Michelle Scott, a Dominican University student, is the founder of Thank God 4 Raw and Vegan Treats, an online business that offers a select menu of vegan sweets. Photo courtesy of Dominican University

While the news of a chronic disease didn’t rock Michelle Scott enough to change her lifestyle, the thought of possibly losing an organ did. The latter was the likely consequence of not heeding one doctor’s advice. 

When Scott was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in 2000, she was 24 years old and didn’t know how to take the news, except with an attitude and sheer denial. A doctor informed her then that the disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract and commonly leads to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea and malnutrition, would require the then-young Scott to “clean up” her diet and to do so immediately. 

“That’s the only way you’re going to get better,” the Austin native, now 46, recalled the doctor saying. “I thought cleaning up my diet — that’s like eating air, the things he told me I would have to stop eating, and I’m just like, ‘Oh gosh. What am I supposed to eat?’”

But it wasn’t until years later when Scott met a different doctor and decided to turn her life around. More than a decade after her initial diagnosis and without any real changes to her dietary lifestyle, Scott said another doctor told her the condition had only worsened. 

He told her he would have to put her on 26 pills a day, Scott recalled. She replied, “Are you serious?” He said her chronic disease had gotten so bad they might have to take out her intestine. 

The grim prognosis was pivotal for Scott, marking the start of her venture into veganism and the eventual launch of her own business, Thank God 4 Raw and Vegan Treats, in 2019. 

Becoming vegan was hard, she said, especially in the beginning. She was simply trying to learn what she could and couldn’t eat. Veganism requires staying away from meat, seafood, dairy products, eggs and honey and countless other food items that contain animal by-products. 

Finding the right substitutes and making sure she was still eating regularly and healthily were not only crucial but also expensive. 

“I’m feeding a majority of my family members with regular food, and then I’m feeding myself with whatever I can,” she explained. She quickly became a “carbo vegan,” turning to pasta and potatoes because it was easy to find and relatively affordable. 

 “Then it started getting really hard because my family didn’t understand what a vegan lifestyle was. When I would go to functions, everyone had meat, and what did I have? My salads. What else can I eat?”

That feeling of isolation and lack of acceptance by others stayed with Scott. As a Black woman whose family meals and childhood memories revolved around Southern staples, she felt disconnected. And if she were to present a vegan version of any of those beloved dishes, there was no room for mistakes. 

“I had to perfect it, so they can enjoy it.”

“My family just wasn’t as educated about taking meat out of certain foods or taking dairy out of certain foods,” she said. “Our biggest meals [include] macaroni and cheese, or cornbread, or greens, and to take meat out of your greens, who does that? To take dairy out of the macaroni, who does that?” 

She began experimenting, looking up recipes online and following other vegan at-home chefs and dieticians online. And before Scott started touching those famous family dishes, she began tweaking her own snacks and desserts, which was the impetus for Thank God 4 Raw and Vegan Treats, an online business that offers a select menu of vegan sweets, such as glazed cinnamon doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, apple pie slices and cookies just to name a few. 

Scott, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics at Dominican University, said classes at the River Forest-based college have deepened her understanding, not just about food but the impact of culture, environment and money on people’s access to health and wellness. She also has ties to East Garfield Park and knows the West Side is a food desert, that grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to come by. She also knows it’s easier for some people, families especially, to get fast food because they’re busy with work and they get more bang for the buck. 

When Scott talks to families of color about why she chose to become vegan, she is often met with skepticism. She hears from Black and brown clients, “Well, my grandma ate it, and my mom ate it, my cousin ate it, and they were fine,” or the closing argument, “Vegans die, too,” as if to say there’s no point to making changes anyway. Her clients aren’t always forthcoming to share the consequences — the health issues that arise, such as lingering heart problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, the so-called “generational curses.” 

Scott said her mother was a diabetic, so they worked together to try to eat better.     

That’s the challenge she has willingly taken on with Thank God’s vegan menu, which over the course of the pandemic expanded to include soul food and has reached clients beyond the city and Chicago suburbs. A mainstay at the Austin Town Hall City Market on Thursdays, Scott constantly talks to the people who pass her table, handing out samples first before even uttering the word “vegan.”    

“I have to be humble and know how to work the crowd. When I say the crowd, you got to know who you’re dealing with. I know I’m dealing with African Americans who are not really susceptible,” she said, mimicking the question she usually gets from customers: “What is vegan?” And the reaction, “Ugh. It [sounds like it] tastes like tar.” 

That’s why she always lets people try the food at the pop-up events. 

“It’s more of being an encourager.”

On the spiritual front, the meaning behind her business’ name is daily gratitude. She believes her decades-long journey to understand her own body and health has now transformed into an even larger mission of helping people on the West Side and beyond. That, she said, is the work of a “divine power.”  

“This is my mantra: I am created to inspire, encourage and empower individuals to see their greatest potential,” she said, noting that Thank God 4 Raw and Vegan Treats isn’t about forcing people to be vegan. 

“My focus is — and I always put my hand up to pretty much surrender to say — to help you to implement more fruits and vegetables, help you to embody what ‘plant-based’ looks like, to help you to change the dynamics, to help you to break the generational curses.” 

For more information on Thank God 4 Raw and Vegan Treats, visit Michelle Scott’s website www.thankgod4rawvegantreats.com or find the business on Instagram under the same name, @thankgod4rawvegantreats. Thank God 4 Raw and Vegan Treats can also be found at the Austin Town Hall City Market, which takes place from 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays. The market is in the Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake St. in Chicago.  

Join the discussion on social media!