hi guys! Welcome back to the blog and I hope that some of you missed me (wink, wink).  It has been over six months since my last interview and a couple of things have happened since my last post. As we all know, Covid-19 has been running rampant throughout the world and I have been working non-stop between the cath lab and ER.  I also graduated with a master’s degree in nursing informatics (yay!), became single and decided to take a sabbatical of almost three months after graduation to recharge, as I came close to burnout.  During my sabbatical, I did… (drumroll) NADA!  Joking! Well…as close as nada is to me, I mainly slept, went to the beach to reconnect with mother nature, read non-medical books, exercised, hung out with my fur babies, and reconnected with myself. 

I am extremely excited to share this new blog interview!  It has set the tone for me getting back into the swing of things and it could not be more relatable to what we are living in.  House of Chick’n was a business that I wanted to talk to for a while, I met the owner Chris Burman, a couple of months back when I slipped into his IG and we started talking about vegan chicken.  It seems that I meet a ton of talent through IG…. 

A little background on Chris, he currently lives in the Orlando area, is a father, husband, creates various “chicken” dishes, vegan of course and coined the hashtag #blegan (more on that later).

 

Alba:

        “Hey Chris! Thanks for meeting me, this interview has been in the works for a while now, but I really needed a break and thanks for your understanding.”

Chris:

        “I get it, I’m not good with time, so we’re good!

Alba:

        (Laughter) “Ok, good! So, give me a fast intro on how you became vegan and how HOC came to be.”  (Chris will be a guest on the SFV podcast, so he will give a full account then).

Chris:

         “So, I became vegan, full vegan about 3-4 years ago; but the idea of me being vegan culinary creator (I love that term!) was also 3-4 years ago.  Back then there weren’t too many options and I wanted to create more options.  I’m a writer and a producer, so all these previous things I’ve done, these things that I’ve done led to HOC about a year and a half ago after I left corporate America back in 2017.  I decided to do strictly plant-based chicken.  I didn’t like the options that were out there, I felt that the people needed something that was the same texture and feel of real chicken to make our dishes, cultural dishes, without the harm to animals.  I also had a background in sales making good money, having insurance but I wasn’t happy.”

Alba:

         “Based on what I’ve seen on your website, you have various forms of “chicken”, like chicken wings, spicy, non-spicy (he nods) and when you say “cultural dishes”, what dishes are you referring to?”

Chris:

          “I’m obviously African American, Black, wife is Hispanic, basically all cultures use chicken in their dishes, you know what I’m saying? I wanted to start there, whether it’s bake chicken, BBQ chicken, any of those things because many of these dishes are connected to an emotion or to moments and I like been around my family.  So, I wanted to create something that people could take to make their favorite dishes.  Anything from jerk chicken to chicken marsala, curry chicken, anything that people want to make that transition to veganism.  I always tell people that I want to be that conduit between eating meat to you eating that raw diet” (talk about having the dream job!).

Alba:

         “This came about because you saw a need in the community (he knows his head), yes, we love Gardein or MorningStar but you wanted more than that, more… flavorful?”

Chris:

         “More specific to chicken, I’m a creative person by nature.  I’ve made alternatives to sausages, steak, ribs, but somehow chicken stuck him me.  I’m not only a creative person but I am also flighty like ‘squirrel, squirrel, squirrel’ (I laugh).  I want to do so much and somehow I got connected with this product so much, but I said to myself that I was going to focus on this one product and make it the best that I can make it.  I believed this changed my life with this decision.”

I nod my head at his explanation of why chicken and before we started the interview, Chris had shared a bit of his background before HOC.  He was born on the Southside of Chicago and went to a private Catholic school, I asked him about his experience during this time in school.

Chris:

         “We were the only few Black families at the school, so I always had to bounce back between two different worlds.”

Alba:

         “Interesting.”

Chris:

         “One world will be ‘you talk too white’, the other will be ‘you are not from here’.  I learned a long time ago just to be me and to have energy that attracts people.  I always understand that I am a Black man walking into any situation, but I never let that stop me from doing anything, bother me or impede me from doing anything.  I love who I am, I love my culture, I love my people.

I keep nodding at what he says and the last statement went straight to my heart because many do not love who they are or where they come from and the matter of race, how dark or light you are, still matters so strongly in this country.  This brings me to my next question, and I do want to say that for the ones who are reading this, my experiences have been different than a person of color.  I am LatinAsian, I do not “look” Latin or Asian, I have white skin, hazel eyes and often mistaken for White or European.  I don’t think I have ever gotten discriminated against like others have because of skin color.  I have however, gotten comments from the Latin community that I am not “Latin enough” or from the Asian community that I am not “Asian enough” or the term ‘banana’.  This was highlighted in the movie Crazy Rich Asians that the lead character had grown up outside of China; she was Yellow on the outside but White on the inside.  Latins come in many different sizes and colors, I am a prime example, there isn’t an exact blueprint of what a person should look like or not.  I feel that we get the most criticism from our people…like when Chris was told that he “spoke too White” or “acted white”.  What does that mean?  Is it wrong for a person of color to have money, to be an entrepreneur, have their own business? Why?

Chris:

         “I think people don’t feel that way anymore and I don’t really get that anymore either.  I am forty-six and grew up in a different generation, and being a Black entrepreneur is a thing now.”  

I thought so for a while, Chris and I discuss Atlanta for example, who according to prosperitynow.org is made up of 52% African American and 37% White.  Atlanta is a city in which Black entrepreneurs and Black own businesses are taking things to the next level.  There are lawyers, doctors, producers, an example like Tyler Perry that does not have a studio but a whole compound. 

Chris:

         “The mindset is different there, a different idea of what Black is.  People need to understand that we are just not one thing like X, Y, Z.  I am Black, vegan, nerd, liberal, gun owner who believes in the 2nd Amendment (laughs at my saucer-like eyes), but also believes in gun control.  We are not monolithic; we all literally go through the same shit.  We worry about bills and our families, we have so many layers, I am a father and husband; but as a Black person, you always have that extra layer of that “thing”.  A cop comes by, they look at your car, become interested in your car, you walk in a place and you have people calling the cops on you.”

Chris tells me that on the day that George Floyd was murdered, he was FaceTiming his daughter, and someone called the cops on him because they thought he was taking pictures of them. 

Chris:

         “People think that they can call the cops for anything, when the cop came up to me, he approached him with dignity.  When you approach me with dignity then we can have a conversation on a good basis.  If he would have approached me differently, as a man, I am not going to let another man speak to me in any negative way; I don’t care who you are.  What I am saying is that we are multi-layered.  I love Hip-Hop/Urban music, my blackness (he waves up and down his body) is not a form.  Someone who comes up to me and tells me that they don’t see color is a red flag for me.”

That caught me off guard…

 

Alba:

         “Why is that? I mean I am aware that you are Black just like other friends who are Black, but why is that bad?”

Chris:

          “That means that you do see color, but you are very ignorant because you have to see my color.  If you come to me and say ‘I not ONLY see color’ than that’s different.  I am aware that you are a woman, but you are not just a woman (ahh…things start to click for me).  As a woman, in this society, there are things that you go through and deal with.  I see you as not only as woman, but a nurse, Latina, dog lover, etc.  So, for you to tell me that you don’t see color, that is the most ridiculous thing because you are taking away from me who I am as a Black person.”          

At this point, I am shook…I have said that in the past because I know, not aware, that someone is Asian, Black, White, etc. you have to be blind not to see that; but I was not aware that I sounded ignorant or made anyone feel that I didn’t see or value their uniqueness in color, culture or experiences they have gone through.  Being ignorant is not a sin, we are not all going to be King Solomon, wise and ever knowing, however, I am wondering why none of my Black friends has said anything to me about this before… This bothered me because I have always considered myself tolerant of all colors and cultures and honestly, I was a bit hurt.  Not with Chris but his words did hurt, and as I type this, I’m holding back tears thinking of the many people who may have been hurt by my comments but never said anything.  I would have appreciated someone coming to me, taking me aside and telling me X, Y, Z so that I can learn and be more educated.  My desire to know is why I ask so many whys not only during interviews, but also in everyday life.        

At this time during the interview, I needed a distraction to take it all in, Kona, who had been sitting on my lap, sat up and gave me a much needed respite to get my thoughts together.  Chris of course was enchanted with Kona, of how “chill” she was, what can I say? Vegan dog.  As soon as I got my thoughts in order I wondered if he would be okay with my questions, especially since now I don’t want to offend or him think me disrespectful. 

He reassures me to continue.    

Alba:

         “I appreciate you saying this and for the conversation we are having because I am learning so much.  Based on the work that I do, we go to many vegan festivals (in and outside of Florida) and events and someone messaged me about going to Black VegFest (he nods his head) in New York.  I feel that I might not be accepted there or get side eye because I’m a light skin person going to a Black festival.  What do you think about that?”

Chris:

         “Mmm…well Black folks have always needed a place to be inclusive.  When I grew up, veganism was not even in my vocabulary, but once I started getting into veganism, I noticed that a lot of things are marketed to Europeans or White Americans (I nod my head) typically.  The Black community didn’t have that of flavorful foods, events for us and in for me personally, once I saw people like Dom (Thompson), John (Lewis), Tabitha (Brown) and John Salley; it blew my mind that our community is bigger.  So, when we have spaces like “Black VegFest”, it perks our ears up, it is something like that we can get into.  As you know, you been in the medical field, Blacks folks are impacted mostly by diseases that are preventive because of diet and lifestyle.  When people see someone, who is vegan for multiple years, when you go to a space like, you think “my journey as a vegan can grow”.  When you, as a nurse go to places like this, you get to learn what the community goes through, so that when you go back to work, you can relate better to Black patients and understand what they’re going through.  You can also direct them to people like Torre (Washington) or myself, then their worldview expands.  So, it is not about being exclusive but inclusive when we broaden the world view.” 

This last statement was impactful for me, it is very true, as nurses we are taught during sensitivity lectures to always find that something that you can relate to you patients to make their stay/procedure more comfortable.  Chris agrees with me, he also complimented the nursing field on how we spend the most times with patients and thankful for the work we do. 

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) Blacks, closely followed by Hispanics have higher incidences of heart disease and obesity for the year 2015-2016 (“Health, United States Spotlight Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Heart Disease”, 2019).  Some of the factors contributing to this include family history, knowledge and food desserts which will be a topic for another article. 

Alba:

         “So, we shouldn’t feel, (I struggle with how to put forth my though) and when I say “we”, I’m referring to someone who might feel that certain events/festivals like this are not geared towards them; is not about been excluded but for a way, in this example, an event geared for a certain group of people.”         

Chris:

         (He nods his head) “Exactly, for the Black community-“

I interrupt him to say that one of the reasons why I felt that I wouldn’t be welcomed was seeing and hearing all the movements that have been going on for equality, police brutality and so forth by the Black community.

 

Alba:

         “Especially in this age of “Black Power”, “Black Lives Matter”, Black this, Black that somehow it made me feel that being White or having white skin is a bad thing.”

I can’t really say why I felt like this…?  Maybe because of all the different recent events that have shined light on the discrimination against the Black/Brown community…?  I struggled with this for a bit.  Living in South Florida with such a diverse population, before Covid of course, there are multiple festivals celebrating a different culture/country and I always went.  I love culture.  Going to events/festivals like this, eating various (vegan) foods, listening to the music, dances, etc. was something I never hesitated to go and enjoy and to learn from.

 

Chris:

         “Mmmm…no.  Now your getting into more racial and social ideas, sometimes is not about us.  Let me give you an example, that’s like me saying: ‘if there’s a Women’s March, that is not for me.’  The reality is that as a man, it is not for me, it’s a movement to uplift women, but as an ally of women; because I have a mother, a wife, daughters and friends, when I go to that march, I can understand.  Not to come in and say how you should do things or how you need to feel; as an ally, I am there to support.  I can take what I learned from that point of view and take it to other people who may not know.  As a feminist (He’s a feminist? Need to explore this further) if I’m rocking with women, and I hang with my boys, and this is hypothetical (I nod), and they start saying crazy shit about women, I can be ‘hey bro’ (puts palm up in the stop sign), ‘this is what they’re going through’ and I can be a voice.  This is what Black folks are looking for, and there are other allies of different movements.  We have White folks marching with us, they share posts, people like you who write blogs, who ask questions, have full understanding.  Everybody fights differently but as allies, you need to understand and listen and know what is meant for you.”

Alba:

         “Can you expand on that?’

 Chris:

          “Yes, if I were to go to the Women’s March and tell women that I understand but turn around and tell them what to, people will look at me crazy!” (I laugh, true).

If you don’t have a vagina or a uterus, you don’t get an opinion; and before I get emails from the trans community, medically, a female is defined by these sex organs.  Chris continues by saying that it is okay not to be included in everything.

 

Chris:

         “Once you realize that some things may not be for us, that’s okay.  I can’t go to every space and expect to be wanted and accepted.” 

Alba:

         “Isn’t that the whole point of Black Lives Matter Movement?  Equality?” 

Chris:

         “Now it is about equality, but I have a different mindset on that.  I believe on equity over equality, because not only do I want to help my folks in the way they eat, but also in an entrepreneur space.  There is a huge gap between the income between Blacks and Whites, if we don’t shift that and change that, is going to get worst and worst.  Especially in this time or Covid, there’s kids at home with no internet, no parent to help them with that schoolwork.  So, when I say equity over equality, if we all keep trying to get equal standing, then people will think that there’s something that will be taken away from them in their minds.  That is not what we are trying to do, we need to uplift our people, to give them better knowledge, financially, food-wise, health-wise.  If we pour these things more into our community, to give equity, how finances work, then we can start voicing our options in a stronger manner.”

I take a step back again to take it all in and all that Chris is mentioning comes around to education.  I think of a quote by Queen Rania of Jordan when she was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show:

       “If you educate a woman, you educate a family, if you educate a girl, you educate the              future.”

Furthermore, the answer of Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel of Saudi Arabia, on a statement of the princess building bridges between the Western world and Saudi Arabia, by host Lee Hawkins from the Wall Street Journal:

         “…I’ve traveled the world, I’ve been to more than seventy countries, that opened my               eyes to other cultures.  So, I consider myself a globalized citizen and it taught me to                 build bridges, and become more tolerant, and understanding; and I think it opens                     people’s eyes when you learn more, educate yourself and open yourself to other                     people’s cultures.” 

Why do I bring them up? From Chris’s answers and examples of the differences and similarities between Black Lives Matter and Women’s Rights movement, education is the common factor.  Education builds that gap and lets us learn from each other; and that is the whole point of this interview.

Alba:

         “I want to go back a bit to the part that of you always been conscious that you are a Black man in America; do you think you make people more comfortable with your open and friendly attitude?”

Chris:

         “No, more conscious.  It’s not my job to make you comfortable.  I am conscious that if a woman is in a certain place alone with a strange man, she might have certain feelings based on how society is, yes.  I do understand that.”

  

I can relate to that, as a woman, I don’t care what color you are.  If I don’t know you, I will be nervous around you, and that pepper spray will come out faster than you can blink.  It is not a matter of color, but of biology, men will always be physically stronger than women and I am very aware of that.

Alba:

         “Let’s turn the conversation now to (vegan) chicken.  I didn’t get a chance to try the chicken when you came down here for Vegan Block Party last year. I was a bit disappointed, but I was on stage the entire event and by the time I finished, there was none left! (He laughs).  I’m excited to get some of your chicken soon, the only thing that I do ask is that is already cooked and all I have to do is warm it up. I don’t have time to cook and I don’t want to; just want heat and go.”

HOC has some loyal fans and customers with a big social media following and presence.  One big fan is comedian Mo’Nique and is in the works to get more investors on board.  This is so exciting!  To get a staple as chicken to the masses but in a vegan form; as a black entrepreneur, Chris came up with the #blegan because he is Black and vegan.  So simple but genius at the same time.

Chris:

         “Before HOC, I have used all my past experiences of sales and management to reach out and connect with people.  I never asked for anything, just sent some of the product for them to try.  It is about going out there and speaking to people; the entrepreneur spirit has to be in all of us.  I feel that you if you want to work your 9-5 that’s fine, but there’s always the need for that side hustle.”

That is absolutely true, the pandemic definitely brought into light that you always need to have that backup plan/savings.  So many people lost their jobs and their one source of income, they did not have something on the side that could help in the meantime.  As we whine down the conversation, I thank Chris for his time and also the conversation we were able to have.  I was to see things that I hadn’t seen before, learned more about a different culture than mine, and also added more to my mindset.  I ask him for any last words he may have.

   

Chris:

         “Hate comes from ignorance, from lack of knowledge and understanding, but when your worldview changes and broadens, you start to see things differently and you start to understand things differently.  When people ask what White privilege is, to me a part of it, is only learning about one part of your country’s history and not learn about other parts of history.  People ask me on why I have a Black history book or Black History Month, and I say give me the name of three influential Black people that is not an athlete, MLK Jr. or Malcom X.”

I thought he was asking me, and I replied with Madam C.J. Walker, the poet Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglas.  Chris was surprised when I answered, I told him when I was in elementary school, I had a teacher who made a point of celebrating and educating different cultural months like Black, Hispanic and Asian History months.  Now that I think about it, it was she who installed in me my love of culture and languages…and I do not remember her name.                   

Chris:

         “Privilege is not only a white thing, but it can be me having more privileges than women, or me as human having privilege over animals and so on.  Another privilege is not having to talk to their sons on how to interact with police.

 

Alba:

         “So instead of talking about sex you are discussing what not to do and what to do if you get stopped by a cop?” (We laugh)

Chris tells me that yes and no, we have to talk about sex, but his mother had that talk with him when he was a young man and he expresses that that is a teaching point in the black community.  He also mentions that he does not have sons, but he does have three little girls and the world will see them as black girls and not mixed.

 

Chris:

         “They will have certain things, like if they get passionate, they will be called angry; like Serena Williams, when they talk about her hitting a ball it’s how she hits in a ‘violent fashion’.  But you have Monica Seles she was described as ‘powerful’ and ‘strong’ when she hits the ball.  Privilege comes in many forms that is why we must be allies of one another.”  

I want to thank Chris for his time and insights and I absolutely am a follower and fan.  For orders on products and merchandise or to learn more about HOC, visit their website or on IG @houseofchickn

 

 

                                                             References

 

Health, United States Spotlight Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Heart Disease.  (2019).  Center for Disease Control.  Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus/spotlight/HeartDiseaseSpotlight_2019_0404.pdf 

Rice, S., Derbigny, D., Sims, L.  (2017).  Advancing Collective Prosperity Through Entrepreneurship in Atlanta.  Prosperity Now.  Retrieved from https://prosperitynow.org/files/resources/Advancing-Collective-Prosperity-Through-Entrepreneurship-in-Atlanta_0.pdf           

Roberts, E. (Associate Director).  (2006).  Meet the World’s Youngest Queen.  In Goldfine, M. (Features producer), The Oprah Winfrey Show.  Chicago, Illinois: ABC.

Wall Street Journal.  (2012, September 26).  Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel on Women’s Rights, Islam & Giving Back.  Saudi Arabian Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel talks to the Wall Street Journal’s Lee Hawkins  about her efforts to persuade Saudi officials to lift laws that prohibit women from driving, her philanthropic efforts around Islam awareness, and what it’s like to be a princess and a wife of one of the richest, most influential men in the world.  https://youtu.be/_LYZFXOAlPk