Slutty Vegan's Pinky Cole Talks Vegan Comfort Food, Community, And Being A New Mom - Exclusive Interview

Pinky Cole has been called an awful lot of names. Don't worry, none of the names are awful, not even "Slutty Vegan," because that's a handle she happily self-applied when launching the business that has been her most successful venture to date. Other titles used to describe Cole include philanthropist and activist, businesswoman and entrepreneur, brand strategist, TV producer, social media influencer and, much more recently, mom, as Cole had her first baby just a few months before she sat down for an interview with Mashed.

Given all the many hats she wears (and the sleep deprivation of those early parenting days), it's rather amazing Pinky Cole manages to be relaxed and even-keeled, but those terms perfectly apply. But make no mistake, Cole is also filled with passion when it comes to promoting a vegan diet, yet she does so in a refreshingly compassionate way. Rather than expressing some self-righteous, militant stance on the vegan lifestyle, she encourages the vegan curious, as it were, to ease into things. "No body is telling you to go cold turkey [on meat]," she says. "Instead, all you got to do is just switch out some options."

Even more than a feeling of changing your diet, Cole feels that the switch to a vegan lifestyle is about changing your mindset.

Pinky Cole on the backstory of Slutty Vegan

First thing's first: How did you come up with the name "Slutty Vegan?"

I came up with Slutty Vegan in 2018, three years after having a restaurant catch fire due to a grease fire. So I was working in TV and relocated temporarily to Atlanta, Georgia. And while I was in my bedroom, I came up with this crazy idea called Slutty Vegan. There really was no precursor to the idea. I was just sitting in my room and Slutty Vegan hit me like a light bulb. I eventually started doing research and got a ghost kitchen and tried a thing. I was literally solving a personal problem for myself because I wanted some vegan comfort food on a late night. But what I realized is I was solving a universal problem. That was really helping people to reimagine food, and the rest has been history ever since.

Did you grow up cooking and interested in food, or is it something you came to later in life as you became an adult?

I am not a chef, never went to culinary school. I am Jamaican though, and anybody that knows anything about the Jamaican culture, we all love and know how to cook. So I watched my mother and my grandmother cook, and I really just got a knack for it. I love to feed my friends and family, and I love to create things for them. My mother was a vegetarian growing up, and still is, so I would eat all the things that she ate. I literally just adopted all of that and really embodied the vegan and vegetarian lifestyle, and I infused it into my business, which we all know now as Slutty Vegan.

Slutty Vegan's culinary influences

Beyond the food of your Jamaican heritage, are there any other types of cuisines that influence your cooking?

I love Indian food. I love Indian. I love Cuban. I love African food. Obviously, I sell burgers, fries, and pie, so we don't sell that kind of cuisine in the restaurants, but it is my hope that one day I will be able to open up different concepts, surrounded by the things that I like to eat. I love exotic food. I love to travel, and when I travel, I like to try new options, especially new vegan options. People feel like vegan food doesn't taste good because it lacks flavor or [it's] not creative enough, but I like to make those things creative. And if I can introduce those new items to people who like those type of cuisines, then I know for a fact that I could be able to convert them to trying a vegan and plant-based lifestyle.

Who are some of the people working in the food industry today who you consider your influences and inspirations?

It's more restaurateurs than chefs. I love Slim and Husky's. I don't know if you ever heard of them. It's a new emerging brand, a pizza concept, and they sell really awesome vegan options. There's a place in Atlanta called Plant-Based Pizzeria that's amazing. Dinky, which I created with another local entrepreneur. His [restaurant's] name is Big Dave's Cheesesteaks, and he created me a vegan Philly cheese steak. Justin Sutherland, he's amazing. There's so many, and I'm excited that people in the food space are finally getting the recognition that they deserve, because once upon a time, you wouldn't care about a chef and what they're doing, but now, we've made it cool to be a chef and to be a restaurateur and entrepreneur. I'm excited to see that lane really open up for all of us.

The ascendance of African American chefs

Black chefs in America are finally getting some long overdue attention. What do you think has brought on this shift in the past couple of years, and where do you think the black culinary community is headed?

Black people have always known how to cook. There were always amazing black chefs. I think in the wake of the economic downturn and what happened with George Floyd, rest in peace to him, there were so many big corporations coming in solidarity with organizations and small businesses, and I think that finally black owned businesses, black chefs, chefs of color, minority owned businesses, are now finally getting the opportunity that we've been waiting for, for a long time, to just get the exposure that we've always been looking for.

So I think that that plays a lot in it. And this is not something new. We've always been doing this. Historically for centuries, we've always been culinary chefs who can cook and create cuisine to bring people together. Now the world is just noticing it. And my advice to people of color who are chefs, take this by the balls and really run with it and do not stop because now is your moment to really expose yourself, your creative ability, to the world.

Pinky Cole's advice for those interested in going vegan

What advice do you have for people who want to try to make a shift toward a vegan diet, and what are misconceptions people have about veganism?

So for the people who want to go vegan, it's really very simple. It's all about your mindset. Just like you wake up in the morning, you brush your teeth and take a shower. Or I hope you take a shower.... 

But people who wake up in the morning and make a conscious decision to do the things that they want to do, get the things that they want to do done? That's just like veganism. If you want to stop putting a dead animal in your body, you are going to make up your mind and do that. So it literally is all about mindset. So many people are like: "I got to plan, and I got to do this and that to be vegan." No you don't. And nobody is telling you to go cold turkey. So I never push my agenda, the vegan agenda, like "If you don't go vegan, if you don't go plant-based, you're going to die, you're not going to be healthy." I'm not doing that.

Instead, all you got to do is just switch out some options. If you eat fried chicken for lunch, maybe have some vegan chicken for lunch. And just choosing to make the right choices in your lifestyle, it starts with your mindset. There's so many misconceptions when you think about veganism, that you'll lose a ton of weight if you're vegan, that you can't hang with a certain kind of people, that you can't be around a certain kind of people. No, it's all politics. Whether you go vegan for the animals, whether you go vegan because you just want to live healthier, or you just simply want to make a lifestyle switch, the choice is yours. But if you make that choice, I promise you, it's not hard. It literally is all about your mindset and how do you choose to live that life.

The foods Pinky Cole loves the most and her recommendations for new vegans

What are a couple of your specific must have foods, the foods you always have on hand at home?

I love kale and mushrooms. I eat that every day now. I love green juice. I love Impossible Burgers, Beyond Burgers. I love vegan macaroni and cheese. I love all the stuff that you love. I love all the things that the average meat eater likes. I just eat it vegan. So I'm a foodie, and I'll be the first to tell you I'm probably one of the thickest vegans you're going to meet, but I love to eat food. So I can recreate the food that everybody in the world loves and make it vegan and make it taste exactly the same. And you don't feel like you're missing anything.

What is some advice you have for people new to prepping and cooking vegan foods at home?

Absolutely. So if you truly want to go vegan and you need a tangible game plan, the first piece of it is get rid of pork. Stop pork first. Then I want you to eliminate beef. Then after beef, I want you to go to chicken and turkey. Then after chicken and turkey, then I want you to go to fish. And then after you eliminate fish, then stop eating cheese. Cheese is probably one of the hardest things to lay off of when you're going vegan, because we all love cheese. But get rid of the cheese and the dairy and the milk. And once you realize you [can] take those things out of your diet, your palate begins to change, and you'll start craving a lot of different foods, healthier foods, foods that your palate is not really accustomed to. And that is one of the first steps.

If you want to do meal prep, all you got to do is cut up your vegetables. Do what you would normally do when you're making "regular" food. A lot of what people eat anyway, if you look at sides, most sides are vegan. Eliminate the milk out of the sides and use almond milk. I love almond milk. I love cashew milk. There's so many alternatives now, especially because so many people are going vegan. You can literally go to the grocery store and replace all of the dairy products in your refrigerator for the vegan products. And it's easy. Literally, your pantry and your refrigerator can be an oasis. All you got to do is go to a grocery store and just start shopping.

New motherhood

How has being a new mom changed your work, your plans, your life?

Being a new mom is so amazing yet scary and hard and all of the other things that every new mom says. I'm not sitting here and like: "Oh, yeah. It's blissful. It's just so easy." Because it's not easy. And I'm sure [readers] know that as well. I have an almost five-month-old, [and] she is a lot of work. The good thing about it is I have a lot of help, but ... it's definitely hard, but it gives me the continuous motivation to keep going. Because now I know that I'm not just living for me. This legacy that I'm creating, I'm creating for my baby, and my other babies, if I have any more babies. 

It's beautiful to see that I have a little mini me growing up. And I always laugh, because I'm like, "She don't even know who her mother is." But I can't wait until she realizes who her mother is, because I am the mom-preneur if you've ever seen one. I'm being mommy, being entrepreneur, being CEO, being all of these things. And I'm now finding a healthy balance and doing all those things. And it's a rollercoaster ride, but it's a beautiful rollercoaster ride.

Pinky Cole talks charity and community

Giving back to various communities is obviously very important to you. What are your future charitable plans? What are some things you're involved in right now that you want to talk about some?

In 2019, I started the Pinky Cole Foundation, and it was really a way to bridge the generational wealth gap and to formalize the fact that I love helping people. So, so far, I've done so much. When Rayshard Brooks was murdered in a Wendy's parking lot, I partnered with Clark Atlanta University to provide full scholarships for the children, life insurance, and a brand new car for the family. I partnered with the Steve Harvey and Marjorie Harvey Foundation to provide lights to families in Atlanta who needed them. I've donated fruits and vegetables [and coats] to the community.

I partnered with Impossible Foods to get people excited about the past election that we just had. We've given scholarships and paid the balances of 30 Clark Atlanta University students. And so much that we've done, but what we're doing right now, myself and Derek Hays, who owns a local business in Atlanta, we are getting every single black man life insurance, that they don't have to pay for. So we're paying for the policies. They just pick the beneficiary, and they get to hold onto their policies, but we're encouraging people to get life insurance. And the reason why I do what I do when it comes to the community is because I'm successful because the community made me successful. 

So wherever I put Slutty Vegan, I make sure that I create that ecosystem for people to want to grow, to want to thrive, whether they're entrepreneurs, business owners, or people who just want to be more financially stable. And that piece feels good. The money is great, selling burgers, pies, and fries, but what feels even better is to know that I can make an impact in the community using my platform and my resources.

Her favorite dish and least favorite green

What is one dish you could eat multiple times a week forever and just not get tired of?

Oh, chickpea masala, it's an Indian dish. I can eat that every day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, snack. I love Indian food, and I love chickpea masala. It's just so good. They have a vegan chickpea masala at a local restaurant that I go to. And I love beans. I love peas. I'm just a bean kind of girl. So if I had to eat that all day, every day, I'd be a happy camper. I could eat masala pretty much every day.

What is one food you just hate, you think it's overrated, you just as soon, never eat it again?

Lettuce. And you know what? It [wasn't] up until recently that I stopped eating lettuce. So I have a food aversion to lettuce now. Ever since I had the baby, I don't know, something happened with my taste buds, but lettuce just taste like chemicals to me. So I hate it. I hope [that changes] because I cannot stand it. Don't put lettuce on my sandwich. Don't put lettuce in my plate. I don't want lettuce. I'll eat kale all day, but lettuce, just something about it. I just don't like it.

Check out Slutty Vegan's site and follow Pinky Cole on social media to see what's next for this restaurateur, mom, businesswoman, and committed vegan.