A couple times a month, Jaeda Barnes rents out a commercial kitchen, brings in her pots and pans, and cooks up a bunch of vegan food.
“I create my food for non-vegans to enjoy,” she said. “My goal is to create really tasty food that’s similar to the food people were eating before they were vegan.”
Barnes is the owner of Good Vibes Vegan Cafe & Herbs. Back in March, she was getting ready to open a brick-and-mortar location in midtown. Then the pandemic hit, and everything got put on hold. Instead of opening the cafe, Barnes began offering vegan delivery meals for preorder online. The food is prepared in a rental “ghost” kitchen, then packaged and delivered to customers throughout the Sacramento area.
The menus are based on family recipes. These are the foods Barnes ate as a child — they’ve just been veganized. The meats are replaced with faux meats; dairy products are swapped for plant-based milks, cheeses and butter. But the tastes and textures are similar.
A lot of times, it’s hard to tell the difference, especially with crowd favorites like the barbecue plate.
“They’re traditional meals with a soul-food twist, meaning they just have a Black person’s twist on them,” said Barnes. “For instance, we make pot roast, and I let my friend taste it who’s white. And she said, ‘Can I give you some suggestions?’”
The friend wanted to add parsnips and celery, because that’s how her mother and grandmother always made the dish. But that’s not how Barnes’ mother made it, and it’s not how either of her grandmothers made it.
“That’s cool,” Barnes said. “You’re white and I’m Black, and that’s how you ate your food, and this is how I made my food.”
Pot roast dinner was on the menu for the New Year’s Day delivery. The “beef” is a soy protein cooked with mushrooms, baby carrots, bell peppers, onions and spices. It’s served with herb seasoned smashed potatoes and corn bread (or corn on the cob with seasoned butter for a gluten-free option).
The Vegan Christmas Feast included a turkey and dressing bake with gravy and cranberry sauce, garlic butter green beans, baked triple cheez mac, garlic bread and a choice of garlic and herb smashed potatoes or candied yams.
Barnes has been a vegan for three years. She’s always been passionate about health and fitness, so when she began researching the health benefits of veganism, she was all-in. Animal products are linked to all manner of disease, she explained, including cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Barnes’ goal is to inspire others to adopt a plant-based diet, starting with her husband. Len Barnes used to be a steak-and-potatoes guy. He liked sodas, sugar and lots of meat. But now he suffers from kidney failure. He’s on the transplant list, and has to go in for dialysis three times a week.
Len is not a vegan yet, but his diet has improved. For the past year, he’s been a pescatarian, meaning he eats fish but no other meat. He still needs a kidney, but at least his blood pressure and cholesterol have improved.
“I want to be an example to him, to inspire him, and people who look like us who can relate to us, that you can be healthy and still eat well,” Barnes said. “We eat so bad as a race. We eat really bad. We eat lots of soul food.”
Food can taste good without being lathered in grease. And that’s what Barnes wants to show customers with her vegan delivery meals.
Barnes still plans to open her cafe, but she’s decided to wait until the pandemic is over. In the meantime, she and Len have made a point to feed homeless people in the Sacramento area. Barnes said she coordinated 250 meals in November and about 150 in December. The couple is collecting new warm clothes, blankets and supplies to give directly to homeless people.
She’s trying to make a big impact from a small spot. Her cafe’s location is small and it doesn’t have a full kitchen, so the cafe will serve smoothies, juices, sandwiches, wraps and other small items. Barnes also has a taco cart, which will be used to serve the junkier side of vegan food: nachos, fries, burritos, chicken, and, of course, tacos. The taco cart is a kitchen on wheels, with two double fryers, a grill, prep station and gas heat.
And Barnes will continue providing her soul food meal deliveries, even when the pandemic is over.
“It’s absolutely rewarding for me because I’m cooking food with so much flavor and texture that people can’t even tell it’s vegan,” she said. “So that is definitely inspiring people and vating people to start their vegan journeys.”