Folami Geter, owner of the Lamb’s Bread Vegan Cafe on North Main, shares her heritage and beliefs with her community through the food she serves. Her vegan recipes are inspired by soul food – distinctly Southern, but meat free.
By Conor Hughes
Dec. 11, 2015
For Folami Geter, culture, heritage, and mac and cheese are inseparable.
The Lamb’s Bread Vegan Cafe on North Main Street, which she has owned for about two years and where she is head chef, is more than just a business. It’s a means for sharing her culture, heritage and beliefs with the community.
Geter was raised vegetarian, and both of her parents cooked throughout her childhood. Her father, Kuru, opened the restaurant about 10 years ago. He named it Lamb’s Bread because, in offering a fully vegan menu in Columbia, he saw himself as a “lamb of the people,” she said.
Geter’s identity can be seen in every aspect of her restaurant, from the vegan menu inspired by soul food and Southern cooking to the array of African art and artifacts on its walls.
“It’s natural, you know what I mean? This is who I am,” Geter said. “Everything I embrace about my heritage is because it’s my heritage. I didn’t have to look for it, it’s always been with me.”
Her efforts have attracted a loyal and enthusiastic customer base, according to Robin DiPietro, a USC hotel, restaurant and tourism professor who surveyed about 150 Lamb’s Bread customers in 2011 about alternative dining options.
“For a town the size of Columbia to have something like that, which is very specialized and unique, kind of a niche market, I think that’s a benefit to Columbia,” DiPietro said.
It’s not just the menu that sets the restaurant apart, but also the way Geter deals with her employees and customers, said Tahirah Spann, a longtime friend of Geter’s who has worked at Lamb’s Bread since March.
“I think Folami does a great job in encouraging the people who work for her and work with her,” Spann said.
Columbia Voice sat down with Geter to talk about her restaurant and her food philosophy. This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity.
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Tell me a little bit about the kind of food that you serve here. I guess it’s a kind of a soul food and Southern, but also vegan, which in a lot of people’s mind is kind of an oxymoron.
So it’s vegan soul food that actually enriches the soul and the body and it won’t kill you. So there’s not a lot of heavy-laden fats or lots of dairy or lots of processed sugars. We use locally grown and organic vegetables. We use whole grains. Our soy and wheat products that we use as proteins are non-GMO. So we use the cleanest option of whatever we’re cooking that day. So spring water, we serve; we don’t use the tap water. No disrespect to the city of Columbia but spring water is… definitely cleaner. …
A typical Southern plate of soul food would be some sort of meat, maybe fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, collard greens. So we can do all of that, but vegan and in a way that won’t spike your blood pressure, that won’t cause you hypertension or diabetes or any of those things. …
So those dishes, very much soul food and Southern, so would you say that those are a large part of your culture as an African-American in the South, and how would you say, what would it mean to you, given that those are traditionally so unhealthy, providing a healthy option, in that way?
It’s very important to me, especially down South where the rates of obesity, the rates of hypertension, the rates of high blood pressure are so prevalent in our community. And a lot of people may or may not have access to healthier options or we just haven’t learned that healthy options can be tasty. Certainly, we know that fast food is … much less expensive than what’s healthy. So people have to make a conscious decision. But even for those who are less fortunate or who aren’t in a place to spend lots and lots of money on food, we’re just talking about vegetables. We’re talking about a bunch of collard greens that may cost two to three dollars and doesn’t require the fat back or the ham bone that someone would customarily put in there. To make the same dish, you aren’t spending as much money and it’s healthier for you. So definitely collards, and yams and mac and cheese is food that I grew up on. …
Speaking of veganism and the health aspects of it, just living a more holistic, healthier lifestyle, around your restaurant I see a lot of spiritual things. …Would you say that a kind of moral sense or spiritual sense plays into your veganism at all?
Definitely. Our society has unfortunately gotten to be very … haphazard about the way that we treat things in general. The environment, each other, animals. So we just have to bring back a sense
of caring about everything. Spiritually, I certainly believe that everything has a spirit. …
Certainly I’m African-American, I haven’t traced my lineage so I don’t know exactly where in Africa, but as a whole, historically, there was a different respect for animals. Even if they were being hunted they were treated humanely. As time has changed, and colonialism and things have spread throughout the Western world, we’ve lost that. Not all of us, but a great deal of us.
The way animals are treated in factories … and these big productions of chicken farms or egg farms or salmon farms, where there really is no legitimate concern for the animal. The concern is for the dollar that it’s going to make when it is ready to be sold. And of course that leads to all sort of inhumane treatment. So I cannot be comfortable with eating something, or just knowing that something had to suffer so much just to get to my plate. …
Growing up with [Kuru Geter] as your father, did you find that there was a kind of subculture that you were growing up within that was trying to get back to its roots within Columbia?
I don’t know if I would call it a subculture, only because it’s the only culture that I know. … So for me it is the culture. But definitely we recognize where we come from and how we arrived here and what is needed to remain grounded in this world and in this place, and in Columbia specifically. … It’s natural, you know what I mean? This is who I am. Everything that I embrace about my heritage is just because it’s my heritage … I didn’t have to look for it; it’s always been there. It is with me. So I suppose the answer to your question is yes and no. I don’t really see it as a subculture, but certainly, there is a niche of people who embrace their history, their legacy and things of that nature.