dogs, chicken nuggets, burgers, I would eat the breading/toppings and leave the meat alone. So in a way I was probably an ovo-lacto vegetarian as a child and didn't even know it! I became an “official” vegetarian as a pre-med at UC Berkeley after watching a powerful documentary called Earthlings as a class assignment. If you haven't watched it, do it now!

After that, I educated myself on ethical, environmental and science-based personal benefits of a vegan lifestyle because I wanted to do more for the animals and my health. After a few failed attempts - (walked into Chipotle, ordered that burrito bowl with cheese and sour cream…. I know, guilty!) I finally fully transitioned to a vegan lifestyle. I've been vegan for 5 years and I am never looking back! I had a great deal of energy, I was forced (in the most amazing way) to expand my palate and experience fresh, nourishing fruits and vegetables I would've never thought of trying. I felt fit, sexy and sharp.

Educating the Community: As an at-risk teen mentor of 10 girls, I hold tons of different workshops and field trips throughout the school year, but one of my favorites would be my vegan cooking class. Most of my mentees think being a vegan means you eat close to nothing, or the food is bland, and I wanted to change their mindset and give them perspective. I start with educating them on the definition of vegan, the endless benefits, and that a well-planned plant-based diet is rich in protein, iron, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. Then we get straight to the food! The look my mentees make after the first bite are always priceless!  Some even gave up meat 2-3 times a week and shared the info with their peers. So I can't stress enough the importance of educating your community.

Tips? A couple of tips I would give to anyone going vegan, is to stay informed and go at your own pace. No one is the perfect vegan starting out, don't give up! So go ahead and nourish yourself in the most delicious and ethical way possible...you and the animals deserve it! With love and gratitude, Shanay

Social Media

Instagram: @glamourandmedicine



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.

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


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/