African Hebrew Israelites are a group of black vegans. As vegans, they do not eat any animals or animal products like milk, cheese or eggs.
Based on the clichÃ© “you are what you eat,” they refuse to be pigs, chickens or cows.
“You were never supposed to eat meat,” said Bennayahoo Shalame, 29. “You eat a cow but he never eats meat. He eats grass.”
Shalame is an employee of Soul Vegetarian, the nation’s largest vegan food chain. The chain has restaurants from Israel to Atlanta. Each Friday Shalame brings the Tallahassee chain to the Set.
From a trailer he sells vegan cuisine to the student body. The menu consists of barbecue tofu, macaroni and cheese, rice, collard greens, sweet potato pie, kale bone sandwiches and ginger punch.
For African Hebrew Israelites sacrificing meat does not mean sacrificing flavor. They also serve jerk and curry tofu.
Some opponents to this type of diet have said that meats provide the body with necessary proteins, but Shalame said those proteins can be obtained from vegetables.
“You can be a vegan and have a real healthy diet,” said Roberta Stevens a registered dietitian at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital’s diabetes center. “It just depends on how you do it.”
Stevens said plant vitamins replace meat vitamins.
“Some (vitamins) are found on the skins of plants. The only vitamin that is not found in plants is the vitamin B12.”
“There is another way to have good tasting food and appreciate your body,” said Daniella baht Israel, the the head nutritionist for Tallahassee’s Soul Vegetarian.
Although veganism is a way of life for Shalame and other members of the African Hebrew Nation, they are willing to share their diet with others.
Andrew Jones, 15, a freshman mathematics student from Cleveland, visits the Soul Vegetarian trailer every week.
Shalame knows Jones and his favorite dish by name.
“Macaroni for you Andrew?” asks Shalame.
“Yeah,” Jones responded.
“The macaroni is good,” Jones said.
Bishay Ragheb, 18, a freshman pharmacy student from Egypt also visits the trailer regularly.
Ragheb eats meat, however his religion requires him not to eat meat and other animal products 210 days of the year. He fasts every Wednesday and Friday, which makes Soul Vegetarian convenient.
“I think this stuff tastes just as good,” Ragheb said.
Ragheb likes kale bone, a wheat flour that has the consistency of meat.
Shalame said his motivation is to show the people a different diet that will keep them healthy.
A vegan for the past 11 years, Israel said she had lost 30 pounds within the first month of her new diet.
“We have something to offer those who are on that up and down diet.”
Today she weighs 150 pounds; before she was a vegan she weighed 190 pounds.
“That weight is not you,” she said. “It’s what you’re eating.”
Now 32 years old, Israel became conscious of her diet when she was a student at Grambling University.
Israel said she realized eating meat did not go along with her culture.
Israel said cutting out meat made her feel more energetic and she stopped getting headaches. She also said most people think she’s 18.
Shalame and Israel both said within the African Hebrew Israelite nation there are no cases of diabetes or heart disease – illnesses that are notorious in the black community.
“We just want our people to know it doesn’t have to be that way,” Israel said.
Israel offers cooking classes to teach people how to prepare vegan cuisine. Soul Vegetarian also caters and prepares meals for the public.