By Damion Smalls
Charleston is known nationwide for its rich Southern-stamped cuisine. Whether it’s seafood, grits, anything fried or the Gullah Geechee staples like rice, they have all seen their days in the spotlight locally with lavish festivals and substantial representation in media. One group of motivated cultivators are attempting to make a difference by offering something a bit different to the buffet table, while combating the uninformed stigmas surrounding their cause.
Mitchell Felder, “Chef TR” Tasha Robinson, Khet Waas Hutip and Victoria Felder have teamed up to create the Charleston Sol Food Veg Fest, a first of its kind celebration of healthy lifestyles that seeks to break barriers within the Black community and throughout the food-obsessed Lowcountry.
Promoting a “wholeholistic” approach with an emphasis on the power of the sun and nature, the Charleston Sol Food Veg Fest cultivators are a part of a burgeoning wave of health conscious African Americans in the food and beverage scene that are changing the face of Charleston cuisine expectations. By celebrating veganism on a wide scale with this festival, they have entered a plane of existence not yet reached by local tastemakers of any backgrounds.
In modern times, African Americans have struggled with health concerns such as obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes that have affected them at higher rates than other racial groups. Lack of nutritional education and access to sufficient or affordable healthcare have both contributed to higher chronic disease mortality rates among Blacks. The Sol Food Veg Fest won’t be a cure-all, but still can serve as a much needed step in the right direction with a positive and powerful message that may be a gamechanger for the Black community.
The foursome understands the word “vegan” elicits a response from the average person that correlates it with bland, simplistic and unappetizing food. However, they have been hard at work with initiating change within the culture by hosting health classes and providing tasty vegan menu alternatives to dozens of newly-converted fans around the city.
Chef TR, a certified raw food chef, is the creator of the “UN-Cheesecake”, a more healthy but seamless take on the classic sweet tooth satisfier. The “I can’t believe this isn’t dairy” pastry can be purchased on un-cheesecake.com and at North Charleston’s vegan hotspot Dell’z on the Macon (2021 Reynolds Avenue).
Herbalist Khet Waas Hutip is the operator of Sacred Rootz (1418 Remount Road), a natural medicine shop specializing in herbs that treat various ailments and provide crucial health benefits. Victoria Felder is the founder and creative director of aNEW viLLaGe, a community-based organization that champions unity, wellness, family and spirituality. Her cousin, Mitchell, is a master herbalist, alkaline diet enthusiast and the visionary behind the Sol Food Veg Fest.
With the Veg Fest, the cultivators aim to connect with Black businesses, create a platform for vegans, change mindsets and bring more people towards a plant-based lifestyle. Attendees can look forward to a 100% vegan food court from participating vendors and chefs on hand, a Lowcountry rarity.
Confirmed speakers and special guests include massage therapist Jennifer Fay Carter, mindfulness coach Kristen May, Alkaline Chef Ras Bongo, reggae band Mystic Vibrations and the celebrity chef and health activist Chef Ahki (Sepsenahki Aahkhu). The family friendly event will feature art, health workshops, storytellers, face painting stations, lectures and much more.
Victoria Felder promises that this event “will be epic”. Find out for yourself on April 28 at The Grove at Patriot’s Point (40 Patriots Point Road) in Mt. Pleasant from 10 AM to 6 PM, with a rain date scheduled for April 29. Tickets are now available on Eventbrite. Visit csfvegfest.com for more information.