The Supper of Slaves: An article about how both vegan and classic soul food is rooted in Black history and culture

Aria Brent
7 min readNov 29, 2021


Aria Brent

The “Black” Umbrella

Many people of African descent didn’t start identifying as Black until the late 1960s during the Black Power movement. Since then Black has become an umbrella term that often limits a lot of Black people to being thought of as African-American. The idea of being from the Caribbean, South or Central America, or even Africa is disregarded. People’s culture and identity have been lost due to this as well.

The many aspects of African-American culture have been mistaken for the only aspects of Black culture. This misconception is easily found with a Google search of simple cultural things like fashion, hair, music, and food. Society has put limits on Black culture in several ways, one being the Black food experience.

“A lot of our culture has been wiped away from us and once people realize that this has been a part of us they’ll realize they aren’t losing any history or culture at all. “ exclaimed Ivory Levert, a native of Rockdale, Texas who has been vegan since late 2017.

I did a Google search of “ black culture food” and all the images that came up were of soul food. As Google is known to do, they had sub-suggestions for related images but all of those were pictures of single soul food items like macaroni and cheese and cornbread. Throughout the many pictures of soul food, there were a few pictures of Creole food but there were no images of foods that are from Black countries or that reflected alternative lifestyles.

Images courtesy of Google

The foods that showed up in the Google search are some of the same foods that Levert grew up eating.

There was no mention of African, Caribbean, or Latin food. Vegan or plant-based meals weren’t even in the related images. It was just classical, southern-style soul food. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it lacks inclusion. There have been many things created and revamped by the Black community and every time it happens it catches on and spreads like wildfire. We are known for setting trends or putting our own flare on already popular things, especially when it comes to the culinary arts.

The Tabitha Effect

Tabitha Brown has taken the world by storm with her charming personality and comforting spirit. She is everything we know and love Black women to be, modernized. In the past decade or so, more and more people have begun to cut meat out of their diet for both nutritional and environmental purposes.

In 2017, Brown became vegan within hopes of it helping with the fatigue and pain she’d been experiencing for over a year and a half. Brown has become someone for the Black community to familiarize themselves with. Veganism and plant-based lifestyles are often feared by the Black community due to how unfamiliar it’s thought to be. It doesn't fall into our typical selection of foods. Matter of fact, it's far from it but that’s because of what society has limited the Black food experience to.

Image via @iamtabithabrown/ Instagram

“Growing up, they would tell me I was White because I was vegetarian.” Stated Treasure Labroi, when explaining her journey to veganism. LaBroi made the transition from vegetarian to vegan about two and a half years ago and much like Brown, she did it for the sake of living a healthier lifestyle.

Brown, herself has admitted that prior to switching to a vegan lifestyle she thought that it was something that White people did. She has since put out a best-selling book and learned the importance of representation. Her influence has helped many Black people grow more comfortable with the idea of a vegan lifestyle

The Trifecta: Afrocentricity, The Black Power Movement and Sankofa

Although people like Brown are helping bring awareness and familiarity to the vegan lifestyle, it’s nothing new. Alternative lifestyles such as non-red meat or vegetarian diets have existed in the Black community for a long time.

“ We as Black people have been living like this. It might not always have been called vegan but we’ve been farmers and agriculturalists. Rastafarians influence Black culture heavily and they’ve had a history [of veganism] for a long time.” Levert shared

Along with the term ‘Black’ being embraced during the Black Power movement, many people found themselves getting in touch with their African roots. Through things such as religion, music, food, and clothes Black people began to feel a connection to the motherland and create a culture of their own based on African traditions.

“Reaching back into our history allows us to get a better understanding of our present. Our past helps us to plant the seed for our future” stated Detrice Roberts.

Roberts is the co-owner of Meals That Heal, a plant-based restaurant in downtown Jackson, MS. Noting that she believes you are what you eat, she’s against the mass production of animals.

“ If the animals you eat are full of stress and chemicals, that transfers to you.” She explained.

Levert also spoke on this matter, stating “ They’re being born to die. These animals have lives of their own and their soul purpose isn’t for us to eat them.”

Being mindful that the diet of their African ancestors wasn’t one that involved a lot of meat or any meat at all both women don’t see veganism as a foreign way of living. They instead feel like it's a homecoming.

Some facts to help further explain their views are shared in this video.

Video courtesy of ATTN:/YouTube

Enslaved Eats

Enslaved Africans ate the very crops they spent their long days tending to. Crops such as sweet potatoes and collard greens were easy to harvest and store over the winter, which is how they became such staples in the Black food experience. Okra and Rice were brought over from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and are considered some of the few foods that have allowed Black Americans to feel connected to their ancestry.

What makes one feel connected to their ancestry is so subjective though. Many people have also begun to push the limits of what qualifies to be soul food.

“What even is soul food?”

Asked Keisha Savage, a Cleveland, Ohio native who doesn’t see veganism as a limitation when it comes to enjoying some of the dishes she grew up on. Since having gone vegan in 2014, she’s learned to veganize all of her favorite dishes like macaroni and cheese, potato salad, and black-eyed peas.

Roberts is also no stranger to putting her own spin on classic southern cuisine. With an entirely plant-based menu available Tuesday through Saturday, Roberts along with licensed herbalist Eric Collins Sr. have been able to create a new narrative regarding the food served in the city with soul.

TherapeuticThursday Menu, displaying their take on classic soul food dishes. Image courtesy of

Meanwhile, Levert let it be known that she considers soul food to be food that may be good for the soul but not good for the body. She empathizes with the idea of memories, holidays, and family traditions being the reason so many Black people consider southern-style soul food the food of our Black ancestors and to be rooted in our history. However, she further explained her perspective and gave examples of veganism being just as deeply rooted in Black history.

“Our ancestors pre-enslavement lived on a very nutrient dense continent that produces a lot of good food. And thats what a lot of our ancestors ate. They ate animals but it wasn’t their main dish. Not only African ancestors, but indigenous ancestors.They ate animals but they honored them and they did it to help them survive during months when crops might not have been as bountiful. They did it for a rare occasion meanwhile, now the mass production of animals is different. No, it’s not that our ancestors were entirely vegan — it’s that they had a different reason behind their consumption.”

The Black food experience expands beyond The United States and started long before 1619.

Making Room at the Table

Spaces of comfort are necessary. Just like being able to look at something and seeing some variation of yourself in it is important. With the Black race being the fastest-growing population of people becoming vegan, more and more social institutions dedicated to the Black vegan experience are being created.

Although, many of the businesses surrounding the Black vegan lifestyle are restaurants, not all of them are.

What better word to describe what it’s like being vegan and Black than “fruitful”? This is what Levert has found her experience to be like the last four years. Her family supports her lifestyle and the trouble of having to over-explain herself is one that doesn’t exist.

She noticed several parts of the country like California and Maryland that have really strong communities surrounding the Black vegan lifestyle. The kind of community she felt the Columbus, Ohio area needed. So she created a non-profit organization called “Plant The Power”. Keeping in mind that everyone's journey to and through veganism isn’t easy, she crafted a supportive and comforting space to help people gain similar experiences to hers.

Plant The Power founder, Ivory Levert
Images via @ashtreeimages / Instagram

Black people exist in so many capacities outside of what we are stereotyped to be. Our history is rich and rooted in more things than I think we stop to think about. There isn’t much we haven’t had a hand in developing or participating in. Food is not an exception to this. Whether we used them to maintain a piece of our culture, we tended to them or we sat and ate them — vegetables have always been a part of Black history and culture. Being vegan isn’t “The New Black”, it’s been that.



Aria Brent

Join me on my many adventures as a budding food journalist. I love to share my own recipes and discuss the history and culture of Black food!