By Ingrid Cruz
Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) face many challenges in their pursuit of creative careers, and content creation is no exception. Many creators from underrepresented communities still have to carve their paths when it comes to creating material in their chosen niches—particularly, in the vegan food creator space, as BIPOC creators use humor and education to fight stigma and pass on plant-based varieties of significant dishes in their cultures.
Those challenges haven’t stopped Norma Pérez (The Salvi Vegan) and Jasmine “Jazz” Avery (Diary of a Mad Black Vegan) from making their mark on the scene. Not only have they managed to cultivate successful brands, but they’ve also created culturally sensitive material.
Avery’s Instagram account boasts 34,400 followers, and her TikTok account boasts 40,000 followers. Her YouTube channel, which has 3,000 followers, includes mukbangs made up of vegan food from various cultures. Avery creates lifestyle videos with tips for new vegans, easy recipes, nutrition information, and videos in which she explores the many vegan options in and around New York City.
“I came on the scene in 2018, and you’d see more white vegan content creators. They would get the big brand deals and promote different products. The biggest challenge was trying to carve my lane, use my creativity, and find my community,” Avery told Passionfruit. “But once I found my community, it was amazing.”
Pérez’s Instagram account has over 15,900 followers, and she also creates videos for a small audience on TikTok and YouTube. Pérez posts vegan versions of Salvadoran food, easy vegan meal recipes, online cooking classes, ingredient lists, and videos on Afro-Salvadoran culinary contributions to El Salvador.
Pérez told Passionfruit she took up veganism after watching Earthlings, a 2005 documentary on big agriculture, animal use in entertainment, and the domestication of animals as pets. Her experience as a dance instructor as well as some chronic pain she was experiencing also influenced her to change her diet. Many vegans pursue plant-based diets for environmental or physical health reasons.
Avery said her sister influenced her own journey into veganism in adulthood. Avery said she researched plant milk, vitamins, and where she consumes food. She said she also gave herself time to gradually change her diet.
“I found mentors, but my younger sister was already vegan when I started. I did my research but I also saw her diet. … I took a whole year to figure out what being vegan was going to feel like,” Avery said, adding that having a sister who went vegan first was helpful. “We have each other’s back on holidays.”
It can be hard for many relatives, friends, and even colleagues to deal with someone who is newly vegan. Reunions, meetings, happy hours, and holiday meals can get contentious. Recipes are important in all cultures, but BIPOC cultures often pass traditions on through foods.
Stereotypes about vegans also abound. In 2019, the scientific journal Appetite published a Kent State University paper on the stigma around veganism which found the mere anticipation of reactions to potential changes to one’s diet can influence whether or not some people decide to become vegan. The study focused on college students from the United States who expressed concern that their families may start to hate them if they began eating vegan food.
Avery said bringing vegan versions of traditional dishes to familial gatherings helps many family members see it’s possible to make plant-based versions of foods that have been in the family for generations.
“A lot of family members don’t know what veganism is, but I use family reunions as an opportunity to bring foods I know can be veganized,” Avery explained. “Once I show how easy it is to make vegan versions of our meals it’s always an enlightening moment because some family members come on board.”
An issue all BIPOC face at one point, cultural appropriation and the misuse of customs can create a rift that often results in pushback from people who are afraid vegan versions of traditional meals are an affront to traditions—despite many BIPOC cuisines being historically plant-based.
Pérez said she realized the holidays would be harder without traditional Salvadoran dishes mostly eaten during that time of the year. She said veganizing Salvadoran meals wasn’t easy, as Salvadorans and Salvadoran Americans are protective of their culture.
Nevertheless, Pérez said she began by veganizing tamales. Though recipes vary among nations that make their version of this delicacy, it’s common to mix the flour with an animal-based broth. She asked her mother for her tamale recipe and worked on making her vegan broth to mix in with the flour. Despite a small texture difference, she said her vegan tamales were a hit.
Avery is known for using a sense of humor as part of her process to alleviate potential tensions when changing inherited recipes.
“In the Black community, we talk about serious deep issues. There’s always humor in anything in life, and in 2023 my biggest aim is to show up and be transparent,” she says. “You truly learn more when you’re laughing.”
Avery is working on a series of videos to help new vegans deal with family reunions, holiday gatherings, and potential conflicts around food. Avery hopes to create content that facilitates conversations, such as dealing with situations where vegan options aren’t available. One example of this includes a post where she crowd-sources tips for how to handle family reunions.
In the comments section, users chimed in with great advice, saying, “Go into the event with your heart and brain lovingly prepared: Don’t give them any reason to think you are telling THEM how to eat. EXPECT that they will want to belittle you but DON’T take the bait. Remember and feel the support of your (non-present) fellow vegans giving you strength to get through the event.”
Much like Avery, Pérez also uses a sense of humor, as well as her background in dance, to show her culture, the roots of Salvadoran food, and a love for plant-based eating.
Pérez’s content and career choices have paid off. She was recently featured in an episode of Food Network’s It’s CompliPlated, hosted by actress Tabitha Brown and chef Maneet Chauhan. She was also a part of the Food Empowerment Project’s Chopped with a Vegan Twist. She is currently working on an Afro-Salvadoran cookbook that explores the African and Indigenous contributions to Salvadoran cuisine.
For both creators, it’s obvious their identity, culture, and history shapes how they express their plant-based lifestyle. For people from other parts of the world, rest assured there is probably someone out there who has veganized food from your country, state, or region. If not, food creators or creators of any niche can start gathering inspiration for vegan dishes—even if you don’t decide to become a vegan full-time.