By: Rashad Phillips
Monique Koch, who is better known as the “Brown Vegan”, is on a mission to educate the community about the benefits of becoming vegan by providing all the tools necessary to live the vegan lifestyle. After reading two books entitled Skinny Bitch and Sister Vegan, Monique’s view on food totally changed. In 2010, Monique and her family began the vegan journey. Since then, Monique has turned her passion for healthy living into a business. In 2011, Monique branded herself as the Brown Vegan, created a website, a Facebook fan page, podcasts, and YouTube videos. The Brown Vegan is a one-stop location for all things vegan. In light of health issues facing our community, such as high blood pressure, heart attacks, obesity, and diabetes, I reached out to Monique to learn more about the vegan lifestyle. Below is my in depth interview with The Brown Vegan.
What is a vegan?
A “vegan” is a person who doesn’t consume any animal or animal byproducts. So, often times, people think that I can’t eat chicken, but I can eat fish. Vegans don’t eat chicken, fish, beef, or their byproducts. Being a vegan isn’t just limited to eating food, it’s a lifestyle. Vegans are concerned about what we put in and on our bodies.
When people find out being vegan means you can’t eat chicken, fish, and steak, sometimes they think vegans have limited food choices. In actuality, most Americans grew up eating the same seven fruits and vegetables, which was probably kind of boring when you were a kid. Twenty or thirty years later, those same seven fruits and vegetable are probably getting old. Since vegans don’t eat animals, we are fruit and vegetable explorers who go way beyond those basic fruit and vegetable options that the average American eats.
When did you go natural? Was there a connection between going natural and becoming a vegan?
In 2008, after learning about the harsh chemicals in relaxers, I decided that I didn’t want to relax my hair anymore. Then, shortly afterwards I had an “ah-ha” moment. I was so concerned about what products I put on my hair, but I wasn’t concerned about what I put in my body. After realizing that my decision to only protect my hair but not the rest of my body didn’t make sense, I started researching to find out what I was putting into my body. Initially, I was just concerned with eating healthier. I didn’t plan on becoming a vegan, but becoming one was a result of my natural hair journey.
How can families prepare vegan holiday meals?
It’s a struggle for me during the holiday season because I reflect on my childhood memories (which include my favorite meals). The holidays are a time when we get together with family and friends and eat. Usually, it a series of holiday events that involve celebrations with food. Now, it’s a lot easier to enjoy the holidays as a vegan. We have YouTube videos, cookbooks, and social media to exchange holiday recipes. Because we are in an information age, vegans are sharing ways to make holiday foods that we expect, such as collard greens, stuffing, black eye peas, and macaroni and cheese. Vegans can still eat Soul Food; it’s just a healthier version that won’t make us feel as sluggish after dinner. I invite your readers to check out my Brown Vegan Facebook fan page and my Brown Vegan YouTube page, or visit my website at brownvegan.com for holiday meal ideas.
Can a person become vegan and shop at a traditional grocery store?
In simple terms, a vegan is a person who eats a lot of fruits and vegetables. As long as the grocery store has a produce department and sells Tofu, then you can shop at that grocery store. Vegans aren’t required to shop at Whole Foods, Earthfare, or Trader Joe’s. I don’t want people to feel like living a healthy lifestyle is not affordable. Some vegans, who I think are kind of elitist, say that all your food has to be organic but what if you can’t afford organic? If you can’t afford organic food, that shouldn’t prevent you from living a healthier lifestyle. At a traditional grocery store, you can purchase potatoes, rice, beans, tomatoes, pasta & marinara sauce (for spaghetti). So, the answer to your question is “yes”, you can be vegan without shopping at a specialty store. If your readers want to try vegan hotdogs, hamburgers, and chicken, then they will probably have to visit a specialty store to purchase those items.
Are your children vegans? If so, how do you pack their lunch?
My children are part-time vegans. I provide them with vegan meals at home, but when they go out they eat meat (especially when they visit my parents or my in-laws). I’m exposing my children to the vegan lifestyle and 90 percent of their diet is vegan. I’m cool with my children being exposed to other food options. When I started this journey, my children were in a traditional school, but now my children are homeschooled. So, my children eat vegan meals for lunch. For parents who have children in a traditional school and want to pack vegan lunches for their children, I recommend you make their lunch look similar to their classmate’s lunch, because children want to fit in. Also, sometimes children trade their lunch, and you don’t want your child to be the one that no one wants to trade with. I suggest parents consider providing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, soups, wraps, sandwiches with vegan lunchmeat, fruit, hummus, and carrots. Please remember that your children are still kids and want snacks like the other kids. So, pack some junk food with their lunch, like Oreo cookies (which are vegan).
How has becoming a vegan changed you?
It’s definitely made me more conscious of my surroundings, where I am in the world, and the effect that my behaviors have on the world. Before becoming a vegan, I didn’t think about how my lifestyle affects everyone else on the planet. My decision to become a vegan wasn’t for health reasons, but for compassion reasons. After doing my research to find a healthier and more balanced lifestyle, I came to the conclusion that eating animals was unnecessary, the process and practice of eating animals is cruel, and I wanted to protest factory farming. It’s not just about Monique. It’s not just about my family. It’s about everyone on the planet.
After I became a vegan, I became a minimalist and began to declutter. So, I only have things in my life that make sense to possess. Everything that I have in my home has a purpose. I’m mindful of my place in the world and the effect that I can have on the world. It’s all been a domino effect from my decision to go natural.