Slutty vegans in the land of big beef

Could Texas get a taste for something 'green' and spicy?
In December 2018, Pinky Cole, founder of the Slutty Vegan chain, demonstrated the Fussy Hussy burger on Sister Circle TV. Photo: Sister Circle TV

Last month, Texas took veganism to a new high. That’s a remarkable statement for a state known for big beef and big oil. But it’s true. On May 20, Dallas got Slutty Vegan, the hip burger joint that started in Atlanta five years ago and expanded to 10 other locations in Atlanta, Alabama and New York.

With the legions of ‘Sluttified fans’ including celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Jermaine Dupri, Taraji P. Henson, Tyler Perry and Queen Latifah, the brand brings with it oomph and unique burgers and sides. The One Night Stand, for instance, is a vegan burger loaded with vegan bacon, vegan cheese, caramelized onions, lettuce, tomato and Slut Sauce on a vegan Hawaiian bun. The Fussy Hussy has pickles and the Hollywood Hooker is a vegan chopped Philly with jalapeños and bell peppers. Sides include Slutty fries (french fries with signature slut dust) and fried pickles.

Given the Slutty Vegan’s reputation – it was awarded “Best Burger” by VegOut Magazine’s 2022 VegOut Awards – the Dallas opening had the city salivating and watchful analysts commenting.

Gillian Tett of The Financial Times (paywall) noted that the black-owned chain is taking veganism to a whole new demographic “by seeking to blend black culture with vegan cooking”. It shows the “power of tapping into different cultural ‘tribes’, she added, as well as “the importance of trying to sell ‘green’ with a sense of humour, irreverence and surprise”.

That’s true. The idea that the chain’s founder Pinky Cole alighted on is to remove the virtuousness of the vegan menu. Hence the slutty sauce and hooker burger rather than kale and quinoa salads. This somehow makes vegan food seem less “white”, “elitist” and “middle-aged”, according to a New Yorker profile of Ms Cole. As someone who loves both quinoa and kale and happens to be brown, I fail to follow the logic.

And one has to wonder if the shock factor of the terms used to describe their menu items are anything more than marketing genius and clever copywriting. Could it really give Texas a taste for something other than beef?