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For 40 Years, Chicago's Black Vegan Roots Has Had A Home In Chatham At Soul Veg City; 'The World Needs It'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- During Black History Month, at CBS 2, we want to celebrate the people and the progress happening in your community, like food being used as medicine, as more Black Americans embrace a plant-based diet.

So we're going back to its roots on Chicago's South Side, home to one of the oldest black-owned vegan soul food restaurants in the country.

It might look and sound like your grandma's kitchen, even though there's no meat. Welcome to Soul Veg City, where soul food is served with no animal products, no refined sugars, and no flour or rice.

Since 1981, Soul Veg City has been serving a plant-based menu in the Chatham neighborhood.

"People who lived in the neighborhood never came into the building, because it said vegan. People were afraid," said co-owner Lori Seay.

That was back Lori's parents owned it, before she and her brother Arel took over.

"They wanted to have a place to feed and provide the community with healthy food," Lori said. "To help with some of the diseases – diabetes, high blood pressure, hypertension – just  plaguing us over the years."

They had the same goal as Dr. Alevenia Fulton, a Black nutritionist who opened the first health food store and vegetarian restaurant in Chicago in 1958.

Dr. Fulton influenced Dick Gregory to go vegan during the civil rights movement in 1967, while fast food companies were targeting inner city Black Americans.

"It's a difficult issue with our culture pushing unhealthy food," said Dr. Kim Williams, chief of cardiology at Rush University. "Interesting that you're doing this on Black History Month, because it's our history that has led to where we are; eating the types of food that we have traditionally done since the days of slavery. We are still enslaved by disease."

Dr. Williams recommends a vegan diet to his patients to prevent heart disease and other health issues.

Tracye McQuirter is a public health nutritionist and founder of the 10 Million Black Vegan Women movement.

"High blood pressure, high cholesterol, unhealthy weight, heart disease; we have the worst health outcomes. and that is unacceptable to me," McQuirter said. "When you eat healthy plant-based foods, you have an 80% chance of not getting these chronic diseases."

So, in a world where soul food is synonymous with Black culture, McQuirter said, "8 percent of African Americans in the U.S. are vegetarian or vegan compared to 3 percent of Americans overall."

So Lori and Arel Seay are determined to continue what their parents started on this block in Chatham.

"Passing it on to our children and our children's children," Lori said. "Because not only does the community needs this, the world needs it."

Soul Veg City just underwent a big renovation during the pandemic, and you'll notice more and more Black vegan restaurants popping up on the South and West sides.

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