Did you know that Black Americans represent the fastest-growing plant-based demographic in the country?

The Pew Research Center reports 8% of Black Americans eat vegetarian or plant-based diets, compared to 3% of the non-Black population. Much of the recent growth is attributed to COVID. Black people were disproportionally affected by the epidemic, due to higher incidences of COVID risk factors like heart disease and diabetes. As a consequence, there’s increasing recognition, within the community, of the relationship between food and health.

Then there’s the “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” situation: A boom in plant-based soul food restaurants dishing up veganized versions of familiar favorites like fried crawfish, jerk Mac & Cheese, and collard greens with bacon. Seasoned Vegan, Veganhood, and Cadence are a few of more than a dozen options just New York City. Says Aaron Beener, who owns and operates Seasoned Vegan with his mother Brenda, “We’re basically showing our neighborhood, and essentially our people, that you can have your cultural favorite, your family favorites, and just veganize them.” The Beeners’ BBQ crawfish is made from burdock root smothered in a smoky bayou BBQ sauce. And to that I say, “yes, ma’am!”


What is Soul Food?

The term “soul food” became popular in the 1960’s. Though there are multiple definitions, at its core, soul food is home-style cooking, passed down for generations, originating in the American South. Civil rights activist Amiri Baraka’s 1962 essay “Soul Food,” was a rebuke of white critics who claimed African Americans did not have a cuisine. That same year, Sylvia Woods, now known as “the queen of Soul Food,” opened her restaurant Sylvia’s in Harlem, proving Baraka right. Fried catfish, shrimp, and BBQ chicken remain on Sylvia’s menu today — providing inspiration for a new generation of plant-based soul food restaurateurs.

Seasoned Vegan owner Brenda Beener believes “the soul of soul food” is tied to Black identity and a genealogy of survival, and has little to do with seafood or meat. For Beener, soul food is simply “any meal prepared by a chef who infuses ingredients with tender love and care.”

Meet my Favorite Soul Food Recipes 

Vegan Pulled Pork Sandwich (Mushrooms)

Vegan Pulled Pork Sandwich (Mushrooms) from Jhanelle Golding

Jhanelle Golding’s BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich, made with oyster mushrooms (!!), checks both the healthy-for-you and 100% delicious boxes. √ √ Trained as a dietician, Jhanelle specializes in the kinds of recipes that helped smooth her transition to a plant-based diet — easy-to-make comfort foods reminiscent of her Jamaican home.

Vegan Richa’s Southern Fried Popcorn Okra is baked, not fried,  making it healthier, and in my book, easier to make. (Frying is not one of my culinary skills). A chickpea flour coating adds a healthy dose of protein and fiber, and cumin, paprika, garlic, and onion powder infuse the crowd-pleasing appetizer with bold flavor.

Southern Style Gluten-Free Sweet Potato Bread was cooked up by Nija & Shad, Atlanta natives who embarked on their plant-based journey together, 20+years ago, in search of a healthier lifestyle. As soon as I came across this quick bread recipe, I knew it was the start of a beautiful, long-lasting relationship with the recipe-creator duo. Like me, they’re fans of Bob’s Red Mill products (Bob died last week, R.I.P.), and foods layered with flavor. This one combines cardamom, cinnamon, and orange extract to make an old-fashioned quick bread, equally at home on the breakfast table or for dessert.

Visit the ever-growing database for more plant-based recipes and meal inspiration.