During Black History Month (and beyond) we’re celebrating today’s black American female wellness influencers. These women are making a difference when it comes to giving a face to minority health along with making wellness more accessible for diverse communities and people of color.
Jenné Claiborne’s newly released Sweet Potato Soul cookbook is vegan soul food goodness! Claiborne more than works against the stereotype that southern flavors can’t be healthy. The book was born out of her highly successful Sweet Potato Soul blog. While the sweet potato gets top billing it doesn’t mean every recipe Claiborne creates includes the nutrient-packed root vegetable. The name of both the book and the blog encompasses a vibe. As Claiborne explains, “I called it Sweet Potato Soul. Sweet Potato because these tubers are manna from heaven and have always been my favorite food, and also because they’re Southern, sweet, and healthy—just like me! And Soul pays tribute to the food I grew up eating, soul food made with love.” We can’t wait to try her recipes for Bootylicious Gumbo, Sweet Potato Yeast Donuts, and so much more — but first Claiborne dishes in our Q&A:
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Books for Better Living (BBL): You talked about the lack of black vegan representation in a recent Thrillist article, which is an excellent read by the way! Do you feel like mainstream media and brands should do more to feature or include vegans of color in coverage?
Claiborne: If you’re an ethical vegan it is incumbent upon you to accept the intersectionality of this movement. If ethical vegans care about animals they should naturally care about the welfare of other humans as well, after all, humans are animals. Brands should be doing more to highlight the stories of all vegans regardless of race, gender, age, etc. A lot of people don’t think they could be vegan because they don’t see themselves as the type of person who could be vegan. That’s a problem. We need to show the world that anyone can be vegan.
BBL: Being black and being vegan might not fit in with the present-day version of “being invited to the cookout” but you lay out a pretty important point about people of color historically having healthier, more plant-based diets.
Claiborne: It’s not until industrialization of the food system that our cuisine has become so animal-centric. The great migration also plays a role in our shift away from plant-based and whole food eating. For decades and even centuries, black families gardened and farmed, and ate the food that they (or their neighbors grew). Our grandparents ate a variety of different types of fresh fruits and vegetables and relied heavily on beans, rice, and corn. Folks weren’t vegan, but they understood the value of plants for maintaining health. The practices we consider a part of wellness are not new: they’re tried and true, ancient practices from all around the world. Also, there’s nothing new or “white” about eating well. Look back a couple generations and you’ll find that the traditional foods of your culture are plant-based, nutritious, and sustainable.
BBL: What’s your favorite way to eat a sweet potato? What are your tips for picking out the best in the bunch at the market?
Claiborne: Choose sweet potatoes that are smooth on the outside with no soft spots. They should be heavy for their size. Store them in a dry, cool place, but not the refrigerator. My favorite way to eat a sweet potato is simply roasted for about 1 hour so that the sugars caramelize and the flesh becomes tender and moist. I usually roast a few at a time so that I can have them throughout the week.
BBL: What’s the top misconception about a vegan diet — not enough protein?
Claiborne: Plants have plenty of protein, BUT there is still an idea that the protein is hard to come by without supplements. There is plenty of protein in all wholesome vegan foods, so as long as you’re eating enough food to feel nourished and energized, you are getting plenty of protein. Beans are a great source of protein, but you can also get it from greens, nuts, seeds, whole grains, mushrooms, and avocados. Even fruit has protein! Not as much, but it’s there.
BBL: What’s the biggest takeaway you are hoping readers and recipe lovers will absorb from your book?
Claiborne: I’d like readers to take away an excitement about vegan soul food. I want people to know that vegan soul food isn’t as much of a stretch as they may think — this cuisine has plant-based roots.
Photo Credit: Sidney Bensimon