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Pinky Cole is democratizing the vegan food movement in the South with her Slutty Vegan restaurant empire. When most plant-based narratives exclude and overlook Black people, Cole is here to remind us that so much of how the African diaspora eats is rooted in a vegetable-forward approach.
As mainstream veganism is yet to be fully inclusive, "vegans of color have inadvertently developed their own language that they use to talk about their veganism," wrote Khushbu Shah in an article entitled The Vegan Race Wars: How the Mainstream Ignores Vegans of Color.
Growing up, Pinky Cole was exposed to veganism expressed through a culturally specific lens. Now, she's on a campaign to ensure that Black people from all socioeconomic backgrounds see themselves represented in the plant-based movement.
“I have been familiar with plant-based and just a more conscious level of eating from the time I came out of the womb. My mother is a Rastafarian,” said Cole in an interview. Veganism is a pillar of Rastafari, which calls it called Ital, derived from vital. Followers of the faith believe Ital living is the key to eternal life.
At its core, modern veganism is political and is rooted in justice and equality. So, it’s ironic that when you look at who is at the forefront of the vegan movement, there are few people of color. But Cole, and influencers like Tabitha Brown, are changing that.
I remember in 2019 when I had to go to court about my first location because people in the community didn’t want Slutty Vegan there. Today I bought the daycare in the same neighborhood I was once getting pushed out of. Now that’s how you buy the block.
On March 30 of this year, Cole finalized purchasing a daycare center in the same neighborhood as her first Slutty Vegan location. In an Instagram caption, Cole says, “I remember in 2019 when I had to go to court about my first location because people in the community didn’t want Slutty Vegan there. Today I bought the daycare in the same neighborhood I was once getting pushed out of. Now that’s how you buy the block.” In the inimitable words of Beyoncé, the “best revenge is your paper”, but Cole is also using her “paper” to effect change.
Through her eponymous Pinky Cole Foundation, she’s changing lives by putting her money where her mouth is. The organization "provides a roadmap for Black economic progress achieved by creatively leveraging economic opportunities, successful risk-taking, and innovation.”
Some of the accomplishments of the foundation include a $10,000 donation to the Department of Juvenile Justice to support its Fresh Start program, clearing student loan balances for 30 students at Clark Atlanta University (her alma mater), paying the rent of local businesses negatively impacted by the pandemic, supporting voter registration initiatives, and giving $600,000 in scholarships to all four of the children of Rayshard Brooks, the Black man who was senselessly killed in the parking lot of an Atlanta Wendy’s. That’s just the tip of the foundation’s iceberg.
While many of us are bemoaning having yet another Zoom meeting with shoddy connections, Cole has been having quite the year. Though it hasn’t been a piece of cake, she’s had successful social media campaigns with Mastercard and Facebook, an impressive collab with Shake Shack, welcomed a child in July, and had outstanding features in InStyle and Forbes magazines.
The Slutty Vegan food truck recently went to Richmond, Virginia, unannounced, and met overwhelming support. They sold out without marketing or advertising the pop-up. It was all word of mouth, such is the power and reach of the Slutty Vegan brand.
Plus, Slutty Vegan is one of the first recipients of funding from the Black Restaurant Accelerator Program, a partnership between PepsiCo Foundation and the National Urban League. Oh, and the restaurant grew its list of celebrity fans that now include Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, and Stacy Abrahams — 2021 is the year of Pinky Cole!
"I didn’t expect Slutty Vegan to be as wildly successful as it is. I was just really solving a problem," Cole said. The problems include access and the imbalance within the vegan world that benefits the privileged and freezes out the vulnerable. The US has a history of "discrimination that restrict food supplies in minority communities." With her approachability and passion, and without browbeating or airs, Cole shows Black communities how veganism can be a political tool and downright indulgent – even slutty, if you will. Through her restaurants, foundation, and various platforms, she is helping Black communities reimagine food.
Pinky Cole creates the kind of food that you want to eat over and over again. She, too, creates the type of food that makes you want to be a better global citizen. She’ll make vegans out of all of us.
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