Some of us used the quarantine period to perfect our banana bread recipe or check off those long-overdue household tasks. Tabitha Brown used it to become one of TikTok’s brightest rising stars. The actress and vegan cook— who went plant-based back in 2017 to ease chronic headaches and fatigue—joined the social platform at the suggestion of her teenage daughter last March, just as many of us were settling into quarantine. Folks quickly found a welcome distraction in the form of Brown’s charming cooking videos, replete with her soothing Southern drawl, catchphrases (“Because it’s my business”), brilliant smile, and signature Afro, which she calls Donna. Brown netted more than 4 million followers and 72 million likes for her minute-long videos, whipping up healthy vegan recipes for smoothie bowls, carrot “bacon,” and more.
Sure, the social fame boosted her acting career—she guest-starred as a police officer on Will & Grace last year—but the effects of her newfound popularity run deeper. In between showing viewers how to air-fry okra or season food “like so, like that,” Brown has earned the nickname “TikTok mom” for offering followers loving pep talks at the end of a hard day. We chatted with Brown about being a food influencer, what it means to represent the Black community, and what comes next in her already surprising career.
You originally moved to L.A. to focus on acting. How did things take this turn?
TB: It was never part of my life goals or plans. But I had a dream during a time that I was out of work due to illness—my dreams have always spoken to me since I was a child. In the dream, I saw myself on a TV show. So I woke up and prayed and asked God to reveal to me how I was on a show, and I heard a voice that said, “Start doing videos.” I live a life of obedience so I began the journey of doing videos. Weeks later, I started a 30-day vegan challenge and was feeling better, so I decided I would go vegan completely. Then that same voice whispered in my ear and said, “Now tell people what you’re eating,” and that’s how my cooking videos began.
How does it feel to be an influencer on TikTok, a platform embraced by Gen Z?
TB: It’s pretty mind-blowing! I love the energy, comments, and support. I absolutely love that they think of me as a TikTok mom.
You’re known to serve up pep talks and positivity alongside your recipes. How do you maintain that positivity?
TB: It’s just always been how I talk. I get it from my dad. I suffered from major anxiety and depression for a while, and the dark space is scary. I decided that when God brought me through that, I would do my best to choose light and be light for others.
Veganism was long associated with whiteness, but recent data shows that more Black Americans than white are reducing their meat consumption. Do you feel pressure to represent veganism to the Black community?
TB: I feel that having a platform as large as I do is definitely a responsibility. I want to make sure I’m representing positivity and a lifestyle that’s easy to obtain if you desire it. Being a relatable vegan for Black America really makes my heart happy. I know that many diseases kill our families at higher rates due to our eating habits, so helping others see food differently is a blessing and absolutely a responsibility.
Your viral success has earned you your own cooking and lifestyle web series, All Love, on Ellen DeGeneres’s Ellen Digital Network. What are your dreams for the show?
TB: To make people feel like they have a friend, a sister, an aunt, or even a mom who they can go to and feel seen, heard, and loved.
How would you like to see your career grow in the next few years?
TB: Definitely a cookbook mixed with inspiration is in the works. In the next five years, I would like to have a sitcom and a daily talk show. And I hope to still be bringing love, laughter, and good food to people all over the world.
This article originally appeared in our Winter/Spring 2021 issue. Get the magazine here.