Doing It My Way

Talking Veganism and Self-Care With Tabitha Brown

America’s favorite auntie and social media influencer is shining her light in an otherwise bleak world

Tabitha Brown. Photos: Luc-Richard

You wouldn’t necessarily know it by scrolling social media, but African Americans make up the largest demographic of vegans in the United States, at 8% of all African American adults, according to a Pew Research Center study.

And while plant-based diets aren’t necessarily new to Black communities, their recent surge in social media popularity could be do in large part to actress and TikTok influencer Tabitha Brown, whose viral vegan videos have made her a household name among both meat-free fans and the general population. And it all started with a sandwich.

In 2017, while working at Macy’s and driving for Uber to make ends meet as an actress, Tabitha Brown filmed a video of her eating the now famous TTLA sandwich from Whole Foods. The sandwich, known for its tempeh bacon, tomato, lettuce, and avocado, has since taken on new life. So has Brown.

The viral video, which has 2.9 million views to date and prompted the #TTLAChallenge, led to an ambassadorship with Whole Foods, and the rest, as they say, is social media history.

ZORA caught up with Brown to learn more about how going vegan has changed her life, why she wants to shine her light with the world, and what keeps her up at night.

ZORA: You admitted that you used to think “veganism is for White people.” What changed your mind?

Tabitha Brown: I never grew up being exposed to veganism, and when I became an adult and heard about it, no one looked like me. I never saw Black people talking about being vegan. But now that it’s my life, I realized I just hadn’t discovered the many people of color that live their life on a vegan diet.

And what advice do you have for Black women considering a meat-free lifestyle?

If Black women are considering a vegan lifestyle, I always say start with your “why,” and take it day by day. Don’t be hard on yourself.

How has being a vegan affected your physical and mental health?

Going vegan literally saved my life! I lived with chronic pain and chronic fatigue for one year and seven months. I had a resting headache every day for the entire year and a half. I suffered from anxiety and depression. Nothing the doctors prescribed made me better, and I thought I was going to die. I did a 30-day vegan challenge, and in the first 10 days, my headache disappeared. From that day on, I’ve gotten healthier within my mind, body, and soul.

You describe cooking as a form of self-care. What else is part of your self-care routine?

Self-care for me is meditation, prayer, and hiking. And when the world is open, I love spa days.

At a time when the world has found comfort and joy in you and your videos, what is bringing you comfort and joy?

It brings me comfort and joy knowing that I am being a light in a very dark time.

What have you learned about yourself since the start of this pandemic that’s surprised you?

I’ve learned that I have a gift of comforting millions every day with food, inspiration, and laughter.

You’re also very candid about your beliefs. What role has faith played in your career?

My faith is everything! God placed my dreams inside of me. The spirit constantly guides me and has done so for the past 22 years. My faith is my foundation, and He gets all the glory.

When did you feel like giving up in your early acting days? What kept you going?

There were times that I thought I had to give up, like having a baby at a young age or when I got sick. There were times when I really convinced myself that my dreams could never happen. But again, this dream lives inside of me. It wakes me up. It calls me, and the spirit guides me. With that combination, I can’t and won’t ever give up.

“I always want people to know that they can live their life their way, because it’s their business!”

These days you’re known for your viral vegan videos. How is being an influencer different from being an actress? How is it the same?

I never had a desire to be an influencer or do anything in the food space. Every day, it still blows me away. It’s different from acting because I didn’t choose it—it chose me. People found me through me just being me, as an “influencer.” As an actress, people don’t get to know Tab; they know the characters I play. I love them both and am thankful to be in both spaces because I get to be free and have fun while touching people in different ways.

“’Cause that’s your business” has become your signature catchphrase. How did it come about, and what does the phrase mean to you?

Because it’s my business” was my first catchphrase that caught on almost three years ago when I first started doing my live cooking shows on Facebook. It’s honestly how I live my life, especially when cooking. I always want people to know that they can live their life their way, because it’s their business!

Let’s talk about Donna, your ’fro. What is her origin story?

Donna was named on a Facebook Live a few years ago. I did the big chop in 2017, and once she started growing back, she started growing straight in the top. I said she reminded me of Don King, so I named her Donna literally at that moment while live on Facebook, and it stuck.

How has TikTok affected your family’s dynamic and relationship with one another?

I first went viral on Facebook two years ago and have been sharing myself with the world ever since then. So, thankfully, they were pretty used to it. However, this new level has all of us mind-blown together, but they are so excited to watch my dreams come true. They know when Mom wins, we all win!

How do you handle the pressure to constantly create and always be “on”?

My first rule is not to be “on,” so that way I don’t get exhausted with trying to be something I’m not. Just being me is my happy space, and it’s my freedom.

What do you like to do for fun or to relax when the camera’s not on

When I’m not shooting or creating, I love to just relax with my family, ride bikes, go to the park, or watch a good movie.

You’ve mentioned you film your affirmation videos at night because that’s when people are often struggling and can’t sleep. What keeps you up at night?

I’m up late at night for a few reasons: I’m a late owl. I work at night when my house is quiet, and it’s one of my favorite times to talk to God.

I imagine you have your pick of projects now. What’s next for you, and what would you love to do?

I’ve always wanted a scripted comedy that showcased me as America’s Mom, and I am now in development for that show. My family is also in development for a docuseries about our day-to-day life. We are thankful and excited about what God is doing in our life.

L’Oreal is a freelance writer and editor who’s dedicated to uplifting and inspiring Black women and girls through storytelling. Learn more at LTintheCity.com.

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