Njeri Strokes grew up consuming meat along with everything else that was prepared in her household. She never saw herself as being someone who is conscious of what they put into their body, let alone being a vegan. That is, until the Neflix documentary, Cowspiracy, inspired her decision to give up what was familiar. “Factory farming contributes heavily to climate change, and that worries me,” says Strokes. “I think that if I can control what I eat, in an indirect way, I’m helping. I’m not saving the world, but I’d like to think I’m helping.”
The 22 year old Texas native puts her love for baking and trying new recipes to use as a vegan cook, preparing delectable vegan meals through her business: Njeri’s Meal Prep, a 100% vegan and nut free brand. She is consistent with providing a variety of recipes that are posted to her Instagram feed and even captures video of her process via her stories.
You recently launched a vegan meal prep business, how did this idea come about?
For a while I had always been on Instagram posting how I make my meals on my story, step by step. I received a lot of positive feedback and people saying they really enjoyed watching. It was mostly to show that with the lifestyle I chose you can still have good food, offer it to people as a way of showing that yes I’m telling you this, but you can taste it and believe it for yourself. It’s also a way of me promoting my vegan cookbook that’s in the works.
When did your love for food and cooking begin? Do you remember the first meal that you learned to cook?
From as young as I can remember I had always been fascinated with cooking. I would always find myself in the kitchen whenever my mom or grandma was cooking, asking questions and trying to help where I could. Early on my interest drifted towards baking, I would always be making something sweet, from brownies to cookies and my grandma’s pound cake recipe. Still to this day my mom tends to refer to me as “the baker of the
The most difficult thing I’ve faced while eating a vegan diet is the culture that surrounds it. I feel as if I’m constantly explaining myself to people while simultaneously debunking myths they’ve grown to believe.
Have you always been vegan? If not, what sparked the want to become vegan?
Definitely not, if you had asked me five years ago if I would ever be where I am now it would be a definite no, without hesitation. Growing up, I was a big meat eater because that was always prepared in the house and was what everyone liked. One weekend about three years ago I decided to watch a documentary titled “Cowspiracy.” One major thing I took away from this documentary was that factory farming contributes heavily to climate change, and that worries me. Then I learned that factory farming contributes to climate change more than all forms of transportation combined. It’s also responsible for deforestation and pollution.
I think that if I can control what I eat, in an indirect way, I’m helping. I’m not saving the world, but I’d like to think I’m helping. After this I decided to go vegetarian, I didn’t make the transition into veganism until about four months ago. While being vegetarian probably doubled up on my intake of dairy, I would down cheese like no other, the cheesier the better. After doing that for almost two years, I started more research and learned that dairy farms are honestly no better than any other. And I agree with people when they say “just because you’re going vegan or vegetarian doesn’t mean you’re healthier.” You have to be aware and do your research to ensure you have a balanced diet.
The most difficult thing I’ve faced while eating a vegan diet is the culture that surrounds it. I feel as if I’m constantly explaining myself to people while simultaneously debunking myths they’ve grown to believe. And I’m okay with shedding light, I just wish people as a whole were more understanding and didn’t always go into things with the mindset of “you’re wrong and I’m right.”
There’s a common belief that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is difficult and expensive. What misconceptions do non-vegans have of the vegan lifestyle?
People with that viewpoint are very right, and very wrong at the same time. Eating on a vegan diet only gets expensive when you start purchasing “boujee” items or only getting name brand things, but that is also the case with someone that is not living on a vegan diet. Buying in bulk will save you a lot of money, especially if it’s for things that you know you will use several times throughout the week. Buying single veggies or fruits can begin to get expensive if you’re getting it just at the moment you need it and not buying to plan ahead.
Locally grown foods are a good way to buy groceries on a budget because they are almost always cheaper than it would be in your local store. It’s also nice buying locally because you can ask the farmer directly with any questions you have related to what they use in every step of the farming so you can actually know what you’re putting in your body. Also, in your supermarket, the most expensive things would be your meat products, the fish and the dairy products, the most inexpensive items would be your rice, lentils, pasta, potatoes, vegetables, legumes, and beans, which are all vegan friendly.
Another way that it tends to get more expensive is when you look at direct substitutes for foods. For example vegan chicken nuggets might be a little more expensive than chicken nuggets, but that is directly linked to supply and demand and the prices of the vegan options have seen to start declining because more and more people are buying.
Couponing can be a big help when planning for a grocery trip. I clip online coupons as well, and download the apps for my grocery stores and use the coupons on there. Any amount saved can be a huge help. Foods such as vegan burgers, ice cream, chips, milk, butter, etc. I can buy now at the same pricing and sometimes cheaper as their non-dairy counterparts due to supply and demand. Planning my meals ahead of time saved me a lot of money in the beginning, even when I was vegetarian because I could prep and limit the amount of times I ate out.
My main goal is to help stop supporting factory farming, as do a lot of people eating a plant based diet, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice flavor to do so.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make the switch to being vegan, but doesn’t quite know where to start?
Baby steps, it doesn’t happen overnight and your goal shouldn’t be to ultimately be “the perfect vegan.” Find what works for you and go upward. Going into it with the mindset that you will never be able to eat good food again is the perfect way to set yourself up to fail. I eat a lot, probably more than when I wasn’t eating vegan. I still eat all my favorite things such as hamburgers, hotdogs, bacon, cheesecake, fried chicken, mac and cheese, just on a plant based diet. Don’t be afraid to slip up, I slip up, I’m not perfect, I practice veganism, it’s not who I am but what I eat. Sometimes if I’m out and with family and friends and there’s no vegan options and all there is to eat are vegetables, fruits or breads, maybe some of that was cooked in butter, I’m not certain, but I know I need to eat. So if that makes me not vegan, then I don’t want the title. My main goal is to help stop supporting factory farming, as do a lot of people eating a plant based diet, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice flavor to do so.
What are the health benefits of maintaining a vegan diet and what has your experience been?
Maintaining a vegan diet comes with a lot of health benefits, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. I always recommend people to watch “Forks Over Knives” to dive into specific areas. Since switching to this diet my skin has become more clear and my energy levels are a lot higher, whereas before I would always feel drained. That’s not the case now. Don’t get me wrong, I still get tired of course, but it’s not an engulfing feeling as it once was.
The saying “you are what you eat” as cliché as it sounds is very true. If you’re putting dead flesh into your body on the daily, you’re not going to maximize what your energy levels could be, you’re going to feel the draining effects, or “itis” as the black community loves to call it. Your food isn’t supposed to make you want to take naps and rest, the purpose of food is to sustain you and give you the energy you need to live functionally.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced while on a plant based diet is my allergies. I’m allergic to all tree nuts (not peanuts because it is in the legume family) and a lot of substitutions in the vegan community heavily uses tree nuts to mimic certain meats and dairy ingredients. Due to my allergies I’ve had to work harder on finding ways I can cook without those items, still make it plant based, and not sacrifice the flavor. I have had a lot of success so far, but it didn’t happen before I failed a couple of times. I’ve also learned that a lot of what we cook and the taste of things is all on the seasoning that is used on the products.
What’s your absolute favorite vegan meal to cook?
Believe it or not, my favorite meal changes by the week. I think something is my favorite and then I come up with a new recipe for something else and then it becomes my favorite. At this moment, my favorite meal would probably be my BBQ cauliflower wings with baked mac and cheese and strawberry cheesecake.
When we as black people see influential black people adopting a certain lifestyle it causes us to be more aware and willing to try.
Do you feel that more individuals within the black community will try and or switch to a 100% vegan diet?
Absolutely, no doubt we are already starting to see this now. This generation of black people are more aware of the struggles and health problems that our ancestors faced, so you see us starting early and being more self-conscious of our health to avoid those problems.
The fastest growing vegan demographic is African-Americans. When we as black people see influential black people adopting a certain lifestyle it causes us to be more aware and willing to try. Eight out of the ten members of the Wu-Tang Clan identify as vegan or vegetarian. Beyoncé and Jay Z offered free tickets to fans if they went vegan. Jaden Smith started a vegan food truck to feed homeless people. Snoop Dogg is a brand ambassador for Beyond Meat, which is a vegan meat alternative brand.
You see veganism being rapped about in songs throughout the black community, one main song that people tend to refer to is the song titled “Beef” by KRS-One, released in 1990. It’s always nice to see other black people taking initiative over their health and transforming the way they view and eat food. With more and more people talking about it on a higher level, it’s bound to continue touching other black people.
Learn more about Njeri Strokes and her business via her website.