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Taste of Black Charleston's chef lineup reflects surge of veganism among African Americans

Slutty Vegan

Atlanta-based Slutty Vegan restaurant made a stop in at The Royal American as part of its 50-city tour across the United States. File/Slutty Vegan/Provided

The team behind Slutty Vegan, a plant-based burger restaurant which in less than two years has attracted hours-long lines to its Atlanta location and more than a quarter-million followers to its Instagram account, is in the habit of documenting the crowds its food truck draws when on the road. On Feb. 17, Slutty Vegan shared a video of hundreds of queued-up people zigzagging through and around The Royal American parking lot. (Not long thereafter, the same account posted a Sold Out notice.)

What’s perhaps most striking about the Charleston footage is the level of genuine excitement for meatless patties and eggless buns. But also noticeable are the demographics of the group. At least in the significant portion of the line pictured, roughly nine out of every 10 prospective customers are black.

While some of the people standing in line may have turned out to support a black-owned business, the line’s composition also reflected one of the most important trends in African American dining today.

As The Washington Post recently reported, African Americans represent the fastest-growing sector of veganism, with 8 percent of African Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center identifying as vegans. By contrast, a mere three percent of American adults overall said the same.

Additionally, new research published by Gallup shows white people ate 10 percent less meat over the past 12 months. People of color reported eating 31 percent less meat during the same time frame.

“The black vegan movement is one of the most diverse, decolonial, complex and creative movements,” cookbook author Aph Ko in 2017 told The New York Times when it looked into the phenomenon, which has been pushed forward by hip-hop culture, celebrity endorsements, and a deeply-rooted interest in personal and community health.

African American women in the greater Charleston area have been at the forefront of the local vegan restaurant scene, with Smarel Brown opening Dell’z on the Macon and Goddess Tiye opening Vegans on Rivers (both North Charleston restaurants have since closed, along with Dell'z Uptown, although Maudell Grayson has announced intentions to reopen in West Ashley.)

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And Joselyn Johnson, the Charleston market manager for Taste of Black Charleston, says the popularity of veganism will this year have a visible influence on the annual culinary event.

“We will have some vegan chefs this year, so we’re really excited about that,” Johnson says of Taste of Black Charleston’s ninth edition, scheduled for March 13.

The gala this year is relocating from downtown Charleston to the Exchange Park in Ladson. Johnson says the new venue comes with ample free parking and more floor space for the event’s 30 chef stations.

“That means we can eliminate a lot of the lines, unless everyone comes at the exact same time,” she says.

In addition to chefs serving vegan dishes, at least one garlic crab producer will be competing for a $1,000 prize. Johnson declined to elaborate further on chefs’ planned menus, citing the competitive nature of the program, but said, “We will have quite a few savory dishes, so people can come hungry.”

Tickets to Taste of Black Charleston are priced at $75 through March 8. For more information, go to blackexposouth.com/charleston-taste.

Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter @hannaraskin.

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