Bianca Phillips has been organizing vegan events in Memphis since 2004. Phillips says that, for her, it started as a moral issue rather than one of diet.
"I consider myself an ethical vegan, so vegan for the animals," she says. "[We] don't want to contribute to factory farming.
"When I went vegan in 2004, I wanted to meet other vegans. I put flyers around town, old-school flyers. Like, 'We're going to have an animal rights meeting!' and people came." At the time, the focus of the group was to spread animal rights information and not to focus on the health benefits of veganism.
- Bianca Phillips
- No meat, no problem — Crosstown Arts hosts vegan potluck meet-ups.
"We'd organize mostly PETA protests, and PETA would send us materials and we'd go out to KFC or somewhere. ... We did circus protests, vegan leafleting, dressed in full plant costumes that we made ourselves," she says with a laugh.
"[At the time] it was called Memphis Area Animal Rights Activists, and shortly after we started, I met a guy named Vaughan Dewar, and he was interested in starting a vegan meet-up group to be more focused on the food aspects of veganism and not quite as much the protest side of things," Phillips says.
"He joined our animal rights group, but on the side, he founded another group called Food Awareness, and he would put together these super-researched presentations and go to churches and other places to deliver these talks about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
"At some point, we merged our groups together and started doing less of the protest stuff and became more focused on vegan meet-ups. So we would get together once a month at different restaurants around town and eat vegan food together," she says, citing popular spots for vegans and non-vegans alike, like Pho Binh, which is famous for its lemongrass tofu.
Roughly 16 years later, the vegan movement in Memphis is stronger than ever. "Just in the past two years, with the whole plant-based movement, it's much more socially acceptable to be vegan or 'plant-based,'" she says. "I used to feel like I knew, or knew of, all the vegans in Memphis, but not anymore."
It does feel like there are significantly more options for vegans in Memphis now than there were in the past. With the rise of local establishments like Imagine Vegan Cafe and the Raw Girls food truck, the city is embracing veganism more than ever.
Last year, when the cafe at Crosstown Arts transitioned from a full-service lunch and dinner menu to a smaller menu of pastries and coffee, Chris Miner, co-founder of Crosstown Arts, wanted to make sure the space was kept active.
That's when he approached Phillips about organizing a monthly vegan potluck in the cafe space. Miner was familiar with Phillips' history of organizing vegan food and drink events and thought that would be a perfect fit for Crosstown Arts.
The No Meat Meet-Up Vegan Potlucks launched last September, with about 30 attendees at the inaugural event. Since then, the attendance has gone up each month, with attendees bringing a rich variety of vegan dishes to each gathering. While it's not required that those who attend bring a dish, it is, of course, encouraged so there's enough food to go around.
Some of the dishes people have brought to past potlucks include tater tot casserole, Bhel Puri, vegan pizza, and desserts. It's a great way for even non-vegans, who may be intimidated by the perceived confines of a vegan diet, to sample a number of different vegan food options at once.
For vegans who want to gather with like-minded people, or non-vegans who are curious about plant-based diets, the No Meat Meet-Up Vegan Potlucks are an opportunity to meet, mingle, and sample different kinds of foods.
Crosstown Arts will host the next No Meat Meet-Up Vegan Potluck on Sunday, February 16th.