Mississippi Vegan is Timothy Pakron; a chef, artist and dedicated vegan from Mississippi who wants to celebrate the plant kingdom in "the most beautiful and delicious way". He eats potatoes everyday, drinks wine like it's fruit juice and believes cooking is an extension of the heart - so he definitely has his priorities in order.
Recently moving from NYC back to his home state, he is currently focused on recipe development for his upcoming book and in depth research on foraging wild plant and mushroom species growing throughout the southeast - check out his incredible creations on Instagram.
This week we had the pleasure of chatting with Timothy about his personal journey into veganism and how some people can get it so wrong.
Tell me a bit about you and your journey to veganism?
When I was around 18, I started to really question where my food came from and how much nutrition it obtained. After doing loads of research, all arrows pointed to plants and mushrooms as the most nutritious foods. So I unintentionally started eliminating animal products from my diet while replacing them with these new foods. It was strictly about nutrition at this point.
By the age of 19, I was exposed to footage of factory farming. I was absolutely outraged and became very emotional and sad. I had no idea that animals were being treated so horrifically. Not only that, I couldn’t believe that these large companies had been so successful at keeping it out of the public eye. How did I not know? I immediately went vegan for ethical reasons.
This was the best decision I have ever made and it has helped shape the very human that I am today. Essentially, I am just practicing a lifestyle that is in alignment with my ethics. If I can’t hurt or kill an animal, what business do I have eating them or their reproductive products? And although my diet avoids many ingredients, I'm all about celebrating what I do eat. The most delicious foods!
What was the main inspiration for starting Mississippi Vegan?
I have been a visual artist since graduating college and I came to the point where I was fed up with the art world - constantly hustling to show my work, dealing with greedy art galleries, and just having overall bad experiences. Once I started MV, I realised that I could create art with food. After that, I started really focusing on what kind of food I was passionate about: local, seasonal, wild, and heirloom varieties. Mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, beans, flowers, grains - these all became my artistic medium. Digital photography and Instagram became the vehicle to share this work.
How do you think attitudes towards veganism have changed over recent years?
I would say that people are starting to really understand and appreciate vegan food as its own culinary category and they are finally respecting it. If you just look at the vegan accounts across social media, it’s pretty outstanding. There are so many fabulous and super talented chefs making the most beautiful and delicious food that everyone can see. It’s just more accessible than ever now, so people can’t help but be like, “Woah, these vegans aren’t playin’! They can really throw down in the kitchen!”
I would also say that the popularity of documentaries like Cowspiracy, Forks Over Knives, and Earthlings have really opened up peoples’ eyes and sparked a general interest. Factory farming is no longer such a secret as it used to be. I mean, you really couldn't find footage of factory farming before the internet. Now, I can pull it up on my phone and there you have it.
What are some common misconceptions about vegans/veganism?
Common misconceptions about veganism - hmm want me to write you a book? Ha! Just kidding... How about I name a few that I feel should be addressed?
1. Vegans miss animal products.
Example: ‘Vegans are constantly trying to replicate animal products because they miss them and want them! Like, why are they replicating meat and cheese all the time? Just eat it if you want it. I just don’t understand why they want fake stuff when they can have the real thing.'
Most vegans grow up eating a standard diet that they are given. We all have our childhood dishes and snacks that we love. For example bacon. Who doesn’t love bacon? I know I do. But when we think about bacon, what are we really craving? Are we craving a pig or are we craving something that is salty, smokey, chewy, crispy and delicious? So the things that we ‘miss’ or ‘crave’ are really just characteristics - textures, flavours, aromas, seasonings, and spices. These are all easy and fun to replicate using plants and mushrooms. So for things like bacon, vegans make a version with shiitake mushrooms. They are sliced thin and tossed with ingredients like soy sauce, olive oil, and liquid smoke. Once roasted until crispy- you are left with a texture and flavour that is incredibly similar to traditional bacon. Because this is a new form of 'bacon', it is viewed as fake, when in actuality it’s not fake it all. It’s very real. And delicious.
2. Veganism is a diet. (Vegan vs Plant based)
Veganism is not a diet. It is a lifestyle. It is a mindset. It is a movement against oppression and exploitation, specifically focusing on animals because they don’t have a voice. It is an active and consistent effort to eliminate animals products and by-products from your life. When people say, oh I used to be vegan, they most likely were not - there was never that ultimate shift in perception for them. And this is totally fine! One should just be aware of how to use the term correctly. For example, "I tried a plant based diet for many years," not "I used to be vegan".
As a vegan, I choose not to buy or wear animal products because there are more sustainable options that I would rather support. With things like wool or honey, I choose not to use or consume them because they are products from exploited animals. My main concerns are not small local business using and selling these products, but rather the large companies producing them on massive scale. These companies are strictly about making as much money as possible by exploiting animals. With this, there is a profound conditioning that has happened to humans. Ultimately, we are by default supporting this exploitation, even though inherently most of us would not if we had to do the exploiting ourselves. As vegans, we pride ourselves in exploring and supporting plant and mushroom based alternatives because it genuinely feels good to do so. It's all about responsibility.
3. A vegan diet is healthy / A vegan diet isn’t healthy
These are both broad assumptions and they depend entirely on the individual. There are many vegans out there that are not healthy - they don’t know much about nutrition or how to balance a healthy diet. And that’s ok! You could eat cashew ice cream, french fries, and soy-based nuggets all day and be vegan but you certainly won’t be healthy. And then there is the assumption that vegans are unhealthy? Well that's just silly. I know many vibrant, amazingly fit and healthy vegans. I consider myself one of them! There are also many body builders and pro-athletes that eat 100% plant-based diets as well. I also know some that are unhealthy and have bad relationships with their food. This has less to do with veganism and more psychology. As individuals - and vegans especially - it is our job to make sure we are eating a healthy, balanced diet; one that is rich in vitamins, minerals and has loads of fresh water. An active lifestyle with exercise, fresh air, and sunshine are necessary, too.
What role do you think veganism has in creating a sustainable future?
It’s no secret that animal agriculture is not sustainable. The facts are out. Therefore, we have to actively stop living beyond our means: over-harvesting fish from the ocean (just google what year the the ocean is estimated to be fishless!) or using excessive amounts of grain and water to feed cattle. It has really gotten out of hand. We must scale back and start consuming more and more plants and mushrooms. In particular local and sustainably grown ones. Veganism is about applying active awareness to all aspects of our lives, which is precisely what a sustainable future is all about.
What’s one piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to live a more creative, sustainable life?
I would say figure out how to be creative with something that is sustainable. And something that is important to you. I stopped making art using brand new materials and then framing that art with more brand new materials. Instead, I use edible plants and mushrooms as my medium. This medium allows me to be creative and while also providing me sustenance.
Now let's apply this to fine art, for example. If I were to start a new body of art, I would make my own pigments. These pigments would be made from invasive species of plants that are abundant and need to be harvested because they harming native plants. Instead of buying paper, I would make my own out of other invasive plant species, like kudzu or mugwort. Once you start thinking this way, you can really change the way you work and start affecting the world in a positive and creative way. The very act of sustainability becomes an artistic expression.
Great advice! Now finally, what’s in store for the Mississippi Vegan?
After I finish my cookbook, I’m not really sure what will happen. I would love to create a beautiful video series about harvesting and preparing wild plants and mushrooms. I also plan on building my own garden in my backyard and to travel the world.