How do you make an NFL star go vegan? That’s the question everyone was asking when watching The Game Changers, the documentary about athletes reaching peak performance through plant-based diets. Chef Charity Morgan, married to Derrick Morgan, formerly of the Tennessee Titans, started to make vegan food for her husband in the offseason as a way of helping him repair and restore his body after a punishing toll the 16 games took on his joints, muscles and overall fitness.
But Morgan likes to set the record straight: It was actually Derrick who had inspired her to go vegan. After seeing how his energy surged, how he began to uncover his six-pack abs, and how his sleep and overall wellbeing improved, she decided to jump on board. She was feeling overcaffeinated and in need of a healthier approach to her own diet, she recalls. That’s how Charity Morgan began to cook plant-based, or vegan, and it was the beginning of a transformative time in her life that led her to now release her first plant-based cookbook.
“I have sympathy and empathy for anyone who decides to go vegan one day since at first I was overwhelmed and anxious about what [to] cook. I hadn’t thought of easy meals for the kids,” Morgan now, looking back on those early days of jettisoning everything that was meat-based or had animal products out of her house. The kitchen became her place of inspiration as she taught herself how to cook again, making all of her favorite foods using plant-based ingredients.
“I love to get inspired by everything I have around already – and with just a few swaps, you can make all your favorite foods vegan. That’s the point. Not to make Charity’s favorites vegan, but for you to use the cookbook as a creative jumping-off point to make your favorites vegan too.”
Charity Morgan on going plant-based, and writing a vegan cookbook
Charity Morgan: “It was very overwhelming in the beginning, and the whole reason I have so much sympathy for people is that here I was as a chef and I got completely overwhelmed and anxious and hyperventilating. You think of everything I had ever learned and I had to throw it all out and start over.
“Everything I learned came to me from an anxiety attack. I thought If I am going to do this I am going to start with a clean slate and I threw away all of the non-plant-based products in the kitchen. My daughter was two at the time and I had thrown out all the meat and animal products from the kitchen and the freezer. And my daughter looked at me and said in her sign language that she used, eat eat eat eat. I looked at her and thought, ‘Oh, boy what do I do now?’
“I stared at what I had in the kitchen: My kids love rice and beans, so I made her a vegetable jambalaya and watched her tear it up. And at that moment I had an epiphany. It’s not about throwing out what we love but swapping it out for ingredients that are better for you.
“It’s not about losing your favorite meals but about swapping out better-for-you ingredients. Of course, we love fried chicken but let’s swap it out and use better-for-you ingredients. Like tofu and oyster mushrooms. There are so many plant-based ingredients out there but people don’t want to use them because they just don’t want to have to be creative.”
That was in 2017… almost five years ago!
The Beet: How did you get Derrick on board?
Charity Morgan: Believe it or not, it was the other way around. He had to get me on board.
Derrick, at the time, was going into his sixth or seventh year in the NFL and every year he did some kind of extreme workout or extreme repair or restore during the offs season. That is always his thing, of putting back into the body because that is what it’s like when you are on that level of being an athlete. Once you tear your body down, you have to focus on repairing the body so once you tear your body down you build it back up and repair it.
He said ‘I want to get a six-pack and repair my body.’ He said I am going to meet with a nutritionist, I can’t keep eating like a fat boy. His plates were stacked high and two or three hours later he was hungry and eating a bowl of cereal and then always snacking and he never stopped eating. And he met with a nutritionist and she asked have you ever thought of going plant-based. And he said let me do my research… and he did it for two or three months.
I got tired of hearing about his super energy and I got so sick of watching him thrive off of it I said I am going to jump on this train with you. I was envious of this burst of energy and six-pack coming in and how well he was sleeping. And I decided I was tired all the time and drinking too much caffeine and I decided to join him.
The Beet: How did you get 12 players and all those NFL stars to join in?
CM: It wasn’t players saying ‘I want to go vegan.’ It was players sitting around saying, ‘My meal doesn’t look like your meal.’ The meals the facility served didn’t look as good as the meal that Derrick was eating. I sent him off to work with a packed meal and he said everyone wanted to eat like that too.
People would ask him if I would make them a meal too. Derrick told me a bunch of others are wanting to know if you would make them their lunch. He was splitting his enchiladas into four pieces and that was a lot for him as an only child. He doesn’t like to share his food. And he was like, ‘Oh God, let’s just do this.’
And I realized it was easier to make meals for a bunch of guys than just one meal. So that’s how that happened.
The Beet: The cookbook must have been your sanity at that point.
CM: Yes! The players’ meals had to happen in order for me to define myself as a chef. But then when I went to write the cookbook it was easy because I knew what to create. Every chef has their own unique aspects of themselves, it’s like an artist in any form. What that did for me was … I remember in one training camp making up to 19 meals a day. And I was doing it twice, for lunch and for dinner, and I could find enough assistants to help me.
But I owe these guys so much – because these guys allowed me to explore what wanted to create. I would send a menu in advance and they never gave me push back. They thought: “Just allow her to create since every day it’s better than the last.” So for the cookbook, I put together everyone’s favorites and put it in this bound book. And put in even my favorites from my childhood and just swapped in two ingredients or so and made them plant-based.
TB: You can make your favorite foods and do it with plant-based ingredients?
CM: That is your superpower. I am not asking you to ake Charity’s favorites, but to make your own favorites and figure out what that is in your own life, and using vegan ingredients you can make those recipes. What I am selling is the inspiration for you to get creative in your kitchen.
My husband is a sweet tooth guy (I am more savory). But every day it was a challenge to whip up desserts for him since he thinks his game isn’t worth it unless he can come home and eat dessert! These are all desserts my husband needed to look forward to the following week of work. The guys work so hard and they eat strictly and within the parameters of their calories. So we called Fridays cheat days and we were making cinnamon rolls and cheesecake and apple crisps.
Those are what you get to see in the book. The desserts all the guys told me were their favorites. So that’s why we made sure to include all those desserts.
TB: How do you stay in shape? You look fit and your skin is glowing! What are your beauty secrets?
CM: Prayer! Actually, because I am around food so much I don’t actually eat that much. I normally don’t eat at the beginning of the day, I am drinking my water and my coffee. My plan for dinner is to make a lentil chorizo chile…. plant-based. And cardio is my best friend. And good genes!
For skin, drink more water and use good products. To have clean products without a lot of preservatives and chemicals. [Unnatural products] might work to begin with, but then they seep into the dermis and end up creating an inflammatory response and doing more harm than good.
You only get this one canvas and it’s all about being preventative instead of reactive. I have been into skin products since I was 14 and my older sisters would always look at what’s in my beauty bag.
You can pre-order Unbelievably Vegan, and get your bonus recipes and the book on January 18th. For anyone who wants to unlock bonus content like recipes, check out the Instagram link in bio and click on “Preorder Perks.” https://woobox.com/9kk5nx.
For more great ideas, check out the 10 Best Cookbooks to Give as Gifts This Christmas.