Food is love, food is life. With the pandemic hitting us hard, I can imagine how many sourdough starter kits have been open, attempted, and then discarded in a huff. Or trying out a new baking recipe from Youtube that ends up looking like someone did it blindfolded. Either way, food is one thing that, in many cultures and areas and despite all odds, can bring people together. Six feet apart or not.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, food was a storyteller. An orator of ancestral voices, passions, memories, and moments. In between slurps, bites, and bits, each tells a story of how that flavor came to be. Food is a historical document that marks time in our mouths and in who we are.
This is especially important and connects to the history and roots of Black people and Black culture. Food in the Black community does more than just nourish, it is historical documentation and proof of survival, resilience, and Black joy. It is multicultural and does not label itself to just one region of a country. It is everywhere and carries a strong energy of love, family, and empowerment. If you sit with the flavor just long enough, you might be able taste that.
From the East Coast to the West Coast, meet two plant based chefs healing the Black community through food wellness and empowerment, KeiToHealth owned by Keiera LaVon and Nourish the Soul owned by Abundance. Both vegan, plant based chefs who cook, meal prep, and post up for pop ups and catering, these chefs are here to spread the joy of cooking plant based and how it can transform and ultimately heal the Black and Brown communities who face continuous violence and oppression.
I was lucky to chat with them via Zoom but not lucky enough to have one of their meals in hand (stares in hangry).
Where are you from? What’s your business about?
KeiToHealth: My name is Keiera LaVon, my business is KeiToHealth. I am originally from south central LA. I run a plant based vegan food business which consists of meal prepping, pop ups, events, private chef gigs, and nutritional health workshops. I am big on exposing those who are underexposed to this lifestyle. I also offer my clients 1:1 and teach them how to grocery shop
NourishTheSoul: I go by Abundance, Nourish the Soul is my business name, I run an Afro Vegan Soul Food Business. I am Vegan Soul Food Chef. What I do is I cater, meal prep and create custom menus.
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#KeiToHealth #nationalmacandcheeseday ✨?? one of your favorites (mine too) our BBQ Mac N Ooze with oven crispy bbq jackfruit layered in between ooze sauce ? w/ pepper jack & cheddar cheez! ? ——— Be sure to keep your radar ON for next weeks schedule of drop off\pick ups! ?✨? . . . . . . . . . . . . #losangeleslifestyle #losangelesfood #veganfoodla #lavegan #whatveganseat #blackvegan #bbqlife #bbqlovers #vegetarianrecipes #veganrecipes #macandcheese
What was the inspiration behind your business? What brought you here?
KTH:I grew up low income, below the poverty line. I grew up homeless the majority part of my life, in an area that was underserved, I did not have any other food options outside fast food or meat/dairy. What brought me here was also education, nutritional education behind it. When I was in high school I saw Food Inc. and for no other reason than that, I decided to not eat meat for a month which turned into a year. And I was pescatarian for about 8 years. I was still eating meat/dairy [and] sugar. I didn't know I had the education behind it, but I didn't eat pork or anything like that. Once I got accepted to University of California, Santa Cruz, that's when for the first time I had access to healthy food. I saw farmer markets, had meatless Mondays, things I was not used to seeing in South Central. I had all this anger from all this injustice that happened from lack of education to food--depending on where you live. When I would come back home, I would have to go back to eating like crap. I want to bridge that gap between healthy eating and how much money you make. It shouldn't depend on that or on race. Plus I always loved and knew how to cook. My friends always asked me to cook. One day, one of my friends asked me to meal prep. And I posted that on social media, and boom, people asked me if I did that and started happening. Then I transition into being vegan, to 100% plant based.
NTS: I transitioned [from] non vegan to vegan a couple of years ago. I am Nigerian, so soul food--food from home has heavy dairy and meat in it. Me going vegan, I had to maneuver this. To eat the foods that I love without giving up tasty food while still being healthy. I said “Okay, I am going to take my grandma's traditional recipes and make them vegan”. For me, it became a thing of impacting communities and healing communities of color. I am from New York and growing up in the projects I know what it's like to have a single mom who doesn't necessarily have a lot of money to bring healthy food into the household. Who’s constantly working all the time. And I know that is a reality for my people to face. I want it to be accessible to my community and I want it to be healthy and I want people to love it. And you don't have to be vegan. It’s about being healthy and wanting to fuel that change. My business is community oriented and thrive off community.
How have you used food/food health/wellness to empower you & the Black community? What’s the number one thing or some of things your clients say when they eat/nourish themselves with your food?
KTH: I received messages all of the time from random people that I have never talked to before, message me saying “Hey I have been following you for two years and I just wanna say you’ve changed my life” or “ I never knew that was an option, I never knew I can go to grocery outlet and get all these herbs, that it's all affordable.” And just seeing someone like me, you think of a vegan you think of a mainstream rich white woman. Someone who can just walk into whole foods and spend $100 like it’s nothing. And shame on you if you are not vegan. Which is the reason why I don't like to shame people, when people see me, this dark black girl from South Central, who’s vegan, people are always taken back by it but they are inspired by it. Because it’s like “If she can do it, I can do it too”. I am open about the fact that I use EBT or CalFresh for the majority of my life, even when I went to college. I open to the fact that I don’t always have a lot of money, I share that with my audience in hopes that they can make it. Just me, being the representation of it-just being transparent, I still make it work for so long. It comes through not shaming people, it’s about being transparent from where you come from. A lot of times we had to eat a certain way, that wasn't always healthy but through that all people need is education and exposure.
NTS: It’s very imperative because it is definitely embedded in me. People see it through social media pages and food. We are the original ppl and we are oppressed. I started this because I wanted to heal. I tell my clients and people of color it's important to heal thyself in order to heal the community. It is my goal to heal my community. Me wanting people to see it takes healing in myself and moving through the double consciousness as a person of color. And a lot of people are just surviving, not living. When it comes to what my clients say, well , most people are honestly speechless. People say “Wow this is really good”. I do pop ups and I see people trying the food in front of me. It brings me joy to see them eat it. Food is love to me.
Where do you see you and your business in the next couple of months/year(s)?
KTH: Definitely a Food Truck. I could do more food pops up Sundays at Leimert park and food drop offs. I can be more mobile, where people usually wouldn't see. For me it's important to be in the hood. I wanna make it more accessible. I haven’t entertained the restaurant business too much, I'm just letting God use me and tell where I need to be. With Corona, this is the best time to get meal prep! Last thing for me is that if the virus puts fear in you, it should scare you enough to change your lifestyle. Going plant based is not a diet, in order to see real results its a lifestyle change.
NTS: I am definitely looking forward to doing a US tour, I wanna do different tours in different US states and do different vegan soul food pop ups. I am going to Atlanta this weekend and starting my youtube channel. And CA in September and NOLA at the end of September. Bring my food in different hubs/spaces. Realistically, opening up a restaurant I feel like tht is not my end goal. And food tutorials. And teaching people how to make the food. And doing private chef/private cooking lessons.
Favorite recipe you love to make?
KTH: Mac n Ooze, I get dms every single day for the recipe for it.
NTS: I'm working on a breakfast series, so I’m working on bacon egg cheese sandwiches, the second one is my mac n cheese.
Top photo of Kei and Abundance. Courtesy of KeiToHealth and NourishTheSoul. Edited by Meredith.
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Natalie (she/they) is a graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a BA in Feminist Studies and a Editorial Intern for BUST mag. Hailing from the Bay Area, California they love to read, write poetry and analyze their birth chart. Check them out @hunnistix on Twitter for causal updates on how Mars square Saturn transit has been treating them.