If you are a hip hop head or fan of hip hop, you can recall the first time you were introduced to the culture. It was 1979 and the “Rapper’s Delight” song by the Sugar Hill Gang had you bopping down your imaginary Soul Train line. Remember the iconic yet humorous lyrics where rapper Wonder Mike was lamenting over an invitation to dinner at a friend’s house and the food was dreadful? Soggy macaroni, mushy peas, something that resembled cheese, and less than stellar poultry were on the menu that night.
Considering that chicken is a beloved staple in the African American community, chicken that tastes like wood is plain disrespectful and may even get your black card revoked entirely. Although the yardbird is commonly served in most Black American homes, many households do not eat meat at all.
Dr. Brooke Brimm, author, entrepreneur and founder of one of the largest vegan food groups on Facebook, grew up eating a planted-based diet and has been plant dominant since 1992.
In the Beginning God Made Vegetables
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Brimm’s’ plant-based journey began due to her family’s faith. Raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, her grandmother started the strict vegetarian lifestyle and passed it on to the family.
“My grandmother was Seventh Day Adventist and was a vegetarian for 50 years,” the author says. Brimm followed the plant-based diet because of the components of the faith that encouraged vegetarianism and veganism.
While in her twenties, she took the religion seriously and was taught by her grandmother how to prepare vegetarian dishes. Although no longer a member of the faith, Brimm desired to adhere to the plant-based lifestyle and, over the past 30 years, has fluctuated between raw, plant-based, pescatarian and vegetarian.
Currently, the Atlanta resident is 100% plant-based but does not call herself a vegan. “The reason I do not call myself vegan is because that is more of a political term,” she says. “I am really plant-based for health and longevity. Veganism is more about animals, but there is such a thing as eating vegan foods, so that is why we [the group] call ourselves Vegan Soul Food and Vegan Soul Foodie because I only eat vegan foods.”
Vegan Soul Food to the Rescue
Always inspired to help others, Brimm’s love of the plant-based lifestyle motivated her to devise a plan. She started Vegan Soul Food in November 2019 and was unsure if people would join, she shared the group with 200-300 of her friends on Facebook and said it was a struggle at first. However, 2020 was the year of change for Brimm and the world.
For the first time in history, the United States went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. People were home with nothing to do and flocked to every social media platform more than ever. Around April, Brimm saw her group, with a modest number of members, start to increase.
She did a Facebook Live where she suggested those with pre-existing conditions consider making healthier dietary changes such as plant-based or vegan.
While the video did not go viral, Brimm did get the word out around social media. People were losing their family members who had pre-existing conditions such as hypertension and diabetes along with COVID-19 and they became concerned about their health.
“They were sick, their grandmother was dying. It was like code red in the Black community,” Brimm states. “Vegan influencer Tabatha Brown’s TikTok exploded around April 2020, and what made her skyrocket to four million-plus followers? It was COVID-19.”
Brimm may not have four million followers, but her group is one of the largest vegan and plant-based groups on the social media platform, with Vegan Soul Food’s demographics being those between the ages of 34-55.
As her group continued to grow, Brimm wanted a catchy introduction for her weekly live streams when she spoke with her members. Her husband created the moniker Vegan Soul Foodies, and at the beginning of every Facebook live, she greets her members with, “Hello Vegan Soul Foodies!”
In the group, the vibe is positive, inspiring and encouraging. If a member shares their staunch view of veganism from a political aspect or suggests that vegans are healthier than those who eat meat, they will be removed from the group. The group is all about food.
Having seen discord in other vegan groups on social media, Brimm wanted to make sure that her group was about sharing the vegan recipes they can enjoy and being inspirational to each other. The Vegan Soul Food group may have started from the bottom with 200 followers, but as of June 2022, their membership has exploded to over 400,000.
Young Black Vegans and Nipsey Hussle
Young people are known to imitate their favorite singers, rappers or actors. When one of their heroes, West Coast rapper Nipsey Hussle (real name Ermias Joseph Asgedom), advocated for the vegan lifestyle, many of his fans became curious. After he mentioned the plant-based diet and Dr. Sebi (the controversial Honduran self-proclaimed herbalist) in a 2018 appearance on The Breakfast Club, his devoted fans paid attention.
Hussle's dedication to the vegan lifestyle influenced some of his young followers to reevaluate their health. Sadly, on March 31, 2019, he was killed, and there have been different myths about why he was murdered. Conspiracy theorists suggested that his death was due to his production of a documentary about Dr. Sebi and his practices. Dr. Sebi was also the nutrition consultant for the late Lisa Lopes, aka Left Eye of the R&B girl group TLC.
Brimm believes that it was after Hussle was murdered and these rumors about his death went viral, people fervently started looking into health, Dr. Sebi, sea moss and holistic health practitioner Queen Afua. Young Black people who followed the late rapper wanted to be involved and be a part of the vegan movement.
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Brimm, a plant dominant foodie, believes that there is a difference between Black vegans and white vegans. Black vegans do it for health reasons. Dr. Sebi and Queen Afua are just a few that have motivated Black people to take back their health, which they say was taken with slavery. “It was like reclaiming something that was taken from you by reclaiming your health, and one of the ways of doing that is veganism. Whereas with white people who are vegans, it is about the animals.”
Amazon Vegan Cookbook Author
A believer that women are the key to helping family members live in a healthy and balanced way, in 2011, Brimm, a nationally certified counselor, wrote her first book entitled, “Loved Gumbo: Ingredients for a Loving and Lasting Relationship.”
In September 2020, she penned her next book about the vegan lifestyle. When new vegan/plant-based members in her group felt anxious about what to prepare for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, the author had an idea that members should collaborate as a group and publish a holiday cookbook. While she gave members the opportunity to submit recipes, only two members did, leaving Brimm to write most of the book, “Vegan Soul Food Holiday Recipe Guide.”
With January 2021 around the corner, it was time to reset and Brimm created another cookbook with raw and juice recipes as well as salads and smoothies called “Vegan Soul Food Recipe Guide: 30+ Salads, Raw Juices and Smoothies.”
Her newest book, “Vegan Soul Food Recipe Guide: Dishes So Decadent You Can Serve to Meat Lovers,” was written as a guide for members who have family members that are not vegan. “I was answering the call of what our members wanted in the group,” Brimm says. The next book that Brimm will publish includes recipes for sauces and gravies.
The Everyday Black Woman
Another reason Brimm birthed her Vegan Soul Food group was when she first planned a retreat for someone in 2016. After that amazing experience, she started Brook Brimm Retreats in 2017, which she says is for the everyday Black woman.
“I have nothing against conscience or holistic, who are already vegan, to join us on retreats. But my audience really is the everyday Black women who have never experienced planted-based meals. It is exciting to see them try these dishes for the first time.”
The yoga lover provides her guests with a five-star experience and meals such as BBQ jack fruit. She even taught them to replace their morning cup of coffee with golden milk – a drink made with non-dairy milk, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon.
Although Brimm promoted veganism or vegetarianism, especially to those who have never experienced it, she did have turkey and seafood on the menu. The two meals she prepared that won over skeptics in the crowd were a vegan crab cake and a mushroom etouffee. “They wanted those more than they wanted the seafood,” Brimm laughs.
With the success of her initial retreats, offers poured in to cater or food prep for other occasions. Brimm did not have the bandwidth and turned those opportunities down. Yet, one thing that she did realize that she could do since she started her Facebook group was gather women together.
The next Brooke Brimm Whole Woman Retreat will be held this year on October 25-30 in Cousins Cove, Jamaica. It may look like a girl’s trip, but it is not. It is an opportunity for women over the age of 50 to realign, repurpose, release and refocus on who they are.
For more information and delicious recipes, request to join her Vegan Soul Food group on Facebook. Interested in joining a Brooke Brimm Retreat or picking up one of her cookbooks? Go to www.linktr.ee/brookebrimm.