Christopher “Soul” Eubanks on How He Became an Activist for the Animals
“When I became vegan, I didn’t realize I would also be going through a spiritual transformation.”
Vegans of Color is a series for Tenderly that highlights chefs, activists, and content creators of color who are leading a vegan lifestyle. I was inspired to start this column when I started thinking about my own ethnic and cultural background (my mom is Japanese, my dad is white, and I was born and raised in America) and the ways in which identity intersects with food in my own life. Growing up, I noticed that some foods I ate at home — like sweet Japanese curry and white miso soup — were totally foreign to most of my peers. When I became vegan two years ago, the recipes I discovered from popular and mainstream sources were most often versions of traditional American foods. This series intends to shine a spotlight on vegans who bring something different to the table.
“Once I went vegan, when I started to grasp what was happening to animals and the fact that it was so systemic, I felt like I couldn’t just sit back and say nothing,” says Christopher “Soul” Eubanks. The 37 year old photographer and organizer, who lives in his hometown of Atlanta, uses his creative talents to spread awareness of the problems with animal agriculture. From canvassing in the streets with his local Anonymous for the Voiceless chapter to capturing photo stories for animal sanctuaries, Eubanks’ work speaks entirely to his passion and beliefs.
He cites his upbringing in the vibrant, creative Atlanta community and early exposure a vegetarian diet as major factors that led to his current involvement in the vegan activist community. And Eubanks certainly isn’t alone in his endeavors; the booming vegan scene in Atlanta has given him many mentors and opportunities along the way.
In his conversation with Tenderly, Eubanks discussed the challenges of activism, the booming vegan scene in Atlanta, and how the marginalization that he himself experiences motivates him to campaign for animal rights.
Tenderly: When did you become vegan and what led you to that decision?
Soul Eubanks: I became vegan in the summer of 2016. After watching Cowspiracy, I decided to go vegan on the spot. I didn’t really understand the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, and I thought I’d been doing all I could to be a better environmentalist, but once I saw the information about how many resources animal agriculture takes up, and just everything that involves the degradation of the environment, and the deforestation that comes from animal agriculture, I just went vegan on the spot. Or I guess I should say I went plant-based, and a few months later I learned about the treatment of animals more and more, and that’s when I went vegan. So it’s been about three years.
What’s your ethnic and cultural background?
I come from a traditionally African American and Christian background. Even when I was younger, I guess I’ve always had a progressive mindset. But growing up in an African American community where animal products were the norm, I didn’t have many vegetarians or vegans around me.
And in terms of my cultural background, I was born in Ohio but I’ve been in Atlanta since I was about three years old. As a child I was very much into being a creator, I was always into music, writing, art, graffiti. I think that shaped me to look at the world with an artistic eye, and that has an impact on everything that I do. My upbringing helped shape the way that I do things — being a part of a vibrant, urban community.
What kinds of foods did you eat growing up? Are there any memorable meals you recall eating with your family on special occasions?
Well, I became a vegetarian when I was 13, and I was kind of on my own. When I went vegetarian as a teenager my family was mostly indifferent. They didn’t give me any pushback or make me feel uncomfortable about being a vegetarian, but my mom didn’t necessarily go out of her way to make me vegetarian meals. When my mom made food that was vegetarian friendly I ate that, but whenever she made food that I couldn’t eat, I usually just made a vegetarian alternative. As far as holiday meals, turkey and bacon was something my mom made every Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I had to avoid those, but I ate things like stuffing, macaroni and cheese, the sides.
Was anyone in your family or community vegan or vegetarian?
No, I was definitely on my own. I read a book by Elijah Muhammad — he was a member of the Nation of Islam — the book was called How to Eat to Live. That’s what triggered me to become a vegetarian at the time. That was the only example I had — I mean, obviously he passed years before I was born, so I didn’t really know any vegetarians or have an example. I was just kind of doing the research on my own. And this was before the Internet, so it wasn’t like I could just Google stuff and find out information like I can now. I had to rely on books, magazines, articles. I was on an island.
How did your involvement in activism begin?
Growing up as a young black male, in a society where we’ve been marginalized, I’ve always had a certain awareness about suffering and oppression. That’s given me a voice to speak out against things and to be aware of my surroundings. That’s one of the reasons I gravitated towards hip hop, because it was such a representation of how young black men and women see the world. Hearing the stories of different things that people of color go through in society gave me a voice to speak out against social injustices. I’ve done that throughout my life. That influence planted a seed for me.
Once I went vegan, when I started to grasp what was happening to animals and the fact that it was so systemic, I felt like I couldn’t just sit back and say nothing. It’s one thing to simply not contribute to a problem, and another thing to actively speak out against it, to actually try and counteract it. About a year after I went vegan, I started to see more vegan activists, have conversations with people, and understand it as a form of activism. So I joined my local Anonymous for the Voiceless chapter in 2017, and that was my first form of activism. And since then, I’ve done several different types of events. I didn’t set out to be an activist, or to do animal rights, but it just developed.
What’s your go-to recipe when cooking dinner for others?
The dish I make the best is probably couscous salad. I chop up some green onions, peas, agave, cumin, pink Himilayan salt, and black pepper. I throw that all in a bowl with the couscous and mix it up. People tend to really like it! Sometimes I throw in some corn and garbanzo beans. That’s my cheap, easy, quick meal — and it’s easy to make a lot at one time. You can have it cold or heat it up. That’s what I make when I go to potlucks or events.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone considering veganism?
Know why you’re trying to go vegan. Because it definitely shapes how committed you’ll be. If it’s just something you’re trying to do for dietary reasons — people are trendy with diets, diets come and go. But if going vegan is something you want to do because you don’t want to contribute to the suffering of other beings, your motivation will be totally different.
So one, know your motivations. And two, don’t feel like you have to go at it alone. There are lots of support groups and lots of people online. Fortunately now, it’s a lot easier to find other vegans. The friends that I’ve made since I’ve become vegan has just been crazy. My friend requests on Facebook just keep getting more and more ridiculous every month. More and more people are finding that sense of community. It’s a good feeling to speak to people who share your same sense of morality regarding animals. And it’s easier to go vegan when you have people you can share recipes with or go out to eat with.
Veganism often gets criticized for coming across as inaccessible or as a choice only available to those with economic or other kinds of privilege. Is this something you think about addressing in your activism?
It definitely comes up fairly often. Veganism, or a plant-based diet, is something that people perceive to be something that you have to be affluent or have a financially prosperous lifestyle to have. A lot of times, I have to educate people that these are some of the cheapest foods in the world, like rice and beans, grains and oats. It can be inaccessible depending on your situation and what you’re trying to eat. If you’re trying to eat a lot of the processed foods, that can be a little bit more expensive. Or if you’re in a food desert where you don’t have a lot of options, it’s not very practical. But for the most part, the people that I come across, with some disposable income, they have the ability to eat a plant-based diet. They just aren’t always aware of how accessible it is. We just have to educate people about how accessible it is. I do have to face those questions, coming from people who see it as something you can only do if you’re well off.
That’s definitely true. For me, it wasn’t until I actually went vegan and cooked for myself that I realized I was saving money at the end of the day.
I’m the same way. I try and tell people, I’m vegan on a budget. I’ve been doing freelance video and photography for the last four or five years, so I don’t have a steady income or a typical 9 to 5 — my income can change drastically month to month. I grew up pretty financially well off, but even with my lifestyle now, I’ve never struggled to stay vegan. I’ve never had to go to the grocery store and think, “I can’t afford to be vegan this week.”
What’s the vegan community in Atlanta like?
The vegan community in Atlanta is very fruitful, no pun intended. It’s very vibrant. There’s so many different spectrums of the vegan community. There’s definitely an activist community, and within the last few years it’s really bubbled up. Outside of that, you have a whole plant-based movement — and I see all areas of it. It’s booming, there’s lots of opportunities in Atlanta to be an activist or just be embraced by the vegan community as a whole. There are Facebook group pages, and so many restaurants.
The black vegan community in Atlanta definitely has its own space. In the West End, there’s Slutty Vegan, and the Vegan Dream Donut Shop. My favorite restaurant in Atlanta is there in the West End — it’s called Healthfull Essence, and it’s a vegan Carribean restaurant. The scene down here is growing all the time.
Where did the name Soul come from?
That’s a name I got when I was creating music, and it just stuck with me. It really fits now too, but when I was heavily into hip hop, I was just known as Soul. And a lot of my friends still call me Soul, it stuck around from those days. Then I wanted to transition it into who I’m known as in activism. I didn’t want to be known just as Christopher Eubanks, but I wanted to stay true to who I am.
That’s interesting — it’s a name that sends a message on its own.
When I became vegan, I didn’t realize I would also be going through a spiritual transformation. I became much more in tune with my spirituality — started meditating more, started going to the monastery. I became more aware of my impact on everything I do, from the way that I think and talk to people, to my own ego. I became more attuned to my soul than to aspiring to some degree of financial wealth or having certain material possessions. Those things went out the window, and I’m now more about trying to do more spirit work, and work with society in general. I became all about my Soul — the name just makes sense now.
Who are some of your favorite or most inspirational vegan chefs, activists, or content creators?
I’ll talk about the ones I know personally first. Chef Nikki, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with Grey and Plant Based Drippin, or the Vegan Thanksgiving video. They’re my mentors, and I talk to them for guidance on creating a vegan persona and achieving notoriety. Like I said, my mentors Ryan, Julie, Melody. Those are the local people I know. And my co-organizer, Luis Correal, those are some of the people I know that I look to for inspiration on a personal level. Some of the more known vegan personalities, I’d say James Aspey, Banana Warrior Princess. Those are some of the bigger names that I look to for inspiration.