How Charity Morgan’s “Unbelievably Vegan” Changed the Way I Look at Food

When Takera Gholson came across chef Charity Morgan, she immediately connected with her particular approach to plant-based eating.

Collage of Charity Morgan and her cookbook "Unbelievably Vegan"

Simply Recipes / Clarkson Potter / Emily Dorio

This story is a part of our Juneteenth collaboration with Eat the Culture, where we tapped writers and cooks to share “love letters” to their favorite Black cookbook authors. 

My theme for this year is “exploration,” and of course I had to start with food and health. Eating a salad is great, but creating a lifestyle is more than just one meal. High blood pressure is a condition that has run in my family for generations. In my attempt to rid my family of this constant condition, I came across  Charity Morgan's story and her new cookbook, “Unbelievably Vegan.” Like Morgan, I am examining the health benefits of plant-based eating by slowly incorporating more fresh vegetables into my diet. 

Though I often consult vegan recipes on my journey to incorporate more vegetables into my diet, I am aware that I am more of a flexitarian, someone who occasionally enjoys vegan and vegetarian meals while still indulging in animal-derived products. My fluctuating diet choices are what drew me to Morgan. I first saw Morgan in a documentary on Netflix called The Game Changers, where athletes along with nutrition experts explore various diets as they relate to performance and health. Morgan and her husband Derrick Morgan—a former NFL player—were interviewed and asked to share their journeys to a plant-based lifestyle. 

With her cookbook, Charity gives everyone the roadmap to follow her lead. As Venus Williams, who wrote the introduction to “Unbelievably Vegan,” wrote: “Like so many of us, her change did not happen overnight nor was it linear…Charity is taking a practical approach to a plant-based diet…with “Unbelievably Vegan” in our hands, we can dive in feeling supported and excited.” 

Why Charity Morgan’s Plegan Diet Inspires Me

Morgan coined the term “plegan,”’ joining the terms plant-based and vegan to alleviate the pressures some face with a vegan lifestyle. The definition of vegan can extend beyond food to the exclusion of animal-based clothing and products that exploit animals in any way. Plegan creates a space and provides the language for those “who have a non-animal based diet.” Morgan’s husband, along with a series of health issues, was her catalyst for exploring this lifestyle. 

Approaching a diet change, especially a diet you have enjoyed your entire life, can be challenging. But Morgan preaches that you should “make everything you love, just change the ingredients!” The theme of being able to still indulge in your favorite comfort foods while maintaining a plant-based lifestyle is clear throughout Morgan’s cookbook. I am a flavor girl and as my palate develops through adulthood I look forward to filling my plate with food that is satiating. Morgan’s book gives me layered recipes—they're spicy, salty, and creamy without excess. I don’t feel like I am missing meat and dairy when I can still have lots of flavor and texture without those ingredients.

Integrating more plant-based meals into my everyday diet has changed the way I look at food. Experimenting with replacements and alternatives in my cooking allows me to embrace greater creativity. And the recipes in “Unbelievably Vegan” exude comfort, from buttery biscuits to creamy soups, to gooey caramel desserts. With influences from her Puerto Rican and Creole background, she used familiar spices to recreate dishes from her childhood. In the book, she shares, “No dish warms my heart more than the gumbo made by my grandmother Leola Duplechan.” For her jambalaya, Morgan combines smoked tofu with her Creole-Cajun Seasoning to replicate the flavor of traditional jambalaya, often packed with chicken, shrimp, and sausage. 

Watching a table full of football players devour Morgan’s food is what did it for me, I never forgot that scene in the documentary. So when I learned that she published a cookbook I was excited about adding some of those mouthwatering meals to my rotation. I was especially excited about recipes like her French Onion Soup with Cheezy Crostini, Truffle Mac and Cheezy, and Salted Caramel Sauce. 

The History and Future of a Plant-Based Diet in the Black Community 

When Black people were brought to the Americas through slavery they carried with them their native foods, such as black-eyed peas, okra, and yams. These foods—grown by their own hands—nourished them as supplements to any food they were given from their slave owners. To this day, many Black people with ancestry in the Southern United States, such as my own, are no strangers to meals where meat isn’t the star. Collard greens and a slice of cornbread are always an option for breakfast, lunch, or dinner in my family. Since the abolition of slavery, meat has historically been seen as a luxury, because it’s more expensive than foods rooted in the earth. 

Black people are not a monolith and our food does not have to be either. “Unbelievably Vegan” rebels against the stereotype that vegan food does not equal tasty food. Having a history of high blood pressure or ‘sugar’—also known as diabetes—in the Black community, is not a foreign concept. More people are looking for alternatives to dairy due to digestive issues and turning to almond, oat, or soy-based products. In the same vein, looking to reverse the effects of processed food such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, many Black people are becoming more open to exploring a plant-based lifestyle.  

Charity dared to do something different, despite the opinion of others. And for all those with an open mind, she’s offering a road map to transition to a plant-based lifestyle.