Being vegan in the south


Nadia Pressley

The vegan chicken salad sandwich, a popular dish at Gourmet Goody Box.

Tiyana Chaney began her vegan journey in 2014 after deciding to slowly remove animal products from her diet for physical and mental health reasons. Now that Tiyana Cha has been strictly vegan for over a year, finding local restaurants that cater to her diet is a challenge.

“I will bring my own food to restaurants, which is weird, so everybody thinks I’m just that bougie cousin that has to pack her own food,” Chaney said. “I’m like ‘You guys, I don’t want a salad from every place that we go’.”

Veganism, which usually involves eating no meat or dairy, has been rapidly gaining popularity in recent years. Local Macon eateries, however, have not caught up.

“There are very few restaurants that cater to full-on vegans,” Chaney said.

After the recent closing of one of Macon’s two vegan-specific restaurants, Chaney said it has become incredibly difficult to dine out as a vegan in the city.

On Oct. 31, Back to Edenz, a vegan and vegetarian restaurant on Mulberry Street, announced on Facebook that they would be closing.

This is not the first time Back to Edenz has closed.

In 2009, the restaurant closed its Poplar Street location before reopening on Vineville in 2014.

Although the main location is closed, the restaurant will continue to operate a food truck in the Warner Robins and Atlanta areas. The post said they could no longer afford the operational costs of renting downtown.

“I don’t have them as an option anymore so it’s a little disheartening, especially for the vegan community here,” Chaney said.

Macon now has one vegan-specific eatery, Gourmet Goody Box.

The restaurant was established in May after the owners decided to expand their food truck and open a storefront at the Macon Farmers Market, said Co-owner Jessica Mack.

Mack said they are finding ways to spark the interest of Macon’s non-vegan population in order to keep their business thriving. The restaurant hosts live music and other events monthly to draw in a crowd.

“It’s all about educating them and letting them know that you can still enjoy this amazing food and flavors in your mouth, it can just be a little healthier for you,” Mack said.

Nadia Pressley
Jessica Mack, co-owner of Gourmet Gourmet Goody Box, serving a customer.

Chaney said southern stigmas towards food make it difficult for veganism to gain popularity in cities like Macon.

“It’s very hard to be vegan in the south,” Chaney said. “It’s hard for people to kind of switch their ideas and beliefs because you know, if our great-grandma has been eating pork for 110 years and she’s still great, what’s wrong with pork?”

Mercer University’s Global Health Studies Professor Marsha Lewis said culture plays a role in people’s relationship with food.

“How people approach food, of course, is very cultural,” Lewis said. “Changing your paradigm of your food choices is difficult for anyone.”

Chaney said educating people about veganism is a good first step towards increasing the presence of vegan eateries in the South and the Macon community.

“I don’t think a lot of people know what it means to be vegan and how good it is for you and the environment and the animals and just in general,” Chaney said.