As part of our preparation for the 30 days of vegan series, we are trying to learn as much as we can about a vegan diet in order to ensure a successful month. Today, we are sharing an interview with Benita Gibbs of “At Meme’s Table.” Benita and her husband, Tony, were the first people that Baker’s Man and I met when we attended The Everything Food Conference last year (#EFC2017). They were volunteers at the event, and we immediately hit it off. When I realized that I needed to talk to someone who could give me advice about how to keep the carnivores in our house happy during my 30 days of vegan challenge, I reached out to Benita. She was a logical choice because her blog, “At Meme’s Table,” is loaded with delectable vegan recipes. The information that she provided was very helpful, and the recipes that she directed me to look amazing. I’m sharing this interview so that my visitors can become better acquainted with Benita, and learn more about veganism from someone who has the experience that I lack. Even if you’re not vegan, you definitely need to check out her blog for some amazing, and delicious, recipes. Even a carnivore can use another delicious recipe for those Meatless Mondays, right?
Benita, can you tell our readers about yourself and your blog?
I’m Benita Gibbs, a wife and mother of “a certain age.” I’m a former Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Advocate for Mentally Disabled Adults, and Attorney. I became a Vegan and, subsequently, a Vegan Chef after working with Nourish, LLC, Charlotte, North Carolina’s first Vegan food delivery service. I’ve been blogging since June, 2016, and my blog is a labor of love and my baby. It was birthed as a result of some major changes and challenges in my life. Our family went through several years of loss…we refer to them as our “Job Years.” In short, during this time of turmoil, I didn’t take very good care of myself, underwent a major depression and gained a lot of weight. When the fog that enshrouded my life finally lifted, I realized that life was short and very precious. I want the best for my family and, for me, part of that is making sure that any food that I make for them is the best that it can possibly be. Food must be both delicious, nutritious, and visually appealing to appear on my family table or on the pages of At Meme’s Table.
What was your inspiration for beginning your blog “At Meme’s Table”?
My love of cooking and love of family were passed to me from my Mom, affectionately known as “Meme”. My inspiration for beginning my blog was my desire to show the world that Vegan food can be anything but boring! I hope that “At Meme’s Table” can adequately reflect this my love of family and beautiful food. Ultimately, my goal is for “At Meme’s Table” to evolve into a vehicle which provides living wage jobs to formerly incarcerated women and women on prison work release. “At Meme’s Table” is moving towards this goal by launching a new line of Vegan desserts available for local sale. At some point, we will hopefully have our line of Vegan desserts available via mail order.
Is blogging your full-time job?
Yes, it’s full time with both the “At Meme’s Table” blog and the retail component of “At Meme’s Table.”
Was your blog focus always Vegan?
The focus of “At Meme’s Table” has always been Vegan. But, full-disclosure, the very first post, “Meme’s Pound Cake” actually was not a Vegan recipe. Because I was inspired by my Mom (aka Meme), I wanted to pay homage to the first dish that I ever learned to cook from her. To this day, I can’t eat a slice of pound cake without thinking about my Mom or comparing it to her pound cake.
What would you describe as your specific blogging niche?
I would describe my specific niche as home-style, Southern-comfort, Vegan food. (Is that a thing?) Although, the retail portion of “At Meme’s Table” is Vegan desserts…decadent, delicious and unapologetically vegan!
I love the idea of decadent, and delicious desserts, that just happen to be vegan. How would you describe your blogging style?
My blogging style is a bit “loosey-goosey” and conversational. I want visitors to blog to feel like they are sitting down at my kitchen table for a bite to eat and a conversation with a friend. Pull up a chair!
I get that sense of visiting with a friend when I read your posts.
How often do you publish new recipes?
My goal is to publish at least one new recipe per week. However, I haven’t published any new content lately because I’ve been working on the launch of the retail component of At Meme’s Table. We’ll be back on schedule soon. We’ve got some great new content that’s coming down the pipe!
What prompted your choice to become a Vegan?
I became a Vegan because of my desire to live a healthier and more compassionate lifestyle. Though a Vegan diet is not by definition healthier (think a diet of potato chips and Pepsi), if done correctly, it provides great benefits for the body. By eating primarily a whole-food, plant-based diet, I feel better and can feel good about what I’m putting into my body. Both my husband and I can see measurable differences in health since switching to a Vegan diet.
What benefits have you found since switching to Vegan Recipes?
I feel better overall…more energy, sleeping better, digestive health and more focused. My husband, who is diabetic, has seen his numbers fall to within the normal range for the first time in years.
You mentioned your husband. I realize it’s a stereotype, but I always think of men as “meat and potatoes” sort of people. How did your husband react to your switch to Vegan? Has he been a good sport, or does he miss his steak dinners?
My husband was raised as a “meat and potatoes” man…and those meat and potatoes had to be fried, thank you very much. But, we made a deal, that if he could just give me one year of a totally Vegan diet, then I believed that we could see a difference in his health. And, guess what? We have! There was such a drastic change that his doctor demanded to know what he was doing…because it was working. His doctor has cut his medication in half. Because my style of Vegan cooking focuses on highly flavorful, visually appealing comfort food, my husband is fully on board. Not only does he love our food, he is my biggest fan. In fact, he is my business partner in the retail component and handles marketing for the company. Oh, and those steak dinners, he doesn’t miss them because he has steak dinners.
What has been the biggest challenge with your switch to vegan recipes?
The biggest challenge is probably in social situations. I routinely check restaurant menus for vegan options or call ahead to see if the chef is willing to make me a vegan option. I sometimes eat before going out or, if my host is amenable, I take my food with me to the social event.
What, if anything, do you miss the most since beginning a Vegan diet?
I can’t say that I really miss anything.
That you don’t miss anything from your previous diet is probably a testament to your culinary skills.
What do you find as the most frustrating aspect of vegan blogging?
Though not specific to vegan blogging, I must say that I used to be very frustrated by the “numbers” aspect of blogging in general. It’s so easy to get on the “numbers” bandwagon so that you can attract the attention of sponsors…and therefore income. I’ve come to realize that I can’t write or publish my blog with this in mind. My blog is about sharing and encouraging others to be open to healthier, whole-food, plant-based eating. If they decide to go full-fledged Vegan, then all the better. When I stopped focusing on finding sponsors, it became easier for me to share this message.
Since becoming Vegan, how do you handle pot lucks, family get together, church picnics, etc? Do you take extra food with you, or…?
As I mentioned before, the biggest challenge with a vegan diet is probably in social situations. I sometimes eat before going out, or, if my host is amenable, I take my food with me to the social event. And, when we take our own food, someone inevitably wants to try it. We’ll gladly share and I’ve never had anyone who tried our food not like it.
Not every recipe that we attempt is a success. I once tried to make a Thai recipe with a peanut sauce that was so bad my youngest son burst into tears when he tasted it. We ordered a pizza for dinner that night. Even the dog refused to eat that Thai dish, and she would eat anything. What has been your biggest recipe failure?
Oh, I’ve had some failures. I made a “Breaks the Rules Chocolate Mousse” the other night that I absolutely hated. I didn’t have any Kahlua for the recipe so I substituted Rum. Talk about nasty tasting! This recipe totally bombed. Even the chocolate didn’t help it.
What has been your biggest recipe success?
Of my previously published recipes, the Korean Barbeque Meatballs. But, the mushroom steaks, mentioned above is one of the most requested by my family for special occasions. (Since Lion’s Mane Mushrooms tend to be a bit pricey, this recipe is reserved for special events and dinners.)
Beginning April 1, 2018, I am planning on posting a Vegan recipe very day for 30 days. What are some tips you can give me about must have ingredients I should invest in beforehand?
Spices, herbs, tamari, miso, raw cashews (for cream sauces), and a willingness to try new things. With these ingredients on hand, you can transform fresh vegetables, a block of tofu, and dried beans into a gourmet delight.
Who are some of your favorite bloggers, and why are they your favorites?
I have lots of favorite bloggers and Youtubers. Some of these include:
- Fran Costigan for her delicious and flawlessly researched dessert recipes.
- Chefs Chad and Derek Sarno–These guys are wicked bad! Beautiful recipes, and I got my love of mushrooms from following these guys.
- Thug Kitchen–Great recipes. And, it makes me laugh! (Patti Cake’s Warning: This site has some amazing recipes, but if you’re offended by obscenities, be forewarned there are several F-bombs on this site.)
- Erin at Olives for Dinner This is just a beautiful blog! Not always food for my taste, but sometimes, I can find just the right thing here, or, at least, an idea for something to cook.
- Gaz Oakley I became a fan of his Youtube channel. This kid can seriously cook!
What are your favorite vegan recipes?
From my blog:
- Creamy Southern Style Chickpea Salad
- Roasted Heirloom Tomatoes over Herbed Grits Toast with Pesto Drizzle (Vegan)
- The Bombdiggity Vegan Bacon
From other sources:
- Buffalo Cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts from Wicked Healthy
- Vegan Big Orange Bundt Cake from Fran Costigan
- Gaz’s Fish and Chips (Vegan) from Avant-Garde Vegan
My blog is about frugal recipes. I find that meat is the most expensive part of my grocery budget, but I have friends who complain that fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive for them to afford. Do you find that you are spending more, or less, money since the switch to vegan recipes?
When I buy only organic, I tend to spend more. However, by buying local and in season, I can reduce my grocery budget substantially. Also, chains (like Walmart and Aldi’s) are offering more organic produce, the price is much more affordable. I have a Squarefoot and container garden for herbs and some veggies. This is a great way to have some primo veggies with little cost.
What would you say to someone who was considering switching to a vegan diet?
Keep an open mind. Be willing to experiment. Start with foods that you like, modify them, and branch out. You’d be surprised by how much food is already “accidentally vegan.”
Any other tips?
Have fun with your food! Veganism is not about depriving yourself. There’s a whole world of fruits and veggies out there! Enjoy!