Vegan Soul Food and Where to Find It in the Twin Cities

Plant-based diets are not a white thing—see: these forces in the local food scene calling on African traditions for vegan eating
A delicious, soulful plate at Trio Plant-Based
A delicious, soulful plate at Trio Plant-Based

Courtesy Trio Plant-Based/Banner illustrated by Jordan Sundberg, Tin Cup Design

Whether or not you call it a movement (and many do), black veganism is on the rise. While stereotypes exist about what a vegan looks like, Kimberly Barnes, co-host of the podcast Do Fries Come with that Combo?, aims to “debunk, demystify, and decolonize all things vegan.” She wants to remind us that being vegan is not a white thing.

“Brown people all over the world eat less meat,” she says. “We eat a lot of meat here [in the United States].”

Reasons for eliminating animal products from one’s diet are individual and personal, but African Americans have the highest rates of diet-related preventable disease.

“Black people have been less trusting of the things that are being given to us by the mainstream,” says Barnes. “Enough is enough.”

An awareness of, and return to, the roots of African cooking can make veganism—or, perhaps more accurately, a plant-based diet—a logical conclusion. Many African cuisines are already naturally vegetarian, if not vegan-leaning. Think of the legumes, lentils, and injera bread of east Africa. Or the cassava, greens, and plantains of central Africa. Even the cornerstones of African American cooking—yams, greens, cornmeal, rice, beans—are easy bedfellows of veganism when stripped of butter and pork.

Minneapolis’ Mykela Jackson is working on a business plan for Keiko’s Kitchen, her pop-up vegan concept that shares ideas on Instagram.

Jackson began with a desire for more variety in her own vegan diet, which she started while living with a vegan roommate. After a few months, she had more energy, looked slimmer, and felt better overall. But she was growing weary of quinoa and salads, and wanted to enjoy comfort foods again.

Jackson is also a follower of Alfredo Bowman, better known as Dr. Sebi, the late Honduran herbalist whose teachings enjoy something of a cult following, especially in the black community. Dr. Sebi is best known for his “alkaline” diet plan, which claims to limit the spread of disease through the body. Jackson’s menu has included both vegan and alkaline takes on linguine alfredo, shepherd’s pie, calzones, and more.

A dedicated, by-black-vegans-for-black-vegans restaurant like Jackson’s pop-ups does not yet exist in Minneapolis. But black vegans (and vegans of all backgrounds) in the Twin Cities can enjoy a handful of plant-based eateries and menu items geared toward black cultural eating traditions. Here are a few:

Trio Plant-Based

The only minority-owned vegan restaurant in the Twin Cities, Trio has a menu section devoted to soul-food faves. They include “macaroni and cheeze,” smoky house ribs, and cornbread with vegan maple butter.

Breaking Bread

Breaking Bread opened with a healthy-soulful bent. The ever-evolving north Minneapolis fixture has a social mission to bring health, wealth, and social change to the neighborhood using food as a tool. Find Portobello cakes; “Sunrise Hot Cereal” with buckwheat and red rice; stuffed raw greens; and more.

Soul Bowl Popups

Gerard Klass has been hustling so hard, he’s become one of the biggest names in Twin Cities soul—though he’s still in search of the perfect brick-and-mortar. In the meantime, find dirty yellow rice, a veggie turkey roast, vegan mac and cheese, and more at their recurring pop-ups. Soul Bowl also has a regular weekend brunch residency at Breaking Bread.

Funky Grits

Grits are one of the most recognizable soul-food staples, and Jared Brewington’s newish south Minneapolis restaurant uses them as a basis for creative interpretation. Try the rotating vegan selections, like stone-ground white grits with avocado, black beans, roasted vegetables, and corn tortilla strips.

Cajun Twist

This new restaurant, on the Theodore Wirth Trailhead in Minneapolis, is already wildly popular for its takes on the New Orleans classics of po’ boys and muffulettas. But they haven’t left meat and dairy eschewers on the sidelines, either. Get vegan gumbo made with okra, gumbo, and chickpeas, as well as a “Zydeko Rice Bowl,” with kidney beans, black-eyed peas, and peppers.

Chelle’s Kitchen and K’s Revolutionary Catering

Both of these catering kitchens, while not strictly vegan, are turning to plant-based, global cooking traditions to re-imagine what American black cooking can look like. Turn to Chelle’s Kitchen for “Abundant Begetable Stew” and chili lentil tacos. And check out K’s Revolutionary Catering for maharagwe (Kenyan red kidney beans in coconut milk) or “Stay Well Tonic,” with turmeric, ginger, honey, and black pepper.

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Mecca Bos
Mecca Bos has written about the Twin Cities food scene for more than 15 years and cooked in professional kitchens for almost as long. If there is something to be tasted in town, she has tasted it. She loves few things more than bragging about her beloved hometown and food cities. Her work can be found both locally and nationally and at meccabos.com.