Naliaka Wakhisi, 32, finally got tired of being the only vegan of color in the room. So in 2014, she created a group on with hopes of finding her community.

Today, Vegans of Color has more than 3,000 members and has hosted more than 70 events.

When Wakhisi is not creating new vegan recipes of her own, the NYU Tisch graduate balances her days as a vegan chef, a fitness trainer, and a teacher of entrepreneurship.

As for her newest endeavor? Wakhisi founded Black Theory, a passion project designed to provide vegan travel experiences for people of color.

She shared more about herself during an interview with

How long have you been vegan, and what inspired you to try a vegan diet?
October marked four years. But why? The short story is: just for fun. The long story is, my brother asked me if I wanted to be a raw vegan for a month. A raw vegan is when you only eat raw foods. Fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, oils — things from the earth that aren’t cooked over a certain temperature.

If you’ve been digesting animal proteins and dairy for your entire life, and all of a sudden go raw, that’s a hard thing to do. So, cold turkey, I went vegan for three months. I joined a couple of groups and studied up, and it was a success – I felt good. When I tried to go back to eating what I was eating, it was the worst. I knew too much at that point. I had learned so much. That’s why I decided to stay vegan.

What inspired you to create the Vegans of Color group on Meetup?
When I became vegan, it was kind of hard to find people that looked like me. I wanted to be around other vegans. I couldn’t relate to the people I was hanging around, so that’s why I started my own group!

What’s the best thing to come out of the meetups?
The connections, it’s very social. There’s even white people! It’s just fun. A meetup could start at 1 p.m. and people won’t leave until like 1 o’ clock in the morning. They’ll say, “What’s next? Let’s keep hanging out!” These are strangers – people who had just met each other! As far as I know, there’s nothing like this that exists.

What are the biggest misconceptions about veganism?
That it’s expensive – and I think a lot of people think that you can’t be a foodie because your options start to go away. I’m committed to finding ways to create food that satisfies.

And I’m lucky that I live in New York – I can order a vegan meatball sub at like four in the morning and have it delivered straight to my house. But I could also make that if I wanted to, and not only could I make it, I could make a healthy version of it. My thing is that it’s possible.

Do you think soul food can be healthy?
I was writing about how I want to create comfort food that’s health supporting. Someone told me that’s impossible – and I took that on as a challenge. I’ve been able to create soul food recipes that are comforting and aren’t detrimental to your health. I’ve been able to create things like mac-n-cheese and collard greens, jerk sauce, all of the things I love to eat.

How did you adjust to eating the foods different from the ones you grew up on?
I’m from Miami, so I grew up around Cuban and Caribbean food. I’m half African and half African American; my mom has southern roots. I’m talking about southern, Caribbean, Spanish – every single food you can think of is the food that I grew up with. I’m talking about rice and beans – everything!

I’ve found ways to basically make those foods by replacing things, like vegetable stock instead of lard. These aren’t major changes – they are very tiny things that literally change the health of what you’re eating by a thousand.

So, it’s possible to have a healthy soul food diet?
All these excuses that we’re making don’t make any sense. There’s a different conversation that we should be having. I think it’s totally valid to say that it’s hard not to eat food that you grew up on, but you don’t have to give up on the food of your culture. You can just replace a couple things, and it’s going to benefit you.