Radical Rabbit reimagines soul food
Words by Javacia Harris Bowser
Mariah Ragland has a menu and a mission that are both bound to turn heads.
As the owner of the pop-up restaurant Radical Rabbit in Nashville, Tennessee, Ragland’s goal is “to provide progressive, natural, and revolutionary food to all people—including you.”
Radical Rabbit serves vegan soul food that will make you rethink any notions you have about vegans “eating like rabbits.”
“I’m making food that is traditional soul food—food that you would find in your grandma’s house, that your auntie would make or that you would see at a cookout—and I’m turning them vegan,” Ragland says. And she hopes that in doing so she can make plant-based eating more approachable for people—especially people of color facing health disparities and food insecurity.
“If you’re food insecure you don’t have access to the food, but you also don’t have the knowledge,” Ragland says. “People also need to know what they’re eating.”
“Eating My Morals”
Ragland, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, was a student at Fisk University in Nashville when her love for animals pushed her to become vegetarian. As she learned more about the effects that ingredients in cheese and dairy can have on the body, she eventually went vegan. She taught herself how to make vegan versions of her favorite family dishes, and soon started cooking for friends.
“After graduating, I took eating my morals into my work,” Ragland says.
She worked at the Nashville Food Project helping to coordinate volunteers, tend the organization’s garden, and deliver food to a local senior center. As Ragland learned more about food justice and food sovereignty, she became even more passionate about making veganism accessible to all and started making plans to start a business.
Whether you’re new to vegan food, new to soul food, or both, Radical Rabbit has something for you. The Carolina Gold fried jackfruit will make you a believer, Ragland says.
“It will remind you of the wings from your favorite chicken spot,” she adds.
Or try the vegan ribs with a side of her buffalo macaroni and cheese—also made entirely from plant-based ingredients.
Radical Rabbit is available at several Nashville farmers' markets such as the Richland Park Farmers Market and marketplaces like Citizen Market. When Ragland stops by a local marketplace to drop off food, folks are often already there waiting and ready to buy.
“I have some diehard fans and customers,” she says.
And those fans want to know when Nashville will get a brick-and-mortar Radical Rabbit restaurant. Ragland says the plans are in the works and her goal is to be located in a predominantly Black community.
In the meantime, Ragland strives to make her food affordable, does food giveaways, and donates to the Nashville Community Fridge, which offers free food to those in need.
Ragland’s mentor, Brittainy Hall, says she sees her one day enjoying the success of enterprises like Slutty Vegan, the Atlanta-based restaurant known for its plant-based burgers with fun and flirty names like “The One Night Stand.” The restaurant, which is set to open a second location in Birmingham, Alabama, has gained attention from celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Tiffany Haddish and Usher and national media coverage, too.
“I could also see her being a private chef,” Hall says of Ragland, who cooked for soul songstress India.Arie during one of her visits to Nashville.
“She’s very driven, she’s a really hard worker, and she’s great at listening to feedback,” Hall says of Ragland. “She doesn’t give up easily. She’s really motivated, and I think her daughter is one of the things that pushes her to be successful.”
Ragland feeds her five-year-old daughter a vegan diet as well, despite discouragement from naysayers.
“She’s thriving and she’s super smart,” Ragland says, “And I attribute that to her just eating plants.”
To other parents who want to raise their children with a vegan lifestyle, Ragland says, “Trust that you’re doing the right thing.”
The Face of the Business
Ragland doesn’t shy away from being the face of her business and uses Instagram to give customers a behind the scenes look at Radical Rabbit. She says this helps to dispel the myth that veganism isn’t for Black people.
“When I started this business, a lot of people thought it was run by a white person,” Ragland says. “So, I make sure they see a Black face on our Instagram.”
Hall believes that Radical Rabbit can help inspire more Black families to get serious about their health.
“We are statistically some of the sickest people, and what she is doing is creating a space for families that look like herself and look like me and my niece and my sister to have healthier options,” Hall says. “And it tastes good!”
Despite the stereotypes about what a vegan looks like, Ragland says, “Most of the vegans I know are Black.”
She feels the vegan movement is becoming more and more prominent in Black communities and will continue to do so.
“I think it plays a part in us taking care of ourselves and breaking generational curses,” Ragland says. “I'm here for the movement. I love it!”