Photographed: 'Spicy Kale Wrap' from  Tassili's Raw Reality

Photographed: 'Spicy Kale Wrap' from Tassili's Raw Reality

Written by Nigel Gamal

Southwest Atlanta – also known as the SWATs – was annexed into the city of Atlanta in 1952, the same year as wealthier Buckhead to the north. A rich array of vegan food and urban gardening graces Atlanta's poorer Southwest section, and the movement for Black vegan cuisine, urban gardening and cooperative development is only expanding.

The mid-20th century phenomenon of “white flight” transformed the neighborhoods of Southwest Atlanta – Adair Park, Oakland City, the West End, Westview and so forth – into Black ghetto communities now threatened with displacement through gentrification. These neighborhoods can be identified as a vast food desert overwhelmed with package and convenience stores. They nestle, perhaps surprisingly, the city's greatest choices of farm-to-table growers, tried and novice vegan food service.

For six years, Tassili Ma'at has served interesting raw vegan grub, including her near-famous very spicy kale wrap with imitation bacon bits in the heart of the West End, at Tassili's Raw Reality. Members of the Hebrew Israelite faith offer Soul Vegetarian, one of the best vegan and soul food restaurants around. Their barbershop, bookstore and event space are just nextdoor. Princess Dixon and partner Kwadwo Kephera serve vegan Caribbean a stone's throw away at Healthful Essence.

Some folks offer catering without a storefront. Fresh2Health is a juice outfit in the SWATs. Queen Vida has prepared fantastic vegan catering for years, with Mystic Roots as another choice for a faithful vegan macaroni and cheese or lentil stew.

The ironic health wave in Atlanta’s food dessert has grown over recent years. KarbonnStar, a mostly raw restaurant that hosts classes and designs meal plans, opened a storefront deeper in Westview, a still poor neighborhood engaged in the gentrification process. Viva La Vegan, in Oakland City just south of the West End neighborhood, sits in between a butcher shop and a convenience store not far from the train station, making BBQ jackfruit and buffalo cauliflower, in an area where you might not expect those options. Vegan Dream Doughnuts, once pedalled doughnuts and incense on Tasilli's porch, but now, the gluten-free treats can be found in a nearby independent storefront noticeably painted in Pan-African colors.

Although you can clearly find prepared vegan food of all stripes in Southwest Atlanta, you'll still have trouble finding healthful choices for grocery shopping. What is missing in groceries is found in the soil. Southwest Atlanta Growers Cooperative (SWAG) is a collective of multiple urban gardens, including Ms. Haylene the garden queen and Sister Deborah, that manages the West End Farmer's Market on Fridays in the summer. Some of the same geniuses that run SWAG have spearheaded the Vine City Farmer's Markets and farmer's markets that meet the people where they are like the MARTA markets at public transit stops.

Gangstaz to Growers is one member of the growers cooperative. Based in Westview, they run a small community garden and are developing a hot sauce company run by young Westview residents. The Urban Conservation Training Institute benefitted from a Food Well Alliance grant and is supported by the Shrine of Black Madonna on 3.5 acres of land designated for training youth through outdoor experience. Some of the other farms in the collective are: Patchwork (the West End), Truly Living Well (Ashview Heights) and Grow Where You Are (Cascade); it’s a robust collective.

These ongoing traditions of using the land to provide food sovereignty will just continue to grow as new organizations like Viva La Vegan and SWAG emerge. Older institutions like the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, a network of mostly rural agricultural cooperatives with offices in East Point founded in 1967 have been focused on Black land ownership just southwest of Atlanta, support the community-minded efforts of oft-neglected Southwest Atlanta.