By Logan Langlois
Meet Mariah Ragland, or as her customers in the Nashville Farmers Markets know her, Radical Rabbit. She’s the head of her own Nashville-based black-owned independent vegan pop-up restaurant, and she plans on doing things differently right down to her very name.
“People say that vegans eat like rabbits right?” Mariah said during our interview, “so we do that in a radical way. We’re not eating grass or, you know, like they say ‘eat some lawns.’ We’re eating vegan soul food but also the ‘radical’ is the part that tells you, ‘hey this is just a warnin’, the stuff we do is going to be very different from what you’re used to.’ Not just the food but also the way I want to run my business.“
(Radical Rabbit sitting down for our interview in the Hunter’s Station communal kitchen. Frequented by many small businesses and food-based non-profits.)
Mariah was inspired to become an ethical vegan herself out of her love of animals. She said a huge inspiration for her pursuit of ethical veganism stemmed from the loving way she watched her father treat his dogs while breeding them throughout her childhood. While in high school Mariah was introduced to a plant-based diet when her sister, the owner of the no-kill business The Fair Shepard, became a vegetarian and eventually a vegan as well. This left her with undying respect for the animals with whom we share this earth, and the motivation to pursue a cruelty-free diet in her adulthood.
“I was makin’ fun of her, and makin’ it hard for her.” Mariah said while talking about her sister, “and it’s funny ’cause now I say when people are makin’ fun of ME …. they’ll be vegan in a few years. Like, give it some time you know? It just means you’re interested, and you’re curious, and you’re confused.”
Mariah said she first got into cooking when she began sneaking a hot plate in her dorms while she was an RA attending Fisk University. There, she would cook for her friends and fellow classmates who would always encourage her by saying that they would buy her food if she went into business. After school, she began Radical Rabbit in 2018 by selling freshly cooked food from her car outside of her apartment. This is where some of her most dedicated and loyal customers were found, many of which she still serves to this day.
She also began working at the Nashville Food Project, which she credits for changing her understanding of food. She said that being around all the different types of food that were being donated and learning all the different ways that food could be prepared showed her how creative one can be while cooking. She also credits the area in which she lived for having a significant influence on her cooking style. “I live in south Nashville so there’s all types of cultures there.” Mariah said, “we’re all just sharing.”
The Nashville Food project has also had an impact on the way that Radical Rabbit interacts with its community, namely through its activism. Mariah is known to give packaged meals to the Nashville Community Fridge when she’s able. When she doesn’t have the excess food to give, Radical Rabbit partners up with Support and Feed out of California, who fund her efforts to give meals to the Nashville Community Fridge every Thursday.
(Radical Rabbit donating to the Nashville Community Fridge, credit: @nashvillecommunityfridge Instagram)
Through Support and Feed, Mariah is also able to prepare fresh family-style meals once a month for the Nashville Dismas House which houses previously incarcerated people. Mariah recalled the first time she prepared a meal for the Dismas House, Carolina gold flavor fried jackfruit with mac and cheese. “They loved it at first.” She said, “[A] regular customer … works there so she was also eatin’ the food and they know she’s vegan, so their lookin’ at her and they’re like ‘hold on! You eatin’ the food too?’ I guess …. she told them it was vegan …. everyone was like ‘uh…hold on this is not real chicken?’ So then I guess they stopped eatin’ it.”
(Radical Rabbit outside of her Richland Park Farmers Market stand, credit: @radicalrabbit Instagram)
“What I’ve learned from that experience …. bein’ in my vegan bubble I think that everything is cool. I think that the world is a lot different than from when I started this business in 2018. I’m thinkin’ that vegan is everywhere, that everyone knows about vegan and that everyone is cool with it now.” She said, “Knowin’ that is not the case for a lot of places and that the stigma is still there …. and that the word still turns people off…. there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Radical Rabbit can be found Tuesdays at East Nashville Farmers Market from 3:30 pm to 6:30 pm, or Saturdays at Richland Park Farmers Market from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. You can also get Radical Rabbit delivered to you through the Hot Poppy app.