Quin Butler, who is originally from Memphis and later Dallas, moved to San Diego in October of 2019. She fell in love with America’s Finest City while on vacation and decided to call it home soon after. In January of 2020, she launched Hungry Vegan Lion, a completely plant-based, gluten-free, soy-free, mostly organic, and alkaline-friendly comfort food service that offers weekly menus, corporate lunches, parties, events, and custom orders.
Butler doesn’t have a conventional culinary background or experience but her passion for cooking started when she was eight years old. “I grew up in a family that loves to cook, and I try to recreate dishes that I enjoyed growing up in the south or other dishes that have been influenced by people I’ve met and other cultures.”
Butler shares the name, Hungry Vegan Lion, is inspired by the mix of being a Leo, having hair like a lion’s mane, and the story of Little Tyke—a lioness rescued from captivity who was famously vegetarian by choice. Like Little Tyke, Butler chose to go completely vegan two years ago. “Becoming vegan has changed my life so much that I immediately wanted to share this with so many people,” she says with the hope that her dishes will open up more people to healthier plant-based lifestyles.
Butler’s most popular dish is her take on Lion wings. The meal includes air-fried oyster mushrooms battered with organic gluten-free flour and spicy seasonings, served alongside creamy chickpea mac and nut-free cheese, and air-fried organic red potatoes with barbecue sauce and ketchup for dipping. This pairs perfectly with berry ice cream made with organic mixed berries.
Launching Hungry Vegan Lion right before the COVID-19 pandemic required Butler to quickly pivot. “Although COVID-19 was really hard at first, I used the time to master recipes, especially gluten-free ones. And got to launch my website and find new options. It gave me more time to be creative, and it also helped me realize that if one door closes, it doesn’t mean another one won’t open,” Butler explains.
Hungry Vegan Lion shares a vegan and gluten-free commercial kitchen with the founders of Market Box SD, an online plant-based farmers market developed for farmers market vendors to sell goods outside of the closed down markets during the initial COVID-19.
Joining the Market Box platform has been a great way for customers to find out about Hungry Vegan Lion. Butler also believes her recent growth has stemmed from people being more intentional about supporting Black-owned businesses and voting with their forks. She hopes this will bring positive change in bridging the gap between food deserts and accessibility.
Social inequities like food deserts are rooted in structural racism, such as in residential segregation, which exists in low-income communities of color that have limited access to nutritious food choices, supermarkets, farms, or resources. Instead, they often have easy access to fast food options and convenience stores. Butler herself will sometimes drive 30 to 45 minutes away to communities like Del Mar, Encinitas, and La Jolla to source ingredients for her dishes. Although she feels the commute and price is worth it for her health and business standards, she recognizes that your dollar is stretched further at fast-food restaurants or low-cost grocery stores.
Diet-related health problems are prevalent in food deserts, where unhealthy food is cheap and easily accessible but has consequences that are linked to various chronic illnesses, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death. Poor diets also affect educational outcomes and access to economic opportunity. Investing in minority communities, expanding healthy food options, and increasing consumer education are all ways to battle food deserts and disparities.
Butler doesn’t think anyone should have to drive outside of their neighborhood to access organic, nutrient-dense food, nor should they have to pay an exponentially higher amount for it. For that reason, Hungry Vegan Lion’s commits to keeping ready-made items priced reasonably to reach as many people as possible without the financial burden. And, you can option to donate a meal when you order directly from the Hungry Vegan Lion’s website. These meals are either donated to a recipient of the customer’s choosing, or to Feeding San Diego along with excess goods.
Butler also works on a community garden project and donates compost from her kitchen. The garden committee is organized by Power Through Fitness and is open to the public. Their mission is to provide self-sufficiency, confidence, and strength training skills. “I want to do what I can to make my community and the country a better place,” Butler says.