By Diane Ballard
Levita Mondie’s ethnic cuisine turns vegan
When Levita Mondie won a chili cook-off in her Washington, D.C., neighborhood, she was as proud as any Top Chef victor. The Memphis native overcame several challenges:
- Her chili was put together at the last minute — no time to simmer and meld flavors.
- She (and her chili) arrived late at the competition.
- Her chili contained no meat, a potentially fatal omission.
But, not only did the judges give Mondie’s bean and vegetable concoction the blue ribbon, she also won the people’s choice award.
Mondie (Knoxville ’93) is no ordinary cook: Her specialty is ethnic vegan cuisine. She teaches classes, caters and writes a blog that’s been picked up by the Root D.C./Washington Post. She loves her day job as a history teacher at Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria, Va., but nights and weekends in the kitchen satisfy that elemental hunger for good food.
“Food should be delicious and give you pleasure,” she says. Vegans, who forego meat, eggs and dairy products, shouldn’t have to settle for less flavor.
Mondie’s childhood diet oozed with barbecue and greens simmered with fatback. But, when her mom was diagnosed with cancer in 1995, Mondie began to realize the impact diet can have on health. She resolved to eat better, to create dishes that pack a flavor wallop but don’t hasten you toward the grave.
“I believe food can set us up for longevity or set us up for disease,” says the mother of two daughters. She cooks not only adaptations of Memphis soul food but also vegan versions of Indian, Ghanaian and other cuisines. With healthful recipes, including candied yams, curries and garlicky kale, Mondie shows it’s possible to eat well and enjoy what you eat.
She describes her business, Vita’s Eatery, as a collection of vegan services, which includes cooking classes, a blog where she shares recipes and stories about food, and public speaking. She also was a guest blogger for the Nature Conservancy Earth Day Celebration.
At UT Knoxville, Mondie received the Torchbearer award, the campus’s highest student honor. She was a Whittle scholar in the College of Communication and Information and president of the Black Cultural Programming Committee.
Mondie practices a vegan lifestyle primarily for health reasons, but she is increasingly asked to talk about veganism from a political angle.
“Being vegan is a very personal choice for me,” she says. “Sharing with larger audiences is requiring me to explore this choice in more complex ways. I’m now open to that challenge.”