The Chubby Vegetarian: A profile of Justin Fox Burks

By Erica Holmes

Food blogger Justin Burks is no run-of-the mill vegetarian; he never makes the same thing twice.  Burks and his wife Amy are building a blogging fanbase and gaining kahunas in the food and cookbook world.

You may have seen his photographs if you read The Memphis Flyer.  He is a photojournalist for them as well as a writing contributor for Edible Memphis. He gets around.  Just last month he was featured as a guest judge on season two of The Great Food Truck race when one of the challenges brought the competitors to the land of BBQ, Memphis, Tenn.

The host of the show, Tyler Florence, nearly threw the teams off their A game when he told them that no meat was allowed, it had to be 100 percent vegetarian.  That’s when Memphian, The Chubby Vegetarian, stepped up to the plate and selected who the winner would be.

“When you see him you are going to realize he is not that chubby.” said Florence during a phone call, alerting the teams of the challenge’s latest “speed bump”.

All this going on,  and Burks is also working on a spin-off cookbook of his blog.  He and his wife are putting together recipes and preparing to meet their manuscript’s March deadline with Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Burks describes his recipes as having a world-view but always staying true to his deeply southern perspective.

He was born in Mississippi, but spent nearly all of his life in Memphis.  His wife’s family is from Mississippi.  His father-in-law harvests a couple of acres out in Slayden.  Very lucky for Burks and his wife, who don’t believe in using processed foods.

“We’re in a pretty unique situation, a lot of our own food comes from our raised bed garden.  We’re really lucky that my father-in-law loves to garden.  He has a few acres of crops that he farms out in Slayden. Cucumbers, tomatoes, okra, peppers, you name it. Whatever is available and of the season he grows it. And we are the main beneficiaries of this…during the growing season he’ll show up to our house with two or three five gallon buckets full of produce.” Burks said when asked where he gets his produce.

So there’s the popular food blog, the national TV show appearance, a cookbook on the way, and he just played chef for the Memphis’ eaTABLE Secret Supper Club.  A underground restaurant that is hosted by up and coming chefs and talented foodies. October is the Vegan Month of Food aka Vegan Mofo. Burks and his wife prepared a six course meal that was entirely vegan and entirely delicious.  Indian Nachos (papadum crackers topped with curried veggies, coconut chutney, and black mustard seed). Smoky Brussels Sprout Salad. Forbidden Black Rice topped with seared “scallops” (pickled sea beans, and a kaffir lime leaf).  Panelle Sliders (grilled chickpea fritters on a sesame roll with caponata and pine nuts). Homemade beet, okra, and cucumber pickles. Sweet Potato Tamales. Savory flavored rice krispy treats made by his wife were for dessert.  All of these foods were served that night.

“The meat-eating guests seemed very pleased with the totally meatless meal, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “I can’t believe this is vegan!” It’s funny how vegan food gets a reputation for being bland or inferior to meat-based dishes.” says Bianca Phillips, one of the dinner’s attendees, on her food blog Vegan Crunk.

It’s clear that Burks is an accomplished vegetarian and food blogger, but he is not an activist and is the first to admit he does not want to become one.  He is more interested in running marathons and dreaming up his next creation.

Interestingly enough, it requires seven and a half pounds of protein feed to create one pound of consumable hog protein; five pounds of protein feed to create one pound of consumable chicken protein. Nearly 90 percent of protein from wheat and beans is lost because large quantities of resources are devoted to producing wheat and soy for animal feed, which only provides about one-fifth of the amount they take in, according to data from EarthSave.org

If you get a chance to meet Justin he probably won’t tell you this, in fact he is probably too busy working on one of his many projects.  He has an obvious southern charm and a passion for never making the same thing twice and eating well. “I believe that you should cook what’s fresh and what’s available. We don’t use any cans,  we use very little processed foods. We use dry beans instead of canned. We roast our own tomatoes for tomato sauce, and red peppers too.  We pickle. We are definitely pro-pickling. It’s very frontier-y” Burks laughed as he said this.

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