Getting Excited About Vegan Food in the South

By Glauce Ferrari — March 25, 2013

Bianca Phillips proves that Memphis has more to offer than traditional BBQ with her new cookbook, Cookin’ Crunk

Bianca Phillips, a young vegan blogger and author, sounds like a southern American to anyone who reads her blog, Vegan Crunk. It is easy to see why, especially given her blog’s name! If you’re not familiar with the term, “crunk”, it is a style of Southern rap music slang for “getting hyped” or “getting excited”. “When I launched Vegan Crunk, I wanted it to reflect my Memphis pride and Southern roots, so I went with a very Memphis-centric blog title,” says Phillips.

This young woman, with red hair and a big smile, grew up in a mid-sized town in Arkansas called Jonesboro (about an hour north of Memphis, TN). Phillips has been vegetarian for 17 years and vegan for seven. “I went vegetarian in 1994 at age 14 after spending a week with a friend, who had recently moved to the States from India. Her family was vegetarian, and I ate meat-free the whole time I was there. I had wanted to be a vegetarian much earlier, around age eight, because I didn’t want to eat animals. But I didn’t know how to make that change then,” she explains.

In 2002 she moved to Memphis and loved it. The city also surprised her with its vegan options: “Although it doesn’t have the most vegan-friendly reputation on a global scale, it’s actually quite vegan-friendly. We have a great restaurant Imagine Vegan Cafe and an amazing raw smoothie and juice bar (with daily food specials) called Cosmic Coconut. And loads of places have vegan options,” says Phillips. She also seemed very excited about the fact that there are “four places with vegan cheese pizza on the menu!”In 2004,  celebrating the 10 year anniversary of  being vegetarian, Phillips went vegan “because it seemed like the right time to take the next step.” “I learned about the cruelty on dairy and egg factory farms, and just couldn’t bring myself to eat those things anymore.”

When asked about her childhood food memories, Phillips reflects “One of my earliest memories is cooking spaghetti with my daddy when my mom was too sick to cook. I think she had the flu or something, but he decided to be sweet and cook her dinner, and he enlisted my help. I was probably three, so I doubt I was much help.”

She might think that this early memory has nothing to do with her love for cooking, but childhood memories are strong and could have inspired her to have a passion for cooking,  eventually taking it to the next level and  start writing both her own blog, and a book, Cookin’ Crunk, which was recently released. Phillips blog was born in 2007 as she had been lurking on other similar websites for ages (namely Vegan Lunch Box and Get Sconed. “I was intimidated by the technology, so I thought starting my own blog would be too hard. And then one day, I got inspired and decided to give Blogger a try. It was much easier than I ever thought possible!”

Vegan Crunk features many pictures of dishes that Phillips cooks from other people’s cookbooks and includes many reviews too, mainly of restaurants and festivals she attends. The blog isn’t full of recipes as many other vegan blogs are, and after reading Cookin’ Crunk, we can see the reason. “I do develop recipes, but I am saving those for the next cookbook project. Publishers don’t often like it when you share every recipe in a proposed book.”

When asked about her favorite recipes  in her book–unlike many authors who can’t choose– Phillips immediately named hers. “My hands-down favorite is the Country Fried Tempeh Steak with Soy Milk Gravy. But other favorites include the Tofu Chicken “Wafflewich”, Deviled Tofu Bites (like vegan deviled eggs!), the Tofu Ham with Red-Eye Gravy and Biscuits, and the Old-Fashioned Coconut Pie. Oh, and I love my Fried Green Tomatoes, too!” She also has a clear opinion about her all-time favorite ingredient: tofu. “It’s so versatile, and I love it in every form — fried, marinated, baked, sautéed; even plain and raw.”

Can we expect any Memphis’ influence on her cooking in Cookin’ Crunk? Yes, we can! “As for the influence on my cooking, I use a LOT of BBQ sauce. Memphis is known as the BBQ capital, and we have a special vinegar-based sauce that’s very popular down here. I include my recipe for Memphis-style BBQ in Cookin’ Crunk, as well as lots of recipes that make use of it (BBQ Tempeh Pizza, BBQ Spaghetti, and BBQ Black-Eyed Pea Burgers).”

While promoting the new book, Phillips is already working on her new project, Vegan Through The Ages. The upcoming cookbook will feature “veganized” versions of trendy foods from every decade of the 20th century. “Think vegan cheese fondue from the 70s and Tempeh Wellington from the 1960s,” says the lovely Phillips. It seems as though here’s much more to look forward to from Phillips, as she continues to expand her repertoire—we can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

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