Meet Plant-Based Chef and Enthusiast Kimberly Barnes: "Let Me Make Food Easy For You"


Name: Kimberly Barnes
Hometown: Greensboro, NC
Occupation: Founder of Might Be Vegan
Instagram: @mightbvegan
Fun Fact: “I used to be in a band. I used to sing. I’ve lived in seven states so far. I actually played piano for some time.”

How should we introduce Kimberly Barnes?
An entrepreneur. A technophile. A marketing guru. A private chef. A singer/entertainer. Oh and she might be vegan….
One thing about Kimberly Barnes, is that she’s not a one-dimensional woman! Chit-chatting with Kimberly, she shared her enthusiasm for a vegan lifestyle, including what started her journey in avoiding animal product and processed foods, as well as her passionate advocacy for minority communities in their avid search for alternatives in eating healthy the right way. We took a deep dive into her plant-based lifestyle and gained insights into the genesis of her meal-planning business she started. Kimberly inspires and promotes cooking vegan meals that taste great and pleases the palate of our non-vegan eaters. Read on to discover more in our exclusive interview with Kimberly Barnes, and learn how you can cut down on processed foods and eat vegan meals that actually taste delicious! No seriously! Homegirl can cook!
MN: Let’s talk a little bit about your background. You do have a bachelor’s degree in marketing from North Carolina A&T University. You have a technical background and used to work in corporate America before you started your business. So where did that transition come from a technical background to a business on becoming a vegan?
KB: Well, it’s interesting when you’re a creative person and you get people who say oh, I’m creative and unique and they think they’re unique artists because they paint. What I can say about for sure is with most artists they’re good at multiple expressions of art so let’s say you think about Chris Brown as a singer, as a dancer, he also acts, and he also does graffiti. So, there are so many layers to who he is in an artist way and that idea can be seen in people who have that gift.
And the interesting thing about me is that my mom she was a teacher, she’s retired now. My dad was an entrepreneur and a chemist. He was also an artist so I am all of that together. When I was growing up, one day I just woke up and I could draw like really well and everybody was like this is traced, you traced it. I’m like, no I don’t know how it happened but now I can draw and then I sang for a really long time I sang with a band that was signed for records at one point. So, I was a singer and there’s always been like many layers to who I am from the technical side. I’ve always loved math and I think I got that from by dad being that he’s a chemist.
So, I went to a science math and technology high school. I was very much exposed to engineering and computer programming. Even to this day, I can build a website from scratch. I can make a website and fill out codes. So, there are so many layers to who I am that I’m not a just a one-dimensional person. Oftentimes, I’ll be in interviews and people are like ‘oh tell me about that and I’m like I have a multiple background. I don’t even know where to start like which part of me do you wanna know about?’
When it comes to food, I’ve always loved food. I had a new appreciation for food because I could smell it in a way that I couldn’t before. I could taste it in a way that I couldn’t before and I think that’s all connected to the idea that when I had allergies it would impact my sinuses so that my nose was always running. You know when you have a sinus infection or something like that, it also impacts your sense of taste. I think from like 0 up to maybe 16, the food that I was tasting was muted because of those allergies and in my 20s, it was a new awakening.
I’m like ‘Wow! I can taste everything!’ I’m going to a restaurant and I’m like there’s this food and I’m like I can taste all these elements and people are like what? My ability to smell changed like in a major way.
I can cook so well is because I can taste things in my mind if that makes sense. So when I’m thinking about spices and creams and how things are gonna come together, I put them together in my mind.
I make that flavor in my palate and I can taste something in my head like I’m gonna make that and it has these 6 or 7 things in it and some of it is just a combination of things like I’ve tasted before. Sort of like cycling back to it and I’ll see stuff like in a dream and say you know I’m gonna make creamy vegan polenta with a side onion rings and asparagus. Like that’s what I can see and be like girl that’s good and I’m gonna put mushroom too on top of it. I wake up and I put it together and I’m like ‘Hmm that tastes even better than I thought it would.’ So when you talk about transition, I can’t necessarily say there was a transition cause it was always there.
Aside from the fact that there was that moment where I could taste and smell in an elevated way. I’ve always had that love for food and creation and creativity and so going from working at Caterpillar and not feeling like that was my home and thinking that that was my place and talent and finding out that that was not it you know I’ve always been on this path of figuring out where I fit. And I think everybody has some measure of that kind of experience finding I guess their tribe or their squad when it come to the working environment so I always knew that I wanted entrepreneurship. So coming out of marketing, it gave me a platform or capacity to expand things in a way that some can’t do easily simply because thy don’t have that marketing experience.
So for me, starting an Instagram page and then growing it from 0 to 5000 in like 2 or 3 months is like ‘how did I do that?’ and I’m like well marketing is what I do. I’ve done it because for me, that’s my creative and technical outlet coming together. It’s the love of technology and a love of information and the psychology of human behavior and the creativity. All that together, that was marketing. That’s how I found my space because it allows me to put the creative part I got from my dad and my mom. Then, put the technical, chemistry, and technology part that I got from my dad all in one. So that’s why I love marketing so much and now I do that for myself.

“I made a promise at that moment with myself that I would then be responsible and be vocal about my health. I would not let the western medical system be my healthcare advisor because in all actuality they can only respond and only a small measure when you are sick because they have themselves their own information.”

MN: So, you’re like the nose whisperer LOL! I listened to the podcast called Lemon Pepper Wet podcast and you said that something tragic in your life inspired you to start your business. Can you explain that to our readers about this story?
KB: Yeah, absolutely. So when I was in my early to mid-20s, my best friend died when I was in my early 20s and it’s interesting because I remember sitting at her bedside before she passed and I’m just observing. She’s my friend. She’s not my sister so it’s not like I have a place, if that makes sense because her parents are more responsible for her so I’m more of an observer.
I’m watching and listening and I noticed a couple of things that happened like her body you know she used to tell me that she gets really nauseous. And then I noticed that her stomach was just growing and she looked pregnant. I was like what is that? She was under the covers and I just didn’t know what was going on. I’m not family so I just kind of kept my mouth shut. I figured if I saw it and they saw it and the doctor saw it and the nurse saw it, then I thought everything was good.
Fast forward, she ended up passing and even though I know it is not my fault that she died that moment still lives with me because I ask myself if I had said something would she be alive? Because what was happening in that moment was that an infection was growing inside of her abdomen. The infection was eating at her other organs. So ultimately, she passed because her organs were destroyed by the infection that was growing in her pancreas; so, I always carry that with me like should I have said something. I made a promise at that moment with myself that I would then be responsible and be vocal about my health. I would not let the western medical system be my healthcare advisor because in all actuality they can only respond and only a small measure when you are sick because they have themselves their own limited information.
Medicine is a practice. They’re figuring things out. It’s not a solid science. It’s not like a litmus test where you walk in you blow on something and it’ll tell you what’s wrong with you. In many cases, we’ve all got multiple things that are impacting our bodies that may appear to be one thing or the other or that medical professional may just not have enough information. Maybe there’s an itch on your foot that you forgot to tell them about and that’s the main thing that’s gonna make them know what’s wrong. It’s so many little things to think about and they’ve got so many patients and they’re working as hard as they can.
I have to be responsible for my own healthcare and in doing that, it led me to things like first, giving up pork which I did in my teens. In my 20s, giving up beef and then deciding to eat more leafy greens and drinking more water and just the things that most of us know. Like don’t eat a bunch of sugar and trying to be mindful of that.
But then in these last few years, starting to learn what meat production looks like in America and how that impacts our bodies. If we were in a different country, I don’t know if I would necessarily be plant-based because my decision to become plant-based was not about the ethical treatment of animals. While I do understand that and it is a very positive benefit that we don’t have to kill in order to eat, I don’t know if I would have been awakened to that point. If I was in another country simply because we produce so much meat in the United States and across the world that we are literally killing our planet. Because of that and the number of hormones and pesticides and all these things being injected into the meat and the way that animals are being farmed, we’re ingesting things that are not good for us which may not even have been the case if things would have been farmed in a natural process.
You asked me about the tragic story that sort of happened but it kind of led into this sort of understanding and recognizing that I needed to do my part. I can’t force anybody to make every decision and I’m not a preachy vegan. I’m not gonna preach it to you or anybody else that they need to be vegan. What I will say is that we all need to eat more plants. Whether you consume meat or you don’t consume meat, eating more plants is healthier for our bodies hands down. No question.

“…49% of African American women have heart disease. That’s pretty much half of your family. Why is everybody dying? Everybody’s dying from the stuff that we put in our bodies. On top of that, we add the stress that we experience just for being black in America. Come on. We can’t afford to eat our way to our death because we have enough to deal with.”

MN: I was raised in a neighborhood where we didn’t have Whole-Foods Market. We didn’t have grocery stores that had the freshest produce and we didn’t necessarily have the money to buy healthy resources or healthy alternatives. What way as a community can change that if we don’t have the resources? Is it just an educational thing? What ways can we do to get people to know like ok this is bad for us but at the same time like how can we get better if it’s not out there?
KB: Right. So, I think it’s going to be community effort and I think people have the mind-set that eating vegan or eating healthy is more expensive and I blame that partly on the ideas of as a whole group like you can’t go to Whole-Foods and expect to come out spending less than like a hundred dollars buying groceries just for yourself. So, I think that there’s the thinking that healthy is expensive but it is not. It’s really about knowing where to go. There’s no difference and I try to equate it like this when I’m talking to people.
You can go get your car fixed at the dealership. We all can but you also know that maybe there’s a guy who knows how to work on cars that used to work at Honda or used to work at Nissan who can do the same thing for cheaper. I think it’s about connecting each other with the resources that we need to get the stuff that we need at price that we can afford so if that means ‘Ay yo girl. They’ve got apples on sale at Aldi. If you want me to pick you some up, I’m over here’ or ‘Hey, there’s a farmer’s market that’s right down the street from us. Let’s go get the stuff that we need.’
That’s the kind of way we should help each other is by pointing each other to resources. Not just saying ‘Oh I can’t eat that healthy stuff. Oh girl, that salad is 40 dollars. Well if you buy the lettuce, the lettuce isn’t 40 dollars. If you go buy the lettuce then you got multiple salads. To be for real, I don’t eat salad most of my life. When was the last time I had a salad? Maybe like a month ago. It’s not something you eat like every single day, so it’s a matter of opening up those opportunities so that people understand that this stuff is affordable.
A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered with this group called Share Your Beauty. They donate beauty products and they also plant a housing community garden. They brought out a whole bunch of people. Girl, we planted kale, cucumber, zucchini, romaine lettuce, and all this other stuff that I didn’t even get to see because we planted it so fast. There were like 20 people working on the garden. Now we’ve given them the tools that they need to have a community garden where they can go and pick up food themselves. Like that old-school stuff back in the country where people used to have gardens in their backyards. I feel like we have to go back to that.
We have to figure how to get back into the kitchen because to be honest with you, it’s that fake food. The stuff that’s in freezers is our downfall. It’s made of sugar and salt and stuff that we don’t need. It’s the reason that we have these high numbers like 49% of African American women have heart disease. That’s pretty much half of your family. Why is everybody dying? Everybody’s dying from the stuff that we put in our bodies. On top of that, we add the stress that we experience just for being black in America. Come on. We can’t afford to eat our way to our death because we have enough to deal with. We have all these studies on mental health and how black people are sometimes a little more apprehensive when it comes to dealing with doctors and I get it.
My veganism is so important because like we got enough to deal with. Let me just make food easy for you. Here’s some good stuff because I kind of already know what y’all like. I grew up from the South and most people can handle southern type flavors. I’m bringing things from all different parts of the world. I’ve done Indian. I’ve got flavors form Brazil. Other foods from South America. I’ve done some French inspired cuisine like New Orleans flavors. Barbecue from the south, I’ve got that flavor. Just a lot of different things. I do a lot of Asian inspired stuff so trying to get people excited about food so that they’re excited to go into the kitchen again because I think we need to be thinking about like I said slow food and not fast food.
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MN: What are some things that you hear about veganism that kind of just like, ugh why a lot of people put that out there? That’s not true. ls there something about being a vegan that like irks you or is there anything at all?
KB: I’ve heard a lot of people say ‘Oh, I watch What the Health’ and it’s like ‘Oh, I’m dropping everything. I’m not gonna eat any more meat’ and they have no plan. They just drop everything and go and I’m like that is not sustainable. We will see you back on this chicken in about 3 months. It just doesn’t work and the reason for that is number one, people don’t think about temptation. They don’t think about long-term. They’re just like I can do this. I can make it happen. I can just eat fruits and vegetables. Ok, you’re gonna get bored with that.
Most people, when they think about eating vegetarian or eating vegan–you Jasmin were vegetarian for a really long time so it’s probably second nature for you–somebody who has been eating meat for most of their life, meat is the centre of most meals for most Americans. When you take that out, what are you left with? A bunch of fries? I don’t wanna eat a bunch of fries. So, I just got back from lunch. I went to a restaurant and the person I went with knows that I am vegan. We get to the restaurant. Sit down. He says well there’s probably nothing here that you can eat. Why are we here then? It doesn’t make sense you know.
Now, I asked the guy what’s on the menu and then I’m going to the sides because those are the only options that I have now and so that conversation is real when it comes to being plant-based. It is real but it’s a myth that it’s impossible to eat out and have vegan without going to a vegan restaurant. It is possible because if they have ingredients in the kitchen, they can make you something. If they have broccoli, asparagus, or sweet potatoes, we can at least make a meal of something. If you just tell them no meat broth or butter in it, then we should be good. So, it’s possible and you don’t always have to eat at a vegan restaurant every time.
The other thing that’s irritating is the conversation about protein. It’s like how many times are you gonna be asked the same question about protein? Have you ever seen someone sit down and say ‘Oh man I’m just not getting enough protein’. Nobody says that and they don’t go to the doctor for being protein-deficient. I am deficient maybe but that’s more of a conversation about how your body is absorbing nutrients, which takes me back to the first thing that I said is that people just jump into things without asking questions without getting information. Sometimes, you have certain things going on in your body that are gonna impact your absorption of nutrients.
I have at least about four or five stories of that same conversation I had someone say ‘Girl, I tried to be vegan but I got anemia’ and my next question is ‘Have you ever had any issues with pasta or bread or anything? Do you have a gluten sensitivity?’ She’s like “Yeah, I think I might cause every time I eat…’ and I’m like there it is. Every single time without fail it has to do with gluten; so, if you pull back on gluten, you go back to adding this iron then you’re gonna find that you’re able to absorb much more of the nutrients.
I would say that most people would know if they have coeliac disease because the impact is gonna be much greater. If you’re gluten sensitive or intolerant and you’re kinda in that section a little bit in the way your body processes gluten and you can still tolerate it. But it’s just uncomfortable and it may make you ill. It’s just that you don’t have coeliac disease necessarily but it’s always a good question. Again, I am not a doctor so I would ask you to go to your doctor and ask these questions. So, what I do is I just give people questions to ask. I’m not diagnosing you. I ain’t saying you have a disease or you don’t have one. Go to your doctor and ask these questions.
MN: I know there are so many benefits of being a vegan. You can pretty much list everything there is. Is there anything you have to worry about being a vegan?
KB: Oh yes, definitely. So, we know that [Vitamin] B-12 is limited in soil and we also know it’s not present in plants. It can be found in meat so that has to be supplemented. Currently, I take Vitamin D–that’s another long story of how I even discovered that I was Vitamin D deficient but I got that information when I went and got my annual. I had this issue with my stomach. I was just nauseous for random reasons and I’m like I don’t know what’s going on. Found out that I was Vitamin D deficient, which I did not connect the two until maybe after about two or three months after having taken Vitamin D every day. After that, I was no longer getting nauseous.
I went to the internet and started looking up gut health Vitamin D and there’s a very strong connection with how you digest with Vitamin D. I find myself inside a lot of the time whether I’m in the kitchen or I’m sitting in front of the computer right now I need Vitamin D. So, I supplement that so that’s a thing to look at.
Other than that, I think that unless you are weight-building, building muscles, if you were eating meat, you’re gonna add more protein to your diet. Most people, to be honest with you, carbs aren’t necessarily bad, everything in moderation. You need carbs to burn especially if you’re building muscle; so, just having good carbs is gonna be important.
With protein, it’s not an issue. Chickens, cows, monkeys, gorillas, they all they don’t eat meat either but eat plants and they still got protein. I think that’s just like one of those things that I don’t call it a dumb question. I call it an ill-informal question because people don’t think about it. I’d probably ask that question but now I’m being asked that question like ‘Where do your protein come from?’ I’m like “The same place that chicken protein came from’ like stop asking me that question.
I think it’s sort of just the vitamins to think about. When you go out with your friends is another thing to think about like planning, getting the menu in advance, figuring out what you’re gonna ask. Nobody likes the waiter or waitress standing there for like 20 minutes asking ‘Can you make this? Well what about this?’ Make it a bit seamless like having those questions in advance. You’ve got stuff to think about like it’s why just dropping everything aside and doing it all at once. It can be stressful and not sustainable.
Kimberly Barnes - Melanation

“…I’ll see a picture and I’ll imagine what it tastes like I don’t need the recipe. I don’t wanna see what they did. It’s not about taking somebody else’s ideas. It’s about just finding that place of inspiration.”

MN: You’re not only a chef but you do have a meal planning business as well. You’ve been getting a lot of great feedback and a strong social media following. So, what’s the ongoing process when you create new meal ideas with your business and which meal is your favorite so far?
KB: My favorite meal is usually my next meal. I love creating something new that I haven’t done. I love my ‘shrooms and grits. It’s really good but I’ve had it so many times that I’m just like meh it’s ‘shrooms and grits. I’m no longer impressed because it’s not novel to me but it’s novel for a lot of people who’ve never had it. They’ll eat it and say ‘Girl, there’s no meat in this? This tastes like sausage! What did you do?!’ and I’m like you literally watched me make it. I did not put any meat in here.
So I think that and maybe even my Italian bolognaise like people see the Italian bolognaise and they’re like ‘Aw. that’s so cute. She made spaghetti.’ I’m like no. Listen, imagine if you went to an Italian restaurant and they gave you like that crumpled-type sausages, mixed on top of your spaghetti. It’s really flavorful. It got both of those meats working together, so it’s not spaghetti. You recognize it as something else. How do you get that flavor when you’re not using meat? That’s what I achieved with the Italian bolognaise. It’s the reason why people are like I can probably google some of these recipes.
The thing about making good food is to try things. So, I gave the [bolognaise] spaghetti to my whole family and they were not about that ‘vay-gan’ life as they say with they country selves. They were like ‘But what are you making? What you put in there? What’s that? Why you put that in there?’ They’re asking hella questions and we sit down and every single plate is clean. This is all plant-based and this tastes like meat to you. It’s giving you that same texture and that same flavor and you watched me make it without meat.
So now the nutritional value has gone up significantly because you’re pretty much eating cauliflower and walnuts. Those are things that you’d never put together with a whole bunch of seasoning. Some you’ve never even tried before. They all loved it and so now they’re open to trying more because they love it so much and it was super simple. Just spaghetti because it was quick. I was at the family house and they needed something to eat and I was like ‘Well I’ll cook because I’m not gonna eat whatever y’all gonna make.’ Everybody was good. Everybody was happy. Nobody called my stuff ‘vay-gan’ no more because they’re a lot more respectful.
You were asking me what’s my process is to get new recipes. I tend to go on social media and just find a good hashtag and just start scrolling. I’ll just look and see if something looks interesting like an ingredient that I hadn’t thought about in a while. So, I’ll scroll through stuff then I’ll see an eggplant and I’ll be like ‘Oh, I haven’t done anything with eggplant in a while’ and then I’ll start to creating something. Or I’ll see a picture and I’ll imagine what it tastes like I don’t need the recipe. I don’t wanna see what they did. It’s not about taking somebody else’s ideas. It’s about just finding that place of inspiration. Like give me a bite, a little something to go on and then I can figure it out from there.
I put my own recipe inspiration and tried and made something else so it only takes a bit of something to get me thinking and creating or maybe I’ll wake up with an idea sometimes. I even go to a restaurant and be incredibly inspired. I’ll try something new and I’ll get an idea from a taste. I’ll be coming out with whole menu just from eating one thing at a restaurant but that’s usually how the inspiration flows and I pretty much do that every single week.
MN: What foods that are considered OK to be eaten by vegans, but you on the other hand just find it disgusting? Like, I’m not gonna eat it. No, mm-mm, nope, not on my taste buds.
KB: Nutritional yeast. You ain’t gotta ask me twice, nutritional yeast. No, like that stuff smell like corpse feet. Like cold musty feet that have died. I opened that thing for the first time and I was like ‘Oh, who eats this?’ Who can make cheese by putting nutritional yeast in it. I would rather smell all the real stinky cheeses, like soft blue cheeses that smell really bad. I’d rather smell that for the rest of my life than smell nutritional yeast ever again because it’s just that gross. On top of that, nutritional yeast has glutamate which is like one molecule away from monosodium glutamate, which we know is not good for us. I don’t wanna be sprinkling that because people are like you can get B-12 from it. I’m like I can get B-12 from a pill so I’m good.

Please make sure to follow Kimberly IG @mightbvegan to know more about her plant-based meal planning and Youtube channel.

Share some your vegan stories in the comment section below!!

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