Atlanta’s Rising Plant-Based Movement
According to a 2020 WalletHub examination, Atlanta, Georgia comes in at #15 in the list of the most vegetarian and vegan-friendly cities out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. These cities were compared on sixteen different veg-friendly indicators, and Atlanta’s highest scores were in “Diversity, Accessibility, and Quality”. This probably comes as no surprise to Atlanta vegans and non-vegans alike — with delicious vegan restaurants and pop-ups sprouting up all around the city, the plant-based movement has evidently reached the heart of Atlanta.
A 2019 Gallup poll shows that a quarter of U.S. Americans are cutting back on meat, and the number of self-identifying vegans and vegetarians is growing. The major reasons for these dietary shifts are concerns for health, the environment, and animal welfare. According to the poll, people of color are leading this shift towards plant-rich cuisine.
The city of Atlanta is on the cusp of an overwhelming plant-based movement. The COVID-19 pandemic opened up unique business avenues for local vegan cooks and bakers. The animal rights activism in the city is picking up as well. Who are the people behind this multifaceted cultural shift, and how is this shift impacting the people of Atlanta?
Leah, the face behind Flour and Time Bakery, was in a tough spot at the beginning of the pandemic. Leah has a long-held passion for performance along with a back-burning dream to open her own bakery. At the crux of the pandemic, Leah was dropped from her spot at a bakery and the world of performance went into hibernation. “Alright, we’ve gotta do something!”: Leah said she was left with no choice but to modify her back-burner bakery concept, get a cottage kitchen license, and start delivering her own baked goods to locals. Leah started the plant-based bakery Flour and Time out of her home in April, providing nostalgic, classic treats to the Atlanta area. Leah perfected plant-based recipes for croissants, fluffy pain au chocolat, intricate loaves of sourdough, cinnamon rolls, and more with Flour and Time.
Christopher “Soul” Eubanks has been an animal rights activist and vegan content-creator for three years, organizing grassroots events, protests, and more to advocate for a vegan lifestyle. Last year, Eubanks co-organized the first ever Atlanta Animal Rights March, which brought in about 300 people. Soul described this as a defining moment for vegan activism in Atlanta, largely since this event was a first welcome to animal activism for many attendees. Eubanks now organizes vigils where activists gather to bear witness to animals headed to slaughter. Lately, Eubanks has been participating in protests targeted towards everything from fur trade to animal testing.
Angelica and Katy started Vegan Loca out of their apartment this August after months of research and daydreams. They moved to Atlanta with hopes of opening a restaurant that makes vegan Latin food accessible and delicious — and they did just that. Vegan Loca serves up dishes from a blend of Central American, Caribbean, and southern influences. With a shifting menu built on local foods and delicious homemade seitan, Angelica and Katy are cooking up some seriously tasty plant-based meals.
In December of 2019, Aaron Gossett-Posey started building a vegan fast-food business with some partners, largely in the form of a pop-up spot. From various kitchen spaces in East Village, they started crafting jaw-dropping meals like their vegan Philly sandwich, and thus, Villy’s was born. Max, a co-owner at Villy’s, said, “When the pandemic hit, we started cooking out of his apartment. Once business was picking up, we moved into the kitchen space that we are in now, and we’re doing everything solely through Instagram.” Villy’s has already seen considerable success with their niche, classic vegan eats including hits like their Korean Fried Chick’n Sandwich ($12) or their Buffalo Chick’n Sandwich ($10). Max mentioned their ambitions as a vegan fast-food joint: “Many vegan restaurants are more tailored to a sit-down, finer-dining situation — it’s a whole process. We want to be an edgier, sloppy vegan fast-food spot.” They plan to operate Villy’s at a drive-thru location in the future, with hopes to introduce more people to their familiar alternative to traditional fast-food.
The plant-based demographic in Atlanta is a growing community of supportive people. Eubanks mentioned some recent developments in vegan activism in Atlanta, with more and more activists feeling “emboldened” to speak up for animals and stand up to systems that exploit animals. Additionally, plant-rich eaters are eager to support these businesses that are bubbling up.
Max from Villy’s said, “We honestly didn’t even know what the support was going to be like.” Even during a pandemic, Villy’s was able to find a market for their vegan eats: “Once we got moved into the West end, a lot of people were finding out about us. There are a lot of vegans in the West end in general. If we ever have a restaurant, we would want one here.” Katy and Angelica with Vegan Loca even claimed, “The support in Atlanta is unmatched… Atlanta was definitely a great place to start considering the dense population and growing vegan community.” Leah from Flour and Time mentioned that the Atlanta Vegan Facebook page was particularly welcoming and supportive to her business. Soul Eubanks noted, “There are a lot of Black-owned vegan restaurants… things have exploded in the last couple of years.”
The people behind this movement are doing so much good for the community and world at large by changing the way Atlantans look at a meal. In turn, these individuals are walking away with renewed perspectives towards their work and communities.
Max from Villy’s described, “Now seeing that there’s a huge community of people, vegan or not, that are being put onto our food, it’s amazing to be able to offer these people a similar experience as an alternative.”
Katy and Angelica at Vegan Loca say that their favorite part of this work is “getting to be a part of such a wonderful vegan movement and spreading our culture through full stomachs.” As they chug along with their business, they look forward to the endless possibilities of their work: helping more people transition to veganism, forming generational wealth for their families, saving animals, and “squash[ing] the narrative of being less latinx because you’re vegan”.
While “the biggest positive is the people” for Leah at her bakery, she also mentioned a feeling of empowerment that comes with putting her dollar towards vegan companies and products as she builds her own. Leah explained, “I feel like in the world today we’re just shuffled down these different paths. Big corporations have made their product so much a part of our culture that it feels like we don’t have a choice.” Leah described how she now feels much better for aligning her actions with her beliefs with the decision to live vegan. Even more empowerment comes from her bakery: “When I get to put my dollar consciously to something that I align with ethically, that’s my vote, and that’s my power.”
Soul told me that his experiences in vegan activism have helped him to discover his capabilities. Eubanks explained, “When I first started doing activism, I was more introverted than I am now… I was definitely in a shell. Over the course of the years, I became a lot more comfortable with speaking out and advocating, and now I’m seeing the same thing happen to other activists.” Eubanks said that the most recent vigil in Athens was some particularly powerful activism from the local activists.
This plant-based buzz in Atlanta is a cross-cutting movement. There is a significant intersection between Atlanta’s communities of color and the plant-based movement here. Black-owned restaurants in Atlanta have become a staple in its food culture. Eubanks flags that this intersection may partially be the result of education or awareness. Eubanks sees that the mechanisms of various systems of oppression are becoming common knowledge. Soul said, “We’re starting to become aware of how negative these foods and these systems are. It [vegan diet] is something we agree with dietary-wise and ethically.” Nonetheless, people of color throughout Atlanta are bringing invaluable innovation and creativity to the vegan food game.
The various landmarks of the rising plant-based movement in Atlanta give insight to the values of many Atlantans: generosity, peace, hard work, and ingenuity. Leah described, “With how excited this community gets to see new companies come up, I feel like this is a community that really wants to help each other grow and thrive. I think Atlanta is a place on the map that vegans will want to come visit because of our strong plant-based community.” As the movement continues to grow, both vegans and non-vegans can look forward to much more original Atlanta vegan food for years to come.