The True Story Of Tabitha Brown's Journey To Veganism -- Exclusive Interview

It appears Tabitha Brown was destined to become an influencer. While pursuing her dream of becoming an actress, her preternatural talent for building rapport with just about anyone made her a natural interviewer, which she spent two years doing for a WB affiliate, according to the New York Times. Although she eventually left broadcast journalism to pursue acting, it was, nevertheless, her knack for interpersonal connection that rocketed her to fame in 2017 when a video she made extolling the virtues of a vegan sandwich she'd bought at Whole Foods went viral, leading to a gig as a Whole Foods brand ambassador. Soon, Brown was reaching millions via TikTok with her much-adored and very viral vegan-cooking videos (this put Brown on the radar of casting directors, leading to her current role as Octavia on "The Chi").

But if it weren't Whole Foods, it probably would have been some other brand. In fact, Brown has partnered with Greenleaf Foods, whose lines of plant-based foods figure prominently into Brown's diet. Brown adopted a vegan diet in 2017 in hopes of finding relief from the mysterious pain and fatigue she'd been dealing with for "a year and seven months." It worked, as we learned from Tabitha Brown, who graciously shared with us the details of her journey to veganism during an exclusive interview, along with lots of warm, homey advice on how to make it work for you — assuming you want it to, which, as Brown would say, is "your business." 

Tabitha Brown recalls the first steps in her journey to a 100% vegan lifestyle

Since being vegan can mean different things to different people, can you tell us what it means to you to be vegan?

Well, for me, when I first started, it just meant a new way of life in being healthy, right. And then of course now I'm almost four years in. August will be four years for me. It's bigger than me. It's teaching people to see food differently and that's kind of how I look at it and what it means to me and saving not just my own life, but others.

Can you talk to us about what going vegan looked like for you?

So when I first started, it's a learning process and I was having to read every single thing, which I always do now anyway. I didn't think about the leather bags because I had tons of them, but now I'm very mindful and conscious of it. So yeah, I don't buy leather. I do not do gelatin in my vitamins. I am 100% vegan. I'm always trying to learn even more. It's a constant journey, but I'm very mindful of cruelty-free — my products from my hair to everything really, yeah. I really, really try really hard to make it 100% my lifestyle.

So are you saying your veganism developed over time?

When I started, I was 100% eating vegan. Everything else I had to learn, I'm still learning. You learn every day. You're like, "Oh wait, I didn't know that marshmallows weren't vegan." Back then, I never thought marshmallows were not vegan.

I didn't know marshmallows were not vegan.

They have gelatin.

Any other foods that people don't know are not vegan?

Anything with gelatin, and it's things you don't even think about. Take a gel cap ibuprofen — that's gelatin, if they don't use pectin [which is vegan].

When it comes to going vegan, you gotta do you, according to Tabitha Brown

Did you ever find out why a vegan diet helped you feel better?

I didn't. I went to the doctor more times than I can count — maybe like two to three times a month for a year and seven months. Multiple MRIs because I had a resting headache in the back of my head every day for a year and seven months and blood work, everything would come back normal. They would always say, "Well, everything looks normal. We can't figure it out." But they knew it was something autoimmune that was attacking my body. They just couldn't figure it out. And then going vegan and doing the 30-day "vegan challenge," the headache I had every day for a year and seven months disappeared after 10 days.

It was your daughter who got you into it, right?

Yeah.

How long has she been a vegan?

It's been three years for her. She went vegan Memorial Day weekend — the year after me. But we all did it together for 30 days. And after the 30 day mark, I remember telling my husband, "I think this is my life. I'm going to be vegan now." And he was like, "That's great, but I'm going to eat a piece of chicken tomorrow." And I'm like, "That's your business, okay. Go ahead. But for me, this is my journey." So everybody went on and continued to eat the way they were eating, and I was the only vegan for a year. I would be cooking two different meals but trying to figure out how to make one meal that everybody could enjoy. I figured out the "recipe" though. I figured out how to just make all the food real good. And they were eating it — and a lot of my meals were all vegan and they just started to love it all. So the only "person" in my house who is not vegan, or rather, two "people," are my son, who's nine, and my dog.

Oh, yeah. You can't make a dog be vegan, haha.

No. I'm like, "Okay." But my son is not. I want him to make his own decision. He eats vegan every day, but he knows if he's at school or if he's at a party and they have regular cheese pizza or if they have chicken nuggets, he is free to make his own decision. I want him to be mindful of his own decision. My husband is plant-based [meaning that he incorporates plant-based foods as much as possible but nevertheless willing to eat foods, and wear clothing items, that come from animals] because, I mean, he's a basketball coach and he still wears sneakers that they're going to have a little leather on them. So that's just his world, but he's like, "I'm going to eat this plant-based food though." But that's his journey.

Tabitha Brown clears up the biggest myths about veganism

What are some of the misconceptions that you hear from people about veganism?

Number one is that vegans don't get protein. It's always like, "Well, where do you get your protein?"

Where do you get your protein?

Well, a lot of people eat beef or steak for high protein, and then I just always remind them, what did the cow eat to give you that? He only ate grass!

Grass-fed beef! Right!

Right. But in order for it to get bulky and big, it only ate plants. So it's a misconception. Plants have everything that we need. So that's number one. And also that all we eat [as vegans] is salad. Honey, I be eating good. I don't know about nobody else child, but I be eating all kinds of stuff. Tons and tons of options!

Anything else that you want people to know that veganism is not?

I know for me, it's a lot different because I'm so non-judgmental, right. And a lot of times, even before I was vegan, I would kind of hear the word vegan and be like, "Mm, them people kind of crazy." That was my thought. And I also thought, I didn't know anybody Black that was vegan. I was like, "I think that's just what white people do. And I don't know." Right. That literally was all I knew about it. But then I realized as I'm in it, "No it's for everybody. It is for everybody." So I kind of changed that perspective because now people see me and they're like, "Oh wait, she the vegan lady." So now they know, wait, I'm a whole Black woman. Okay.

What about people thinking it's expensive to go vegan?

Yeah, so a lot of people think that as well, but I look at that the same way as when I wasn't vegan. So when you're not vegan, if you buy real food, real fruit, real veggies, not a lot of processed food, it's not expensive, same thing with being vegan. But then when you start buying your meats, when you're not vegan, that's when the money starts adding up, right. Same for being vegan. When you buy your faux meats and your substitutes, those are a little bit more expensive. But if you buy a bag of rice, a bag of beans, potatoes, it's all $2, $3, sometimes 99 cents. So it's just a matter of how you shop. But whole foods — eating food in their natural form, is always going to be cheaper. It's not expensive.

Do you grow any of your own vegetables?

Ooh, that's my new journey. I just literally got my yard already cleared. I got a greenhouse. So summer that's my thing. I'm looking forward to starting to grow my own cucumbers and peppers and different herbs spices. I'm excited about it. It's my new journey.

Tabitha Brown explains why having the right food options are so important when you first explore veganism

Can you tell us about your partnership with GreenLeaf Foods — the owner of the Lightlife and Field Roast plant-based food brands?

So the great thing about Lightlife and Field Roast, I've been working with them for a very long time, and I've had the privilege of going into the facility and see it being done from start to finish. And they use real ingredients, real food, real vegetables, real fruit, which is what I love about them. There's so many processed foods out there with chemicals, and you can read the label and not understand what you're reading. You always understand what you're reading when it comes to Lightlife and Field Roast. It's one of the things I love about them. I'm like, "Listen, if I can read label, that means I know what I'm putting in my body."

Is that another misconception that people have about veganism? That when you go vegan, you end up having to eat a lot of processed foods?

That's what I was saying. Plants have everything that you need. But of course, when you go vegan, unless you're born vegan and it's been your whole life, you have cravings, and these products are a great substitute. When those cravings hit and you still want a burger or you still want a sausage or something like that, you have these options. And these are not really that expensive. They have some great sales out there, you just got to know how to shop and when to shop. But you don't have to have it for protein because you can also just have your leafy greens, your beans, your seeds, your nuts, things like that to still get your protein. So [it's] definitely a misconception.

Tabitha Brown reveals the number one worst reason for going vegan

What are some of the things that somebody who's considering going vegan should be thinking about?

The number one thing is, what is your "why." Why do you want to go vegan? What's your reason? Because if we have a "why," and it really means something to us, we'll stick to it. For me, my why was I was very sick, and I thought I was going to die. And when I discovered veganism and I started to feel better within those first 30 days, it was life or death for me. And so my why was so very strong that I was like, "I don't really care about how much I used to love a crab leg or some chicken legs. I want life." And so I chose that as my "why." So I always tell people, not just even for being vegan, anything you do in life, what is your why? Why am I doing it? Why am I starting the process? And if you start there, then the journey is that much easier to stay on the journey.

Is there ever a wrong reason to become vegan?

Absolutely. There's always a wrong reason to do things. And that number one thing is because somebody else is doing it. That means you ain't going to stick to it. You're just going to do it just to be doing it like, "Oh, it's the 'in' thing to do." Well, no, it's not. It's got to mean something to you, right? Not necessarily saying it's wrong. It's not going to stick. And the reality is some people ... like me, I started because of my health right? Some people do it for the plant. Some people do it for the animals. Some people do it to lose weight or different things like that. But it just has to mean something to you. But I think, if everybody does one meal a week or one meal a day, they make a huge difference in their own life and for the planet.

The key thing you must do if you want to succeed at adopting a vegan lifestyle

Let's say somebody has the right "why" and they come to you and they say, "Tabitha, I'm committed. I'm doing this." What's the best piece of advice you could give them?

So my favorite thing is always think about what your favorite thing was before you went vegan. What are your favorite foods? And then try to veganize all those foods. Because that helps with your cravings.

Oh! Like carrot bacon!

Come on, girl. Yes! I used to love bacon. Turkey bacon was my thing. And yeah, like that. Figure out your options. But you also have, like Lightlife has smart bacon that you can use. If you love sausage, Field Roast has great breakfast sausages, just figure out your options so that you know, "Okay, when that craving hits, I got these options or I know how to make this." So always start there because a lot of times we think of the word vegan and we get in our head and we're like, "I don't know how to eat vegan." Take the word out of it. Just focus on it being food. Because if you really think about it, everything is vegan with the exception of the meat and the dairy. The most important thing is don't be hard on yourself. Take it one day at a time, one meal at a time. You ain't got to get it right every time. It's okay. It's okay. Don't be hard on yourself.

If you're going vegan, make sure you have these things in your kitchen, according to Tabitha Brown

What are some of the things that you would advise any new vegan to have in their fridge or pantry?

When you're new, I do recommend having some of your favorite faux meats. I love the maple, little apple sage sausages from Field Roast. They also got the breakfast patty, which is like a sausage patty. I love that. Keep that in there. Then they have the thicker sausage, the chipotle, which is a little spicy, if you like a little heat. It's so good for hot dogs. You can put it on the grill, that type of thing. I also, of course, I'm a big avocado person. I keep avocados all the time. I keep vegan mayo because I can always make a sandwich or a wrap. So I do a lot of spinach wraps or tortilla wrap. 

So I always say, keep some of those in your pantry, fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, things that you can make a quick wrap with. Bag of rice, can of beans or frozen beans. Things that are plentiful and will keep you full. And Lightlife ground, which it comes in a pack. It looks like ground turkey or ground beef, but it's completely plant-based and it's great if you want to make your own burger, if you want to make tacos, spaghetti, it's perfect. You cook it the same way, season it the same way you would regular meat, and you won't even miss a thing.

Tabitha Brown riffs on how different people reacted to her decision to go vegan

Was there any friction from family members and friends when they saw you were changing your lifestyle? Was anyone resistant?

Well, in the beginning, so go back, when I was in high school, when I was 15, I was vegetarian for about five years. And then when my husband and I got together and moved in together, I started back eating fish and chicken. But I hadn't had red meat or pork in over 25 years. And so, when we first got together my husband knew that's how I ate. And then I started back eating fish and chicken. So when I was sick, for him, it was like, "Whatever's going to make her better." So he was so supportive. My family was so supportive, but of course back then, and then other people are like, "Ooh girl, you crazy. Not eating ... I got to have meat. I got to have ..." I'm like, "Well, that's your business. I'm not telling you not to eat it."

But my dad is now vegan as well. He started a year after me. They were just open. Everybody wanted me to be well, to feel better. I've always been very different, and so my dad was like, "Oh, here she go. That's her thing." And my family, I'm so blessed because I have the most amazing family and they're always just so supportive. But of course I got aunts and cousins that are like, "Girl, you crazy, you sure you ain't eating no meat?" Especially my uncles. Like, "You ain't eating no meat. What about in your greens? You don't have no turkey necks in your greens?" I'm like, "No!"

The great thing about my life is that I have shared every step of it and so many people have changed their eating because I share. I never force. I just share. Which is why my dad changed the way he eats. And my step-mom and I have cousins and relatives who all change how they eat just simply from watching me. And I never once told them, "You need to eat this way." I just said, "This is what I'm doing. And this is how it helped me." And thousands of thousands of people have changed. And I feel so blessed to be able to be a part of that.

Tabitha Brown on her TikTok following and what it means to be a healthy-eating influencer

Do you feel like this was always your journey?

Absolutely. It's definitely my purpose. I'm living and walking in my purpose every day. I never thought I would be sharing, doing videos and things like that. That just all happened because I had a dream — I saw myself on this little show. I couldn't make out what the show was, but I was very much so myself and very free. My hair was very short, like a little Afro. I spoke with my accent because for years I did not speak with my accent, I was always told to cover it. So I would cover it, especially as an actress, but in the dream I was completely me. And I woke up and I thought, "Well, what was that?" And I've always had dreams since I was a child that would come to pass. So I know my dreams give me messages and I prayed about it and I heard God say, "Start doing videos." And I was like, "Why would I do a video? I don't know about that."

And that was how it started because I was just obedient to the voice and I started doing videos. And when I went vegan, the same voice that told me, "Start doing videos," literally whispered in my ear and said, "Now tell people what you're eating." And so I started telling people, "Hey, I'm going vegan." And when I find a product, I'm going to just share it with y'all and it started, it used to be like 30 people watching and I would do it every day. And some days I would cry. And I'd say, "I don't know why I'm doing these videos. I just heard a voice that told me to do it. And here I am." And now almost four years later, it's crazy.

Do you have any advice for people who want to share their own wisdom and experience on TikTok, you know, to gather a following, and make a difference?

 

Tell the truth. Be you. You are enough. We are enough — just as we are. We don't have to try to be anybody else. We can simply be us and tell our truth when we share and, honey, the doors will just open up.

Can you tell our readers what you love most about having become an influencer on healthy eating?

Really just helping people see food differently. That's really it. Being able to tell stories through food and make people laugh and make people feel like they have a friend in the kitchen because that's what I love. And it's part of the reason why I always hold my phone really close to my face because I want people to feel like, "You know what, it's just me and you in this moment, girl. I'm your friend, just talking to you."

Summer is just around the corner, and for Tabitha Brown, that means grilling out vegan style

So, what are some of the things you're cooking now?

I'm excited about summertime. I love grilling out. Kebabs are some of my favorite things to add like bell peppers, I love green and red and yellow bell peppers. I love to add, chop up sausage and mix it in with onion, zucchini, mushroom, add it all on there with a little pineapple. Just love it. I love putting those on the grill. So yeah. I'm excited about that.

Any desserts?

I'm not a big dessert person though I do love a smoothie in a bowl. I love to blend a good smoothie up and make it really thick and then top it with like fresh blueberries and granola and coconut shavings and then drizzle agave on top, that's like my go-to for the summer, because it's cool. It's relaxing ... it's not hot. You ain't got to turn your stove on and you can enjoy it outside.

What do you recommend using as a base ingredient for a vegan smoothie?

I love banana. Those and pineapples. I'll use either cashew or almond milk, either one is fine. Maybe some hemp seeds. And then you blend that all up. You can actually add frozen blueberries or strawberries in it, too.

There's no big secret to vegan cooking, according to Tabitha Brown

What cooking tips could you give to somebody going vegan? 

The thing I always tell people, if you need a recipe, every time you cook, that means you don't trust yourself. So spend time trusting yourself a little bit in the kitchen. You put a little bit of that, little bit of that, that's why when I cook, always say, "So like that," because it ain't got to be exact. Have fun with it. Think about, "What do I want to taste? What do I got a taste for?" And trust that your palate is going to lead you. So if you love mushrooms, honey, okay, let's do this mushrooms. I love garlic. I'm going to season it with garlic. I love onions and peppers. So I do a lot of the same things because I know what I like. Trust what you like and put that in a pan, honey, and have fun with it. And it'll usually come out all right.

What are some of the ingredients you always like to keep in your kitchen?

My seasonings are stacked to the gods. They can call me Tabitha "McCormick" Brown. So many seasonings from McCormick! I love garlic. I do garlic powder, minced garlic, chopped garlic. I have black garlic, which is one of my favorite things. It's so good, right? And I'm really big on salt-free cooking. I don't use a lot of salt. If I do use it, it would be a Himalayan sea salt. And dried onion, rosemary, sage, parsley. I love all spices because I like a little kick sometimes. Cumin, thyme. All of those are in my cabinet and they're all salt-free because a lot of times ... you know how you can get the original Grill Mates or you can get the ones that have salt-free seasonings? Because when you do that, you can layer your seasonings as you cook and then you won't ruin it with salt. But if you have salt in your seasonings, as you season, you can over-salt, and then it becomes nasty. Now you just messed up your whole meal. So salt-free is a great way to cook. What else? I love Sriracha as a topper sometimes, especially with my avocado.

Got a favorite recipe for avocado toast?

I like to do a Calypso jackfruit. I use a Caribbean seasoning, but you can use allspice with a little bit of garlic powder and peppers and onions with your jackfruit, and you sauté it all up and season it this way for your taco. And then when you put your shredded cabbage with a little cilantro, but you'd use mango, like a mango salsa on top. Put your avocado and then put your sriracha on top. So now you have the sweet with the heat.

Tabitha Brown reveals the surprising foods she can't bring herself to live without

Is there one food that you simply cannot live without?

Listen, I don't know if I could live without avocado. And I love a pickle.

Can you tell me about the pickles?

It's got to be a dill pickle. I don't like sweet pickles. The only sweet pickle I'll use is if it's sweet relish. And that's for you making your faux chicken salad or your faux tuna salad, but I love the dill pickles. Claussen is my favorite. I love Claussen dill pickles. I grew up on dill pickles. You from the country, you go to the little corner store and you can pick your own pickle out the big old jar with the little thing. And honey, that's how I grew up. So I just love them.

What's your feeling about half sours? Are you like, "That's not a pickle"?

Oh yeah, honey, no. Give me dill. Make it a big dill for me, honey, I want all of the sourness. Yeah, absolutely.

What fans can expect from Tabitha Brown's upcoming book

You have a book coming out — September I think?

September, uh-huh, so it's pre-sale now, and I have my covers here.

And what can we expect to learn from the book?

You know what? I share my stories in different ways and different life experiences on how I found my way back to freedom, to love, to joy. And I'm hoping it inspires people to do the same. Freedom is the best way to live. It's our business to be free. For the longest time, I would try to fit in. And that's not what we're meant to do. We're meant to be. I don't have to fit in with anybody. I'm simply just me.

You'd think it would be the opposite if you're coming to Hollywood to become an actress ...

Yeah. That used to be me. I used to try to fit in. I used to cover my accent. I used to wear my hair one way, stay on a diet trying to be a size two, tried my best to fit in. And it never worked. It was never intended to work. It's not what we're supposed to do. And that's not freedom. It's not freedom trying to be like someone else or letting someone control how you live your life. That's not freedom and we don't deserve it.

Will it include recipes?

I have like 10 recipes in there. But my cookbook will come out next year.

The vegan pitfalls you might face and how to get around them

What are some of the pitfalls that someone who's going vegan might want to watch out for — is there a "detox" feeling that people can get when they go vegan? 

Sometimes those are the withdrawals that you have. When you feel that way, that's when you supposed to — you got to hold on tight. Because that means your body is doing what it's supposed to do. It's detoxing. So it's not supposed to feel great in that moment. It's supposed to like, "Okay, let me flush and get rid of things." Right? And when you go vegan, sometimes when you first go and you start eating very clean, sometimes your skin breaks out and people are like, "I'm breaking out. What is it?" I'm like, "Because your body is getting rid of the toxins. Sometimes it comes out in your skin." Some people shed hair when they first start. These are just a couple of things. And as a woman, sometimes your menstrual cycle shortens, or it may not come. Because you have to realize too, when you're eating a lot of different meats, now meat isn't what it used to be. And they pump hormones into them. So you're eating those hormones, which affect your cycle. When you get it out of your diet, now your body is like, "Oh, now I can naturally do what I'm supposed to do." So sometimes it will change your cycle this way.

So, it sounds like you understood that you needed to lean into the detox feeling, but then, how long did it take until you were like, "Wow, this is awesome."

Well, the first thing that I noticed was that after a year and seven months of an every day headache, my headache disappeared. And I had chronic fatigue before, but then by the 30th day, I was having energy to say, like, "Okay, I want to go walking. I want to go try to hike again. I want to ..." It really was quick when you look at it that way, but you do notice a difference really quick. My dad, he'd been on cholesterol medication for a long time and had high cholesterol for over 30 years and doctors couldn't get it down and then he went vegan and within three months it dropped drastically. I know people who were diabetics who are no longer diabetics, who had high blood pressure, no longer have high blood pressure, no longer take medication, all those things.

Is there anything else you want to say before we sign off?

No, I don't have anything else. I thank you for your time and your energy. I appreciate you, hun.

For more Tabitha Brown, follow her on TikTok and pre-order her book "Feeding the Soul" before its release in September 2021. Check out the plant-based products Tabitha Brown loves — Greenleaf Foods – in a store near you.