By Logan Langlois
Meet Maria Ragland, or as her clients at the Nashville Farmers Market know her, the Radical Rabbit. She’s the president of her own independent, black-owned pop-up vegan restaurant in Nashville, and she plans to do things differently right up to her name.
“People say vegetarians eat like rabbits, right?” Maria said during our interview, “So we do it in a radical way. We don’t eat grass, you know, they say ‘we eat some meadows.’ We eat vegan food for the soul but also the ‘radical’ is the part that tells you, ‘This is just a warning,’ things What we do is going to be very different from what I’m used to. Not just the food but also the way I want to run my business.”
(Radical Bunny sits down to meet us in the communal kitchen of Hunter Station. It is frequented by many small businesses and food-based nonprofits.)
Maria was inspired to become an ethical vegetarian herself because of her love of animals. She said that great inspiration in her pursuit of ethical vegetarianism stems from the loving way she witnessed her father treating his dogs while raising them throughout her childhood. While in high school, Maria was introduced to a vegan diet when her sister, the owner of the no-kill project The Fair Shepard, became a vegetarian and eventually also a vegan. That left her with an undying respect for the animals we share this land with, and a drive to follow a cruelty-free diet into adulthood.
“I’ve been making fun of her, making her hard.” “It’s funny” because I say now when people make fun of me… they’ll be vegan in a few years, Maria said while talking about her sister. Like, give it some time you know? It just means that you’re interested, that you’re curious, that you’re confused.”
Maria said she got into cooking for the first time when she started sneaking a hot dish into her college dorms while she was in RA at Fisk University. There, she would cook for her friends and classmates who would always encourage her by saying that they would buy her food if she started working. After school, she started Radical Rabbit in 2018 by selling freshly cooked food from her car outside her apartment. This is where some of its most dedicated and loyal customers were found, and it continues to serve many of them to this day.
She also started working on the Nashville Food Project, which she credits with changing her understanding of food. She said being around all the different types of food that were donated and learning all the different ways food can be prepared showed her just how creative one can be while cooking. She also credits the region in which she lived, which had a great influence on the style of cooking. “I live in south Nashville, so there are all kinds of cultures there.” We all just share,” Maria said.
The Nashville Food Project has also had an impact on the way Radical Rabbit interacts with his community, specifically through his activism. Maria has been known to bring canned meals to the Nashville community refrigerator when she is able to. When she doesn’t have extra food to offer, Radical Rabbit partners with Support and Feed out of California, which funds their efforts to deliver meals to the Nashville Community Fridge every Thursday.
(Radical Rabbit donates to Nashville Community Fridge, Credit: nashvillecommunityfridge Instagram)
With support and nutrition, Maria is also able to make fresh, family-style meals once a month for the Nashville Dismas home of former incarcerated people. Maria remembered the first time she prepared a meal for Pete Desms, the Carolina Fried Golden Flavor with Mac and Cheese. “They liked him at first.” She said , “[A] Regular customer…works there, so she also eats food and they know she’s vegan, so they look at her and they’re like, “Wait! Do you eat food too? I guess….I told them it’s vegan…everyone was like, ‘Uh..hold on that’s not Real chicken?” So I guess they just stopped eating it.”
(Radical Rabbit outside her stand at Richland Park Farmers Market, credit: radicalrabbit Instagram)
“What I learned from that experience….in my vegan bubbles I think everything is great. I think the world is a lot different than it was when I started this business in 2018. I think that veganism is everywhere, that everyone knows about my vegan and that everyone It’s pretty cool with him now.” She said, “Knowin” that is not the case in many places and that the stigma still exists…. And that word still alienates people…. There is still much work to be done.”
The Radical Rabbit can be found on Tuesdays at East Nashville Farmers Market from 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM, or on Saturdays at Richland Park Farmers Market from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM. You can also have Radical Rabbit delivered to you through the Hot Poppy app.
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