Bianca Phillips, aka Crunk Master B, is a spunky Southern girl who knows how to cook! Her vegan cookbook Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South was just released this week and we’re absolutely thrilled for her! For a limited time you can order signed copies on her website, but once that special offer is over you’ll always be able to order them online or through your favorite bookstore.
Allison Rivers Samson: You write the popular blog, “Vegan Crunk” – how did you come up with that name?
Bianca Phillips: Since I live in Memphis, I wanted a blog title that was indicative of where I come from. Crunk is a style of Dirty South rap that originated in Memphis, and when I hear a good crunk beat, I can’t help but feel the love for my city. The word originated in the early 90s as a mixture of “crazy” and “drunk,” but since then, it’s come to mean having a good time or, in the past tense, that a good time has been had. For example: “Man, that party was crunk.” or “I’m ’bout to get crunk up in this club.” Interestingly, there was a parody song poking fun at hipsters released last year by the British group “The Grand Spectacular” that mentions “vegan crunk” totally not in reference to my blog (or at least, I don’t think it was).
ARS: Your first cookbook, Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South, has just been released. Congratulations! How did the book come about?
BP: About a year after I started my blog, I decided that I wanted to write a Southern vegan cookbook, so I started veganizing my family recipes (with help from my awesome mom and granny). I didn’t have any idea how I’d get it published, but I was confidant that when the time came to find a publisher, it would just kind of fall into place. And that’s exactly what happened! I formed a friendship with Rick Diamond from the Book Publishing Company at the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee (Rick has since left the BPC to move to Nashville), and he helped me contact the right people. They liked the idea, and we started the publishing process. It’s great working with a publishing company that’s located only three hours from my home. Cookin’ Crunk: Eatin’ Vegan in the Dirty South is filled with about 150 veganized versions of classic Southern food favorites, like Southern Fried Tofu Chicken, Seitan ‘n’ Dumplin’s, Whole Wheat Butter Soymilk Biscuits with Chocolate Gravy, and Coconut Icebox Cake.
ARS: How is writing a cookbook different from writing your blog? What can you share about your process as a cookbook author?
BP: Vegan Crunk (my blog) is more of a daily eats blog. I post pictures of something I’ve eaten every day, Monday through Thursday. Often, those pictures are of recipes from other people’s cookbooks because I love following recipes. Other times, I post pictures of vegan food I find at Memphis restaurants as part of my Bluff City Vegan Eats series. I rarely post recipes of my own creations since I’ve saved those for the cookbook, but I do occasionally post teaser pictures of dishes that will be in the cookbook. As for my process, I started with veganizing the foods I grew up eating, and then I filled out the cookbook with vegan versions of old recipes I found in spiral-bound church and charity cookbooks published in Memphis and my hometown of Jonesboro, Arkansas. My mom and granny also helped out by veganizing a few of their recipes. Without my granny’s help, the dessert chapter wouldn’t have happened.
ARS: You’re vegan in Paula Deen’s South! How do you fare in a land that celebrates animals as food so unabashedly?
BP: Being vegan in a major city in the South is easy! Memphis has one all-vegan restaurant (Imagine Vegan Cafe) and one all-vegan smoothie and juice bar (Cosmic Coconut). There are four restaurants here that offer vegan cheese on their pizzas and plenty of casual eateries and upscale restaurants with vegan options. However, being vegan in my Arkansas hometown of 66,000 isn’t quite as easy. There are restaurant options there, but sometimes you have to get creative. You know, you order a sandwich with no cheese and substitute avocado and no mayo and sub mustard. But even there, a vegan can survive. The major grocery store chain in Jonesboro even sells vegan cheese now! I think being vegan is getting easier, no matter where you live. But in some areas, cooking at home may be the best option.
ARS: How have your omnivorous friends and family enjoyed your vegan versions of Southern food? Are they supportive, mocking, or ???
BP: Interestingly, the majority of my friends are vegan or vegetarian. We have a strong vegetarian social group in Memphis called Food Awareness, so most of us met through the club. And other friends, like my best friend from high school (she has a blog … Vegan In Arkansas!), have gone vegan in recent years. My partner is an omnivore though, and I do have a few friends who eat meat. As for my family, my parents and grandparents are not vegan, but they love veganizing their dishes for me when I’m in town. My granny even cooks vegan sometimes when I’m not there. I think she likes the challenge of baking without eggs or dairy. My aunt and cousin went vegan for the New Year!
ARS: You’ve pretty much been veg your entire life. How did you transition from vegetarian to vegan? And how did it become a lifestyle for you?
BP: I went vegetarian at age 14 in 1994 after spending a week with a friend from India. While staying at her house, we had delicious vegetarian Indian food everyday, and that’s when I realized how easy it was to live without meat. My parents picked me up from her house at the end of the vacation, and I promptly informed them that I’d no longer be eating red meat or pork. I continued to eat poultry and fish for a few months but gave those up after Thanksgiving in 1994. Ten years later, I was involved in the founding of Memphis’ only animal rights group. I was doing monthly PETA protests, and one of our members was vegan. She convinced me that I could make the jump to veganism. And with all I was learning about the dairy and egg industries through my animal rights work, it seemed like the right thing to do. So on the day after Thanksgiving in 2004, I decided to give veganism a one-month trial run. After the month was over, I never wanted to look back. I’d discovered all kinds of new foods (nutritional yeast and tempeh and quinoa). I felt great physically and my conscience was clear knowing that I wasn’t harming animals. A couple years later, I had “VEGAN” tattooed on my wrist. There’s no going back now!
ARS: What easy meal ideas or tips would you make for new vegans starting to cook?
BP: One of my favorite easy meals when I first went vegan was fried tofu chicken. I’d dip slices of tofu in soymilk and then in nutritional yeast mixed with a little flour and salt. Then I’d fry it in oil until crispy on both sides. Also, you can never go wrong with a homemade marinara sauce and sautéed mushrooms served over whole wheat pasta.
ARS: Got a favorite AG product?
BP: The vegan artisan chocolates, of course!! Nothing beats a box of chocolates!
Thanks Bianca, I can’t wait to try some of your veganized Southern comfort food!
Tell us: What’s the one Southern dish you’d most like to see veganized?