Music Icons Jermaine Dupri and LaTocha on Eating Plant-Based for Health
Music icons Jermaine Dupri and LaTocha Scott-Bivens of Xscape are back together again, but this time it isn't to cook up a new album but some plant-based dishes that are healthy and delicious, part of LaTocha's latest production, a plant-based cookbook. They worked together back in the '90s to create chart-topping singles and albums, and since then both musical talents have become passionate vegans, who want to share their love of this healthier way of eating with their fans.
Jermaine Dupri, music producer, award-winning songwriter, and long time vegan, who is also Creative Advisor to The Beet, recently sat down with singer-songwriter LaTocha Scott-Bivens, member of the R&B group Xscape, and a plant-based chef, to talk about eating plant-based and loving it, and helping others do the same.
LaTocha has just debuted her first cookbook, LaTocha's Planted Lifestyle, and sees cooking plant-based as her latest creative outlet. Dupri, who has been vegan for 15 years, has been influencing artists while producing albums, while LaTocha has just had her 12-year anniversary of adopting a plant-based diet. Together they talked about how to best share their love of plant-based food with others, especially how delicious, satisfying and healthy it can be to eat vegan or plant-based dishes, especially if you have this cookbook handy. LaTocha shared her good-for-you dishes during this interview, perfect for anyone moving towards a healthier lifestyle.
LaTocha credits the switch to eating this way for giving her another creative outlet to "continue to live in my purpose" as she describes it, by helping change their lives for the better. Just as she helped people get through hard times with music, now she is teaching people how to live a healthier, happier life through plant-based cooking.
Jermaine connected with LaTocha over Zoom to learn how the music-star-turned-chef to dish began her health transformation, what she plans to cook for Thanksgiving, and how she convinced fellow Xscape member Tiny Harris to realize that vegan food can taste amazing with her dairy-free Spinach Artichoke Dip.
Jermaine: When did you start your vegan journey? I remember you asking me to eat with you one day in New York, and when we went to eat, that’s when you first told me that you’d decided to go vegan. When had you decided to make the switch?
LaTocha: You were surprised! I made a conscious effort to eat healthier. Early on, you might remember that I was always the bigger one in our group (Xscape). That stuck with me, and it wasn’t how I wanted to be known. My name was LaTocha. I started to focus on eating healthy, and then I met Rocky (LaTocha’s husband), and he was really into working out. I incorporated the workouts with my new healthy eating, and it worked for me. So it wasn’t automatic; it was a process. It was a transition I made. When I ate healthier, I discovered that my mind was clearer; I could work out for longer, I could run across the stage during the last tour. When I realized I didn’t want to be known as “the big girl” anymore, I dedicated my life to getting healthy.
Jermaine: How did you start making the switch to a vegan diet?
LaTocha: I didn’t just go cold turkey. I first stopped eating pork and noticed I was less bloated and that my skin looked better. The next thing I took out was chicken, then another kind of meat. It was gradual. People think you just have to cut everything out of your diet cold turkey, but that can make people quit their diet, leaving them feeling like a failure. I would tell people to start slowly, write you a list, get things you like–fruit, beans, lentils–to keep you going, so when you reach in the cabinet, that’s what you’re reaching for. It was baby steps, almost like writing a song: if you start by getting the drumbeat, then the melody going, that’s what it was like to go plant-based.
Jermaine: What gave you the idea to go vegan? Was it your husband, Rocky?
LaTocha: Rocky isn’t vegan, but he is brutally honest. He told me that I needed to make a change by eating more plant-based. He made asparagus, and at first, I was like, “What’s asparagus?” I started to do research, watch movies, and look into what exactly was in the products we were eating.
Jermaine: You hadn’t ever tried asparagus before? You hadn’t even had it with steak?
LaTocha: No! Isn’t that crazy! Keep in mind; I had stopped eating all those things, so it wasn’t automatic. Growing up how we grew up, we were eating burgers, stuff like that. So asparagus was never on that plate. I learned that with Rocky, he introduced me to so many things. He was the one touring around the world with different artists, eating food made by different chefs, and would come home with all these new things to try. I’m the type of person that if you tell me about something to cook, I want to make it that much better. If you liked something you tried, we’re going to eat it in my kitchen, right here. It was a challenge for me because I’m competitive, so it brought a challenge to the kitchen.
Jermaine: Is anyone else in your house vegan?
LaTocha: My son is plant-based, but every now and then, he’ll eat fish. For the most part, he’s doing really good.
Jermaine: When did your son go plant-based? I know he plays sports, so did he switch when you and Rocky did?
LaTocha: The honest truth is that I found out what he liked to eat, and I would incorporate plant-based foods. He loves lasagna, and all pasta, so I would get the pasta and use veggie crumbles instead of meat, and he wouldn’t even notice the difference. I’d make these dishes, and he’d eat them, and then I would tell him that I hadn’t used meat. He couldn’t believe it! Now, when he goes to the store, he chooses the items I had been using to make plant-based versions of his favorite foods. It was a family effort and a conscious effort. He does play sports, and he tore his ACL playing basketball in college. He healed very fast because he started eating better.
Jermaine: What’s your favorite dish to eat?
LaTocha: I love seafood, so I decided I had to find a plant-based shrimp. One of my friends told me to look online, and I found a product to try. I decided to try it and made shrimp scampi—the bomb. I loved, loved, loved it. I pan-fried it and put it on Soba noodles. When I go out, the same thing. I always order vegan shrimp tacos at the Sunflower Cafe.
Jermaine: What do you use for your plant-based shrimp?
LaTocha: I buy them in a pack, and I think they’re made from jackfruit.
Jermaine: There’s a place in College Park called Green Soma. They have the best vegan shrimp in the city. It’s not jackfruit; this guy uses a root. The texture is so much better than jackfruit. You gotta try it.
LaTocha: You know if I go, I’m going to try to emulate everything at home.
Jermaine: That’s what I’m saying! All you gotta do is get the root. I’ve had shrimp made with jackfruit. I don’t cook; I just eat everywhere. The jackfruit is close, but this root feels like a shrimp.
Jermaine: What made you decide to make a cookbook?
LaTocha: I wanted to continue to live in my purpose. I knew early on when they were singing; people would tell me that they heard a song that changed their life or got them through a hard time. I saw what music could do to people, and I wanted to continue to walk in that and give them that gift. That gift isn’t always through song; I wanted to use this skill to help people live healthier lifestyles. People kept asking me what my secret was after losing weight, and I’d tell them I did by eating plant-based and working out. It’s not just eating right. You have to work out too. I run, lift weights, jump rope–all of it. It’s what I attribute to letting me live a healthier lifestyle. I want people to be inspired by my book. You can eat right and still enjoy food. It’s all good.
Jermaine: What kind of recipes do you have? Breakfast, and stuff like that?
LaTocha: Yes, I have breakfast food. Side dishes, even stuff for Thanksgiving: sweet potato pies and all kinds of desserts. I have over thirty recipes in this cookbook.
Jermaine: Did you create the recipes in the book?
LaTocha: What this book entails is just my journey. I had to learn to eat healthily after growing up eating burgers and those kinds of things. I still want to enjoy those foods like burgers and pasta; they are a part of the journey I went through. The book has everything from my struggle of learning how to prepare nutritious food and space for the reader to write about how their food makes them feel. That’s an essential aspect of going plant-based too. People think you can only eat leaves, but there are so many other things that come with being healthy, so I wanted it to be like a journal to see how they feel. If you cook the lasagna and see that you felt satisfied or could run faster, you can write that down in the book.
You can go and see pictures of me at my heaviest when I was 190 pounds, and see me now. I want people to take that journey with me. I’m not going to promise that it'll be easy, but nothing worth having is. You just have to stick with it and stay focused. You’re living a healthier lifestyle for your family and yourself.
Jermaine: What are you cooking in the kitchen now?
LaTocha: I’m doing the Asparagus Fried Rice. It’s easy to make. I know you don’t cook, but you need to learn at some point, mister. You’re going to be alone at some point!
Jermaine: No, I’m not! I’ll have somebody cook for me, and as long as they have your book, I know it’ll be good!
LaTocha: You have to be comfortable in the kitchen! I use brown rice and coconut oil. I have garlic too, I love it, and it’s good for you too. I went to Tiny (Harris)’s house not too long ago, and she told me she’d heard good things about my spinach dip. I said, “listen, I know you like Houstons. I have Houstons right here!” I went over there and prepared dinner for her, and she’s been asking me ever since.
Jermaine: What’s the difference between your dip and Houston’s dip?
LaTocha: Well, I don’t use cheese. I use Daiya Cheese and artichokes, with seasonings. I boil the spinach for a little while, but I don’t let it get too wilted, so all the nutrients don’t get cooked out. I put the cheese in the pot with the spinach and bake it in a casserole dish for 20 minutes.
Jermaine: I know Tiny isn’t about the vegan lifestyle, so if she likes it, it must be super good.
LaTocha: She’s hard to please. If anyone’s ever going out with Tiny, nothing’s ever right! I made sure I had all the ingredients before going over there, and she’s been asking me to make it for her again ever since. She’s been able to change non-vegans minds and get them to try the recipes in my book. Big ups to Tiny because she’s trying. It’s not always about what you’re used to.
Jermaine: What’s on the menu for Thanksgiving?
LaTocha: I have so many options: Most people make collards, but I’m doing kale. Easy breezy. I’m going to make garlic mashed potatoes for my son, vegan gravy, and sweet potato pie. As far as the meat is concerned, it’s up in the air. It might be two meat substitutes.
Jermaine: Is this your first vegan thanksgiving?
LaTocha: No, I’ve been doing it for a few years. We always go up to Buffalo to see our son. It’s crazy because he’s on the basketball team, so they all come over for dinner. I make vegan macaroni and cheese, everything, and they don’t even notice the difference. They always ask my son when his mom’s coming back. I feel like I played my part, letting people know they can still eat good food and healthfully.
Jermaine: How long have you been vegan?
LaTocha: About 12 years!
Jermaine: When am I getting my rice?
LaTocha: Just invite me over! I’m ready to get in that kitchen.
Jermaine: What’s your very favorite vegan restaurant?
LaTocha: Anytime I go to LA, I have to go to Crossroads. When I’m in Atlanta, I love Sunflower Cafe, and when I’m in New York, I love Soul Vegan. And I can’t forget my girl Pinky and Slutty Vegan here in Atlanta! She always hooks me up. But most of the time, I’m right here in the kitchen. I love it because I’m able to create; it’s just like on stage, I’m making magic.