By: Rashad Phillips
Jenné Claiborne is an Atlanta native, a vegan chef, health coach, and cooking instructor who was born with a passion for food. Her earliest childhood memories all revolve around food, family, and friends. When Jenné spent time with her Nana, she would play in the kitchen for hours. Nana would let Jenné whip up concoctions from whatever spices, flours, oils, and liquids in her kitchen. Even when Jenné wasn’t in the kitchen, she found ways to include cooking into her childhood games. She was known for her “world famous” mud pies which were made from the soil in her Nana’s yard and baked to perfection by the Hotlanta heat in Nana’s mailbox. None of Jenné’s childhood recipes were edible, but each experience served as an outlet for her to express her creativity.
Until Jenné’s college years, she was like most American children; she hated most vegetables and fruits and happily stuffed her face with Pops Tarts, Chewy Chips Ahoy, Kool-Aid, Chik-Fil-A, and carbonated beverages. Jenné thought she ate a healthy diet because she didn’t eat red meat or pork. Jenné was exposed to the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle but she said it just didn’t make sense to her back then. She didn’t know why she needed to give up eating some of her favorite foods. During her junior year in college, Jenné experienced a personal transformation that led her to create a business out of her passion for food. Below is my in-depth interview with the founder of Sweet Potato Soul.
Phillips: How did you turn your passion for food, cooking, and nutrition into this business?
Jenné: I turned my passion for food, cooking, and nutrition into a business because food changed my life. During my high school and college experience, I was interested in acting. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I saw similarities between being an entrepreneur and being an actress but I didn’t feel like I had enough power and control over my life as an actress. When I had the idea to start my own business, it was super invigorating to begin writing the script of my own life as an entrepreneur.
My first step as an entrepreneur was to become a private chef. I decided not to go to culinary school because it was too expensive. Instead of culinary school, I enrolled in a one year integrated nutrition program. While studying nutrition, I started talking to people about my passion for healthy foods, promoting my business with flyers, and filming a set of yoga videos. After I got my first client, everything started rolling.
Phillips: How did becoming a Vegan solve your acne and digestion problems?
Jenné: For as long as I can remember, I’ve had problems with digestion. During my childhood and teenage years, I constantly visited the doctor for stomach discomfort. Sometimes I missed classes because I felt horrible. I went to my family doctors and specialists for treatment without much long-term success. After I became a vegan, it was like magic; my digestion issues began to go away. My vegan journey helped me to connect the dots. My theory based on my life experience is that my skin issues were connected to my inability to properly digest the food that I was eating. Before becoming vegan, I would questions whether I should eat certain foods because I didn’t want my stomach to hurt later. Now, I don’t have that problem. I eat foods that give me energy and that are easy to digest.
Phillips: What is the connection between food and women’s menstrual cycle?
Jenné: You are what you eat because what you eat is released into your body. The foods that we eat affect our hormones and our hormones affect our cycle. During my senior year in college, I lost my period for two and a half years. My cycle didn’t return until I became a Vegan. I thought I was eating healthy but I wasn’t because I was consuming dairy products. Dairy is terrible for your body because most people can’t digest dairy. Also, dairy causes internal inflammation which leads to imbalances in your body that cause dysfunction in other parts of your body. After I cut diary out of my diet, I noticed huge changes in my digestive system and my menstrual cycle came back.
Dairy is the first food that a mother gives to her child and contains hormones that causes a baby to grow. Adults don’t need the same nutrients that babies need. Most of us are consuming cow’s milk which nature intended for a baby calf. Most Americans are over consuming cow’s milk intended to grow a baby calf into an adult cow. Dairy consumption by humans is actually linked with reproductive cancer [prostate and breast cancer].
Phillips: Do you think begin Vegan is a fad or a long-term lifestyle?
Jenné: For some people, it’s absolutely a fad. Especially when I hear people say, “I’m going Vegan for the summer and then I’ll go back to my normal diet.” If you are going vegan to lose weight for season, then that’s a fad. The fad dieters will probably keep coming back to try to “vegan diet” to lose weight. The people who I know that are committed to the Vegan lifestyle for moral and ethical reasons aren’t so interested in losing weight. Some people aren’t so interested in being a vegan when they realize that I don’t wear animal products. My whole outlook is based on compassion for life on our planet.
I want your readers to know that it’s possible to gain weight as a vegan. My most popular YouTube is a weight loss video. I’ve received feedback from fellow YouTubers who say “Oh my God I’m so glad I’ve found this video because I became vegan and I gained so much weight.” They gained weight because they were eating mostly vegan junk food. Vegans need to eat real foods and not processed foods. I worked in vegan restaurant. Our customers ordered all of the junk that was on our menu and didn’t feel guilty because the food was Vegan. Our customers didn’t feel guilty about eating animal based products but they might feel guilty about the additional weight that they put on.