Just after Christmas last year I came down with a pretty bad cold, and one night, while I was waist-deep in used tissues, ginger tea, and self-pity, I happened to click on a link to a Facebook video that a friend shared on her timeline. That video was my introduction to actress and viral video sensation Tabitha Brown. She was sitting in her car, eating a sandwich, and “watching life change before her eyes.” And boy, was it changing! She just didn’t know the half of it. As it turns out, I wasn’t the only person watching Tabitha’s video. She inspired me and thousands of other people to smile, laugh, and run to our nearest Whole Foods Market, just so we could have a taste of whatever it was she was having.
I reached out to Tabitha about doing an interview just after New Year’s Eve. I knew immediately that there was something incredibly special about her and that it would be great fun getting to know her better. I was right! I think you’ll feel the same way. And that’s a good thing, because from what I can tell, Tabitha Brown is definitely here to stay.
Whole Foods Market y’all done blessed me today🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾 This TTLA is Heaven on this here earth🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾🙌🏾 Lightlife
Posted by Tabitha Brown on Saturday, December 30, 2017
CM: Okay, first things first—what is a TTLA?
TB: It was formally known as a “TLTA” at Whole Foods Market before I got so excited while eating it and changed the name to TTLA! It’s a vegan BLT with tempeh bacon, tomato, lettuce and avocado.
CM: Your Facebook page says that you are from Eden, North Carolina and that you are a “PROUD country girl.” What are some fond memories you have of growing up in Eden?
TB: Small town love always comes to mind! Strawberry patches, cows, goats, hens, turtles, these are literally the things that come to my mind from my childhood. My great-grandfather always had me on a farm as a kid. For a long time he was my best friend and one of my favorite memories as a child. I remember us eating pinto bean soup and cornbread every week at my Granny’s house when he would come over! The good old days!
CM: When did the dream of being an actor first enter your heart?
TB: I knew I wanted to be an actress before I knew what an actress was! Our family tradition was watching The Cosby Show together every Thursday night. I always wanted to be Rudy’s friend that would ring the doorbell next. I would tell my Mom, “I want to be on TV and be Rudy’s friend.” I realized later that was called acting. I knew early on that I had a gift for humor and making people laugh. My dad and uncles always told jokes at family cookouts, and I would remember them all and tell them to my friends or other family members, and the feeling I would get in making them laugh was amazing! So really, my family was my first inspiration.
CM: I know that you also made clothes in high school. Tell us about that. Did you both design and sew them? What is your favorite piece of clothing that you designed or made?
TB: I had a great great Aunt Bette, who could not hear or talk, but she was like the town jewel! She was a hair stylist and a seamstress. She would also babysit me and my sister and cousins. I would sit in her shop for hours as a kid and watch her do hair and make clothes for people in the community. I guess they both stuck with me. I was a hippie in high school and didn’t really like buying new clothes. I was a huge thrift shopper. I took a sewing class and started really getting serious about making clothes. I remember I found this old green and yellow curtain fabric and took it to school and made a long pencil skirt. It, by far, was my favorite. I hate that I didn’t keep it, I would wear it now. I was teased pretty bad for dressing different but I didn’t care.
CM: After high school you decided to enroll in college for fashion design rather than acting. How did you come to that decision?
TB: My Mom told me it would be a good decision because acting was going to be hard. She didn’t try to discourage me from acting; she was just trying to help the best way she knew how.
CM: Pretty early on, you had an experience one Wednesday night that set you on a different path. What can you tell us about that experience?
TB: I was in college and I couldn’t sleep. All I could think was, “I’m wasting time, I’m supposed to be an actress!” I called my Daddy at like 1:00 a.m. and said “Daddy, you need to come and get me because I’m wasting your money down here. I’m supposed to be an actress!” He didn’t try to talk me out of it at all. He just replied, “I’ll be down there Saturday to come get you.” And mind you, it was a 13-plus-hour drive to Miami from NC. I love my Daddy!
CM: I’ve heard you say that you arrived in California for the first time with no specific plans or goals in mind, but with that dream of acting alive and well in your heart. After a while, your husband, whom you were dating at the time—and who was a big supporter of your dream—saw that you were struggling to make ends meet, and suggested you move back home to North Carolina together. I understand the plan was to return to Los Angeles after one year.
Do you remember what feelings and fears you experienced at that time, heading back home after having made it all the way out to California?
TB: I actually didn’t have fear, because I trusted my husband. The plan sounded perfect! I truly believed that we would go back to North Carolina for one year, and save money, and then return to L.A. Honey, was I wrong!
CM: After moving back to North Carolina, you bought a home, gave birth to your daughter, and before you knew it, that one year had turned into a few more than that, is that right?
TB: Yes, five years passed, and I was no longer dreaming anymore.
CM: Did you ever feel, during those years, that you had “missed your chance,” or that, by having a family, or by being so far from Los Angeles, you had “given up” on your dream? If so, can you talk about that?
TB: As soon as I got pregnant with my daughter, all my acting dreams vanished! I literally convinced myself that because I was having a child, I missed my opportunity to pursue my dreams! I didn’t even think about it anymore. I just tried to fit in with what everyone else was doing.
CM: At some point, once again, you heard that voice in your heart. What did you feel the message was for you at that time and how did that message alter your path moving forward?
TB: One morning in 2003 I was awakened by my bed SHAKING and a VOICE that was so LOUD saying “This is not the life I planned for you.” It scared me so bad! My skin felt like it was burning! I got on my knees and began to pray and I said, “God, if this is you, I need you to show me a sign today, because if not, I think I’m going crazy.”
I told my husband what happened and he was kind of like “Okay…,” but later that day we headed to the mall, and on the radio, DJ Busta Brown came on and said that he had a new TV show on The WB network and he was holding auditions for a new female co-host! I started screaming and I told my husband, “That’s my sign, that’s my job!” A few weeks later, I went to the auditions and I booked that job!
CM: After booking that job, you started getting more and more acting work, and also learning about television production, even interviewing celebrities. What are some of your biggest takeaways from that period in your life?
TB: Yes! The biggest takeaway was that knowledge is power, and that if you allow yourself to be open to learning new things, the world will teach you! I still live my life that way!
CM: Within a year’s time, you and your husband decided to move back to Los Angeles, this time with a serious plan in place. I know you were really excited about the move and all of the possibilities available to you at that time. What can you tell us about that move and all that you were thinking and feeling back then?
TB: I was so excited because I had the burning desire inside again! I had experience now, we had a plan, I was dreaming big again, and I had heard the voice of God, Girl! I just knew this time I was going to Hollywood and things were going to take off!
CM: Shortly after you arrived in L.A., your family received some devastating news: your mother was diagnosed with ALS. Do you remember where you were when you received that news and how you reacted to it?
TB: I was working at a Macy’s in Century City. I was an office manager and I was sitting at my desk. I had been researching the disease for about a month, because the doctors had mentioned it could be possible. I had been praying every day that it wasn’t ALS. I remember feeling like someone kicked me in my chest— it literally took my breath. My Mom was always concerned about how her kids would react, so she always tried to downplay everything. She called and I said, “Hey Moma, what did the doctor say?” She literally laughed and said “Girl, he said I’m having Lou Gehrig’s, baby.” That’s how she told me.
CM: You have shared with me that, for you, nothing is more important than family, and yet, here you were, having just made the decision to actively pursue your lifelong dream of acting in Los Angeles. That must have been a difficult time for you, on many levels. Looking back, what was the most challenging aspect of that time in your life? How were you able to rise to that challenge?
TB: One thing I know is that you only get one mother, and no career was more important than her. It was immediately put on hold. I don’t know where the strength came from, but it just did. It was a difficult time for my family. My husband was in the police academy and my daughter was four. Thankfully, we had friends who stepped in and helped with her while I travelled back and forth from L.A. to North Carolina for the next two years until my Mother passed away.
CM: During that time, your mother shared with you that “God works in order.” What do you think she meant by that? How did it feel to hear those words at that time and how does that statement resonate with you today?
TB: It was no coincidence that my Mom got terminally ill months after I moved over 3,000 miles away. If that diagnosis had come before we moved, I never would have left. I felt guilty for leaving, but then she explained it that way to me, and she was right. But God is a true God of order and he is always in control, even when it doesn’t feel like it.
CM: Family caregiving can be deeply rewarding, but it can also be incredibly stressful and heartbreaking at times. What was it like, journeying with your mother through ALS as one of her caregivers, while living so far away? What did that chapter of your lives teach you about your mother, about yourself, and about life?
TB: It taught me patience. It taught me that everyone handles things differently. Caregivers need breaks. The sick never need to feel like it’s their fault for getting sick. And most important we all are going through it and it’s an emotional rollercoaster. Watching my mother die was the worst and best thing that ever happened to me. I say the worst because I lost my best friend, my Mom, my wisdom-giver, my teacher, my mirror! But I also say watching her journey to death was one of the best things that happened to me too, because it literally changed me! I love harder than ever before, I have patience, I want to live my best life and make her proud!
CM: After your mother’s passing, you sustained a neck injury, which was deeply disruptive because of the level of pain it caused. You have also talked about experiencing “extreme anxiety and depression.” I know that many people reading this interview will be able to relate to those experiences, and I am wondering if you can talk a little bit about the realities of living with chronic pain, anxiety, and depression? How did those challenges manifest in your life at that time?
TB: I was actually working a job for six years and was the only person of color. I was treated very negatively and different by the CEO and other executives. I stayed because I needed the money and because it was convenient for my family. Every day I was coming home mentally exhausted and stressed from holding in my feelings. I didn’t realize how bad I was treating myself until I had a really bad panic attack after some bad comments from the CEO. That led to anti-depressants, therapy, and being very upset with myself for allowing it for so long. During the same time, I was going through a neck injury and chronic pain, and so there were days when I literally thought, “I’m not going to make it!”
CM: You shared that many people in your life didn’t have any idea that you were struggling with those challenges, which is also something I am sure that a lot of people can relate to.
At that time, was it important for you to try to “put on a happy face” for those around you? If so, why do you think that is the case? How were you able to identify and cope with what you were experiencing?
TB: I thought keeping my true feelings in would make things go away. I thought if I acted happy and nice, maybe things would change. I didn’t want to stress my husband out and I didn’t want my kids to see Mommy sad or in pain. It wasn’t until things were so bad that I realized hiding it wasn’t helping me. I started writing my feelings and meditating and allowing God to take control instead of trying to control everything on my own. I had to really look at myself in the mirror and say “You call yourself a believer, but you aren’t believing.” Sometimes we gotta get downright ugly and honest with ourselves to wake up!! Once I let go, things started to change.
CM: At some point, despite all that you were dealing with, you decided you wanted to try stand-up comedy. Was that something you had considered before? How did that idea come to you?
TB: In 2015, on New Year’s Day, I wrote down my list of things I wanted to accomplish for the year, and stand-up was one of them. Like I said before, I always loved telling jokes, so I always wanted to do it, but I was so scared! I knew if I wrote it down, I would hold myself to it! Well, the entire year went by, and it’s literally Dec 28th 2015, and I look at my list I had written in January, and stand-up was the only thing I hadn’t done. I was at the gym and it was like 6:30 p.m. I called my husband and said “Babe, I want to go do an open mic stand-up tonight. Will you go with me?” He said, “Yes.” So I finished my workout and got home around 8:00 p.m. and showered and got dressed. My husband then told me it was too late and he changed his mind. I was so mad and hurt—I needed him to go with me! I went in the bathroom and cried, and then I heard God say, “He didn’t write the goal down. It’s not about him.” So I wiped my tears, grabbed my jacket, drove to Hollywood, and did two open mics by myself that night. I almost did a “number two” on stage! I was so scared, but honey, it was the best feeling of my life when I finished! I was literally floating! I got a standing ovation from all 15 people!
I love being on stage and making people laugh! It was actually one of the things that was therapy for me when I was going through depression.
CM: Eventually, you had to pull back from doing the live comedy stuff because of the pain you were in. What was that like for you? And how did you then transition to making your own videos?
TB: When my neck pain got so bad, it was really hard to drive, and nights were worse than days. I was so sad about not doing stand-up anymore. I had convinced myself that if I did stand-up I would be able to get a TV show, and now that I wasn’t able to get out anymore, I was like, “Now what, Lord?” So one night I had a dream that I had a TV show but I had short hair. I woke up and started writing and praying and God said “Listen, you can be a sit-down comedian for a while.” I was like “What?” He said “When you were going out, you were reaching 15 plus people a night, but if you start doing videos, you can reach thousands in minutes.” I said “Lord, I don’t have thousands of people to watch my videos.” He said, “Do the videos!” So I started doing videos.
At first I started off telling stories like I did when I was on stage, and I had a few people watching, mainly just my family and friends. I was like “Ok, Lord, what you got me doing?” Shortly after that, my daughter introduced us to the documentary What the Health, and I became vegan. God then said, “Now tell people what you are eating.” I was like “What? People don’t care about what I’m eating.” But I was obedient, and in August I started doing vegan videos, and now I’ve reached millions! That still blows my mind! God is so amazing!
CM: Do you remember your first video?
TB: I think my first one was telling a story about my hubby and I finding out that our new puppy Blacky was sleeping under our bed. It was pretty hilarious!
CM: How did you decide to become a vegan? Did your mom’s illness have anything to do with your decision to start eating differently? Had you always loved cooking?
TB: After watching What the Health, I was done! After they said that diseases, etc. aren’t necessarily hereditary or genetic, but more due to what we eat, that really stuck with me, and in that moment I felt like, “I’m done with meat.” My Mom died of ALS at 51 and her illness played a huge part in my decision. Also, on my Dad’s side of the family, heart attacks and strokes run rampant at early ages, and I want to break that cycle in my family. I’ve been with my husband for 20 years, and I’m a southern traditional girl at heart who was raised watching women cook for their families, so I’ve always taken that seriously and cooked for my family. I’m not in any way a pro, but I do pretty good I think.
Check out Tabitha on The Ellen Show!
CM: And then there’s your hair, which you recently cut off. Would you say that was a symbolic gesture for you? In some sense, did it feel like you were “making a fresh start”?
TB: I decided to cut my hair because it was killing my neck and I just wanted new energy. Hair is energy, and my long hair had been through a lot. It was so heavy, physically and emotionally, so I had to let it go.
CM: I couldn’t stop smiling for days after seeing your now viral Facebook video about Whole Foods Market’s TTLA sandwich. And I was at home, pretty sick at the time, so that’s saying a lot. Just watching that video filled me with joy.
Many people might not realize that you were on a break from driving for Uber when you made that video, working hard to provide for your family while still pursuing your lifelong dream. Did you enjoy driving for Uber? Can you talk about what you were thinking about just before you hit the “record” button that day? Did you have any hope or sense that that video was going to take off in the way that it did?
TB: Honey, yes, I was driving Uber that day! I actually really enjoyed driving Uber. I started driving for the holidays and it was an absolutely beautiful experience! I love people and met some pretty amazing ones.
Girl, no, I had no idea it would go viral. I was actually sending a Marco Polo video to my cousin when I took my first few bites and I was like “Girl, I gotta post a video about this sandwich! I will call you back!” I just did the video to tell people how good it was.
CM: How have things changed since that day? What opportunities have come your way because of that video, at least those you are free to talk about at this point?
TB: My goodness, so much has changed! My Facebook Lives, which are my most favorite thing ever, because I feel like they are my family! A lot of them have been with me from the beginning, and without them, none of this would have happened. They are the ones that kept watching me and sharing my videos and still continue to do so! I love them! But several show opportunities have presented themselves, radio shows, interviews. People actually recognize me in public places! Brands are reaching out to me to work with me, and of course my loves at Whole Foods signed me on to do their new “What Makes Me Whole” campaign. I’m just so excited about everything! God is just blowing my mind every day and I’m so thankful!
CM: As of today, you have many thousands of Facebook followers who tune in regularly to watch your videos, hear your stories, and check out your recipes. I’m one of them. What is that like? I know this is a bit different than the plan you had when you first came back to L.A…
TB: It never gets old, and I absolutely love it! Honey, I never ever had a plan like this, ever! I wanted to be the new Clair-Huxtable-meets-Roseanne type of mom on a sitcom. But see, that’s how I know this is all God, and that gives me so much joy!
CM: I have to say that you make plant-based eating look delicious and fun! How do you come up with your recipes? How do you feel, physically, mentally, and emotionally, since turning to a plant-based diet? What changes have you noticed personally?
TB: Girl, most of them come from my spirit, and thinking of them while driving in the car! I also get ideas from some of the FB groups and friends. I feel great! I did lose weight in the beginning, but I had my last round of steroid injections in November, and they always make me gain weight. Then I was put back on Prednisone last month for asthma and that does the same thing, so hopefully the weight will start to fall back off again soon. I have tons of energy, but what I love the most is how I think differently now. I’m so open to new thoughts and I’m learning so many new things!
CM: I know that you are fairly new to this way of eating, but what are some small steps you think that people can take to start shifting toward a healthier relationship with food, even if they can’t or don’t have a desire to commit to going plant-based at this time? What has helped you to not miss what you might have craved before?
TB: I say, whatever you used to love to eat, try to figure out a way to make it vegan. And also figure out “why” you want to go plant-based. If your “why” is strong enough, those cravings won’t matter! For me, it’s life or death, and I choose life!
CM: I know there have been times when you’ve become emotional during your videos. Is that something that surprises you?
TB: The first time I got emotional I was telling a story about my Mom that I’ve told a million times, but for some reason I was overwhelmed with emotion that night, and it was a joyous emotion! I was surprised, but I like to be real and honest with my FB family, and if that’s what happens, then that’s what happens.
CM: What have been some of the comments or messages that have touched your heart since you first starting sharing your videos with others?
TB: Oh my, there are so many I can’t begin to tell you them all! I can tell you that every day people share their life stories with me, and I’m so thankful that they trust me with their stories, Every day I am praying for people that I have never met, and I’m so thankful for this part of my journey. I try to lead with love in everything I do, and when people send me messages, I want them to feel loved in return.
CM: I know that you have a strong belief in God and feel that your faith has sustained you along this journey. What would you say to others out there who may fear that their own dreams are slipping away from them? What has your own experience taught you about how to deal with the unexpected curveballs life can sometimes throw our way?
TB: Trust that voice, that gut feeling, it is your gift! No matter what you are going through, as long as you are still here, you still have a purpose! Remember that things are going to happen in this life that we cannot control, and that is ok. Just keep moving forward and when you feel like giving up and quitting, don’t! Know that you are worthy of love and happiness, no matter what!
CM: Back when you were in college, you said that when you heard that voice in your heart on that Wednesday night, it said, “You’re wasting your time.” Looking back, do you believe that you were wasting your time, or do you believe that this was all part of the adventure? That everything has been “worked in order”?
TB: Most definitely it was all in order! When I look back on my past, every piece fits together like a perfect puzzle, and I’m still putting pieces together. I wouldn’t change anything, because my life, the way that it is, has made me who I am today.
CM: What do you hope for and dream about for yourself today?
TB: I hope that I’m making my Mom proud, that I can keep helping others, that God continues to trust me on this journey, and that I fulfill my dreams and purpose.
CM: What do you hope that people take away from watching your videos or reading this interview?
TB: I hope they take away that they are not alone, and that if they need food ideas, laughter, inspiration and love, I’m going to do my best to give it to them!
CM: I understand you still make and design clothes. Tell us about your clothing brand. Where can people find your designs?
TB: Yes Girl, I started a Waistcape line last year. Actually this month makes one year! Oh my God, I didn’t realize that until this very moment! But I love all things cape-inspired and I feel like women are superheroes, so I designed waistcapes that you can add to any outfit that will spice up your look and make you feel Capeable! I recently added my own T-shirt line to my designs with some of my favorite quotes from my cooking show! You can shop at www.Etsy.com/Shop/Capeable for both! You can also follow my Instagram account at @capeable.
CM: Where can people learn more about you?
TB: On Facebook @ActressTabithaBrown and on all other social media channels as @IamTabithaBrown. As I shared, my fashion line is Capeable by Tabitha Brown. For booking inquiries, you can email: TastewithTab@gmail.com.
CM: What’s next for Tabitha Brown?
TB: I have a movie coming out this year called Princess of the Row with Eddie Gathegi and Martin Sheen. I’m developing a TV show, and still auditioning, as well as starting to travel for speaking engagements. I still have my waistcape fashion line Capeable, and maybe a cookbook. And Honey, if we leave it up to God, it will definitely be more than I can imagine, and that’s OK with me!
CM: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
TB: I’m just super thankful. Thank you so much for this interview and a big thank you to my family for always supporting me! I love you all! And as my Daddy always says, ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of your own.”
You deserve to get help if you need it. If you are in crisis or experiencing emotional distress, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or SAMHSA’s National Helpline, which offers free information for individuals facing mental health and/or substance abuse issues, at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
To learn more about Tabitha Brown and check out her videos, please visit her Facebook page.
To learn more about Tabitha’s Capeable clothing line, please visit her Etsy shop.
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To learn more about Led By Love: A Coloring Book Journal for Family Caregivers of Adults, please click here.
To learn more about Dear Heart: A Coloring Book Journal for Living with Heart Disease, please click here.
Have you tried the TTLA because of Tabitha? Have you tried one of Tabitha’s recipes? What’s your favorite Tabitha Brown video? Tell us about it in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
PLEASE NOTE: The opinions, representations, and statements made in response to questions asked as part of this interview are strictly those of the interviewee and not of Chloé McFeters or Tortoise and Finch Productions, LLC as a whole.