The People’s Vegan
Words by Javacia Harris Bowser
Chef Charity Morgan is changing what it means to live a plant-based lifestyle. Though she’s cooked for pop stars and professional athletes, she’s using her infectious personality and creative recipes to help make the vegan life open to all.
She even coined her own term: “plegan,” a moniker for those who eat a 100-percent plant-based diet and for those still transitioning to a vegan lifestyle.
Morgan is not your typical vegan chef, and her new book, “Unbelievably Vegan,” promises to not be your typical vegan cookbook. Indeed, Morgan doesn’t consider it a vegan cookbook at all. “It’s a flavor cookbook,” she says. “I bring my Creole roots and my Puerto Rican roots into it.”
Morgan also included Asian-style recipes inspired by some of her Vietnamese and Korean friends. “It’s my story; it’s my journey,” she says.
Morgan’s journey to plant-based eating certainly hasn’t been typical either. The story begins in 2017 when her husband Derrick was a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans. “My husband was like any other athlete—always looking for ways to stay strong, to stay healthy,” she says. After extensive research, and after meetings with a nutritionist showed him that plant-based eating could give him a competitive edge, Derrick went vegan, as well as the whole Morgan household. So, Charity began cooking plant-based meals not only for her husband and herself, but also for their children.
“I didn’t tell them what we were doing; I led by the food,” Morgan says. At the time her daughter was two years old, and her son was five. She didn’t think holding a family meeting with a toddler and a preschooler was going to be as effective as simply making plant-based versions of their favorite foods.
“My son loves buffalo wings, so I would make cauliflower buffalo wings for him,” she says. “They loved tacos, so every Tuesday I made tacos with things like lentils, cauliflower, and chickpeas.”
As long as their meals were full of flavor, they were happy. Meanwhile, Morgan’s meals were turning heads and changing minds in the locker room.
Derrick would pop open a container with one of his wife’s plant-based meals—such as her black bean and sweet potato enchiladas or her vegan truffle mac and cheese—and soon other players were asking if she could whip up some meals for them. And once they saw him excelling on the field, Morgan received a flood of messages from Titans requesting plant-based meals.
“My husband was thriving. He was killing them on the field, and he had so much endurance,” Morgan says. With Morgan’s protein-packed plant-based meals, the athletes were getting the nutrients they needed but without feeling sluggish.
Eventually, ESPN caught wind of the fact that Charity was helping NFL players go plant-based, and that’s when requests from high-profile doctors and lawyers started coming in. Morgan says her notoriety went international after she was featured in the 2018 documentary, “The Game Changers,” which follows several elite vegan athletes. “After that, soccer players and rugby players and tennis players started reaching out to me,” she says.
But of all the big-name clients she’s had, there’s one that stands out. One day she got an e-mail from Miley Cyrus.
“At first, I thought it was a joke,” Charity says. But the request was legit. The pop star wanted samples of several dishes she’d found on Charity’s Instagram. After tasting the food, Cyrus was hooked and started requesting meals anytime she was in Nashville.
Long before the media broke the news of Cyrus’s engagement to actor Liam Hemsworth, Cyrus had asked Charity to make the food for her wedding. “She realized I can make anything,” Charity says. “She can muster it up, and I will make a plant-based version of it.”
For the wedding, Charity created plant-based versions of all of Cyrus’s feel-good favorites—chicken and dumplings, biscuits and cornbread. Because Cyrus loves spicy foods, Charity made vegan buffalo chicken egg rolls. And because Cyrus’s father, country music star Billy Ray Cyrus, loves ranch dressing, Charity made a vegan version of that too. “It opened up a lot of doors,” Charity says of her time cooking for Cyrus. Most of all, she says, it stretched her creativity in the kitchen. “She pushed me to grow because she’s a foodie, and I love that about her.”
Morgan, who grew up in California, has loved cooking for as long as she can remember. “Cooking is a meditative state for me where I can relax, and I can think. It’s a zone for me,” she says. “When I enter that kitchen, I often don’t know what I’m cooking, and in order for me to get creative I have to be in that meditative space.”
Morgan holds a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but growing up, she never thought she could turn her passion for cooking into a career. “I never heard the term ‘culinary’ until much later on in my life,” she says. A trip to Europe changed that, and when she returned to the United States she enrolled in culinary school.
Despite her efforts to help athletes, celebrities, and everyday people adopt a plant-based lifestyle, Charity doesn’t always feel at home in the vegan community. Some vegans balked at her work with NFL players because the athletes were on the field with a pigskin football, and they wanted to know if the players were eating only plant-based meals. “I’m not the food police,” Morgan says. “I wasn’t policing what my athletes ate every day. If they ate one vegan meal a day, I was happy that I was able to inspire them to do that much.”
Charity also says she’s been criticized for not speaking out about animal welfare. But Morgan says her focus is compassionately helping people live their best lives through plant-based eating. That’s why she coined the term “plegan,” a label she hopes anyone who feels they don’t fit into the vegan community will adopt. “It gave them the space to feel like they can make mistakes and then get up tomorrow and get back on the bandwagon of being plant-based,” she says of the term.
If you’re trying to go plant-based, don’t Google “vegan recipes” and try to cook every meal that comes up in your search. “Start small,” Morgan says. Start by learning to make vegan versions of meals you already cook and enjoy. “Make it about you and the things you love,” she says. And find ways to make plant-based versions of your favorite family recipes too. “It opens up a whole world of ideas on how you can create these beautiful dishes,” she says.
Many of the recipes in “Unbelievably Vegan” include prompts to get creative and put your own twist on the dish. Charity’s style is all about cooking outside the box, and she hopes to encourage others to do the same.
“Don’t put me in a vegan box; don’t put me in a plant-based box,” Morgan says. “I’m creating my own rules.”