Vegan chef and creator of Sweet Potato Soul, Jenné Claiborne, opens up on her journey to healthy eating and how she stays connected to her Southern roots. A reflection on a self-transformation that turned into a fulfilling career.
1.What made you decide to dedicate your career to healthy food?
The biggest shift in my life was becoming vegan. Before then I was passionate about food, cooking, and eating, but not nearly as passionate as I became once I gave up animal products and started experiencing profound changes in my health. I felt compelled to share my journey with the world so I dedicated my career to doing just that.
2. How has your new lifestyle improved your health?
The most profound change I've experienced has been my gut health. Growing up I was in and out of the doctor for stomach pain and IBS. Turns out I'm allergic to dairy, but no one ever suggested that might be the issue. Once I got dairy out of my diet things got so much better. Unfortunately I still have anxiety around my gut health. Sometimes I'm afraid that my old problems will return after 6 years of dormancy. Because of that anxiety I put a lot of attention into gut health. I make sure that at least 80% of my diet is made up of gut supportive whole foods (fiber, unrefined grains, legumes, raw and cooked veggies, fruit, etc) and that I support it all with a daily dose of probiotics. I also strive to lower my stress everyday, because it plays a huge role in overall health.
3. When have you introduced probiotics and how has it contributed to your digestive health? Why did you choose to join the Bio-K+ Kultural Evolution?
I chose to join the Bio-K+ Kultural Evolution because I’ve experienced first hand the life changing effects of a healthy gut. Since changing my diet and adopting a healthier lifestyle I have more energy, better digestion, and clearer skin. I rarely ever get sick anymore! Even my grandmother has her own story of improving her health with Bio-K+. She started drinking the vegan fermented probiotics regularly after they helped reverse her indigestion.
It has been my mission to help make it easy and more fun for others to eat well and live active fulfilling lives, and I think I share that mission with Bio-K+. Living well should be fun, it should be delicious, and it should be attainable.
4. When have you introduced probiotics and how has it contributed to your digestive health?
I first started taking probiotics as a kid with tummy problems, though I didn't stick with them. As an adult my first intro to probiotics were from yogurt commercials. Being allergic to dairy, the yogurt only made my issues worse, but I was still fascinated by probiotics. As more research has come out in regards to the role of healthy bacteria in our guts and elsewhere in/on our bodies, I decided to give probiotics a chance. I first took them after experiencing either a cold or some sort of infection in order to help boost my immune system. I've also taken them during stressful life moments. The most profound experience I've had with probiotics was during a time of severe anxiety. I was going through anxiety—waking up in cold sweats and with headaches every night—and I happened to read an article in the Atlantic about the role of healthy gut bacteria on depression and anxiety. Within 3-4 weeks of taking probiotics every night before bed the nightly anxiety issues had subsided. I have no idea if that would reliably work for others, but from then on I've been a true believer and lap up the science at every chance I get. (Link to article: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/gut-bacteria-on-the-brain/395918/)
5. Being from the South, do you ever miss the traditional recipes from your youth?
Yes, all the time! When I miss a good ol' southern recipe I veganize it. I just finished writing my first cookbook that will be full of vegan versions of southern recipes: Everything from pecan pie to fried chicken to biscuits and gravy. Southern food is so delicious and full of flavor, and Southerners are used to eating vegetables, beans, and grains, so veganizing the recipes isn't impossible (though it isn't always easy either). Southern food also relies a lot on sauces and stews, so any meats can easily be replaced with mushrooms, jackfruit, tempeh, legumes, and other veggies.
6. Can you share your favorite twist on a childhood recipe?
Sweet potato pancakes are my take on my Nana's classic fluffy pancakes. These are made with wholesome spelt flour, flaxseed meal, and wonderful sweet potato, topped off with a mango coconut whip with the added power of probiotics.
Makes 6-8 pancakes
2 tablespoon ground flax seed meal + 4 tablespoon water
1½ cup whole spelt flour
⅓ cup brown sugar or coconut sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg (freshly ground)
1½ cup soy milk (or another non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon apple cider or white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup + 2 tablespoon mashed sweet potato
2 tablespoon vegan butter, or coconut oil + more for frying pancakes
Mango coconut whip
½ bottle of mango fermented soy Bio-K+
1 cup coconut cream
1 tablespoon maple syrup or coconut nectar
Combine the flax and water in a large mixing bowl to make the flax egg.
Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in another large bowl.
To the flax egg add the soy milk, vinegar, vanilla, sweet potato, and oil and whisk well, until combined.
Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined.
Preheat a large skillet and melt one or two tablespoons of vegan butter or oil onto the surface.
Ladle some batter onto the skillet (about ½ cup), and fill with as many pancakes as you can comfortably fit. I can do 3 in my skillet.
Cook on each side on medium-low heat for about 3 minutes. Flip when the center starts to bubble. Place cooked pancakes onto a clean plate which you can keep warm in the oven at its lowest setting.
Complete with the remaining batter.
To make the mango coconut whip: place the mango Bio-K+, coconut cream, and maple syrup in a mixing bowl. Use a hand mixer to beat the mixture until fluffy.
Serve the pancakes topped with mango coconut cream.