It is my pleasure to welcome Bianca Phillips vegan blogger, cookbook author and squirrel rescuer to be interviewed on my blog today. I have admired Bianca’s blog for quite some time and had the opportunity to meet her briefly while at the Seattle VegFest a few years ago (where I picked up a copy of her book Cookin’ Crunk: Eating Vegan in the Dirty South). Perhaps it’s Bianca’s Southern style and upbringing that drew me in, not to mention her love of comfort foods. I’m constantly inspired by Bianca’s dedication to write for her blog, Vegan Crunk, every single day (and I thought I was doing well with 2-3 blog posts per month)!
Welcome to Cowgirls & Collard Greens Bianca!
xo and yeehaw, Kayle
I met Bianca at Seattle VegFest in 2014 (also pictured is vegan author/athlete Ellen Jaffe Jones).
Cowgirls & Collard Greens: Thanks so much for taking time to answer my questions today. I am honored to have a long-time vegan, blogger and author like yourself here to share. First off, can you share why and when you became vegan?
Bianca Phillips: I went vegan in 2004, after a decade of being a vegetarian. I was 24 at the time and had gotten pretty involved in animal rights work. Some friends and I had formed an AR group in Memphis, and we were hosting regular protests and demos, many in conjunction with PETA campaigns. That really opened my eyes to the cruelty involved in the egg and dairy industries, and going vegan seemed like the logical next step. And honestly, once your eyes are open, it’s pretty easy to make that change.
Backing up though, I went vegetarian in 1994 at the age of 14 after years of wanting to make that step. Around age 8, I made the connection between my pets and farmed animals, and I realized that I didn’t want to eat sentient beings. But I was so young then that I didn’t really know how to make the change, nor did I have the support of my parents at the time. But when I was 14, I spent a week in the summer staying with my friend Purvi’s family in Oklahoma. They were from India, and most of their family was vegetarian. While I was there, I ate vegetarian meals every day, and that really opened my eyes to how easy it was to make the change. After that trip, I declared to my parents that I was giving up beef and pork. And then six months later, I also gave up chicken and fish. My mom learned how to create her classic family dishes for me without using meat.
C&CG: I understand that you grew up and currently live in the South. Can you share how that’s influenced your diet and being vegan?
BP: I grew up in a small town in Arkansas, and now I live about an hour away in Memphis, Tennessee. So I grew up eating biscuits and country gravy, slow-simmered greens, fried chicken and catfish, fried green tomatoes, and other Southern classics. When I went vegetarian and then vegan, both my mom, granny, and I learned to adapt those Southern staples and make them vegan. So my diet didn’t really change much — now I just have chicken-fried tofu or vegan country gravy or greens made without the ham hocks. It was a simple switch!
When I first went vegan in Memphis, there weren’t many dining out options, so I cooked at home most of the time. But today, Memphis is a super vegan-friendly city with several totally vegan restaurants, about a million places to get vegan cheese pizza, and lots of omni places offering a large selection of vegan options. We even have vegan soft serve ice cream here!
C&CG: Can you tell us a bit about your blog Vegan Crunk and how it got started?
BP: I was a frequent vegan blog reader back in 2007, when I thought, maybe I should just start a food blog of my own! I’m wasn’t very tech savvy (still am not!), but I managed to figure out how to work Blogger and launch Vegan Crunk in late 2007. The idea for the blog has always been just a casual place where I can post pics of what I’m eating. I don’t allow ads (except for a couple from Vegan Cuts/Goddess Provisions ’cause I LOVE THOSE GUYS), and I don’t really share very many recipes.
I post five days a week, and often, that’s just pictures of what I made for dinner or what I ordered at some restaurant. A couple days a week, I’ll post vegan product reviews since a number of companies reach out to me and offer samples to review. I’m all about helping small vegan companies spread the word about their products. I also do a lot of cookbook reviews since most of my home-cooking revolves around using other people’s recipes. Every great once in awhile, I do post an original recipe, but its rare.
C&CG: When did you write your vegan cookbook Cookin’ Crunk? Did you feel it was the next step after starting your blog?
BP: I started working on the book in early 2008, just because I’d amassed a lot of original recipes after going vegan. Most were vegan versions of the Southern foods I grew up eating, and at the time, there were no vegan Southern cookbooks! I saw a niche that needed filling. But since I had (and still have) a full-time job, the cookbook took years to finish, and alas, a couple of other vegan soul food cookbooks came out during that time. Still yet, I managed to find an awesome publisher in Book Publishing Company, which has been putting out great vegan cookbooks since the 1970s. The book hit stands in 2012, and it’s available in bookstores and on Amazon.
C&CG: Do you have any new and exciting projects that you are working on now?
BP: I’ve been working on cookbook #2 for YEARS now. I think I started on it in 2012. It’s a collection of veganized retro recipes from the 20th century. It’s fun stuff! But since it’s a historical book, it requires a lot of research, which requires a lot of time. And I’m a busy lady with a full-time job in communications for a non-profit arts organization, a bunch of fur-babies to take of, and about a million hobbies and other passions/interests. So I’m sad to say that the cookbook project has taken the back-burner a few times over the past couple of years. I will finish it eventually!! But I’m mostly just working on it when inspiration strikes.
C&CG: Did you spend a lot of time in the kitchen as a child? Do you have any formal training as a chef?
BP: I don’t have any formal training, but I did grow up cooking with my mama. I actually wrote a cookbook — recipes scribbled down into a spiral notebook — when I was a little kid. They’re pretty hilarious. I remember one recipe was for a Salad Dog (basically a hot dog with salad on top). I used to dump just about every spice in the spice drawer into every meal I cooked. But over time, I learned better, and I picked up a few skills from watching my mama in the kitchen. I didn’t really start cooking more seriously until I went vegan though. That was 2004, and Memphis wasn’t as vegan-friendly as it is now. Plus, I was on a news reporter intern budget, so I pretty much had to cook at home since eating out was a luxury. I learned everything from reading cookbooks and through trial and error.
C&CG: What’s your favorite vegan go-to meal?
BP: Hahahahaha, man, there’s no way I can pick one favorite. Here’s a list of faves: vegan cheese pizza with tempeh & veggies, homemade ramen with tofu & veggies, vegan mac & cheese, totchos (that’s tater tot nachos!), vegan doughnuts, biscuits and country gravy, vegan cheese quesadillas with guacamole, tofu tacos, vegan breakfast sandwiches with Follow Your Heart VeganEgg, seitan bacon, & Daiya. The list could go on and on. Oh, and I suppose when I’m in the mood for something healthier, I’d say maybe a grain-green-bean bowl with tahini sauce and nooch.
C&CG: Outside of vegan cooking and recipe developing, what are your other passions and hobbies?
BP: I’m a marathon runner! I run at least five days a week. I just ran the Little Rock Marathon earlier this month, and I have my sights set on a few more races this year. I’m also the mother of six cats and a pit bull named Maynard. In the late summer, I rescue/raise baby squirrels that fall out of their nests (that’s what I call “baby squirrel season”), and I release them when they’re fully grown.
C&CG: What inspires you to stay vegan?
BP: The animals! For me, it’s always been about the animals. I’m one of those vegans who’d eat this way whether it was healthy or not just because I can’t bare the thought of killing another living creature for something as fleeting as a meal. But fortunately, it just so happens to be a way healthier way to eat! So bonus! Once your eyes are opened to the horrors of factory farming, I can’t imagine how anyone could go back to eating meat, eggs, or dairy.
C&CG: Do you have any advice for those who are new to veganism or eating plant-based? Is there anything in particular that helped you during your transition?
BP: Back when I first went vegan, I started experimenting with new meals each week. I’d just pick one or two new foods to try — quinoa, tempeh, tofu, seitan, etc. — and I’d play with them and try new recipes. Eventually, I had an arsenal of dishes to choose from. Also, I’d recommend new vegans not try the vegan cheeses right away. Just take a total break from cheese for a month or so, and then slowly work in the vegan options. That gives your tastebuds a chance to forget what dairy cheese tastes like, so you’re less likely to compare vegan cheese to dairy cheese. Vegan cheeses, especially the aged cashew cheeses, are delicious! But they don’t taste just like dairy cheese, and it’s not fair to compare them. Over time, your tastebuds actually adapt and the vegan stuff tastes way better than dairy ever did. I’ve occasionally had bites of dairy cheese on accident in recent years (like at restaurants that mistakenly put cheese on my food, and I didn’t notice right away), and it tastes gross to me now.
C&CG: Thanks so much for being with us today Bianca. It’s exciting to share this space with someone who shares my love of all things southern! Yeehaw!
Bianca Phillips is the author of Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South. She blogs daily at Vegan Crunk. When she’s not busy cooking (or stuffing her face), she works as the communications coordinator for Crosstown Arts, a nonprofit arts organization in Memphis, Tennessee. She shares her home with six cats and an extremely hyperactive rescued pit bull named Maynard. You can find Bianca on social media on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.