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VOL. 42 | NO. 47 | Friday, November 23, 2018

Morgan builds an empire, one hungry vegan Titan at a time

Chef, entrepreneur, film producer and Titan wife thinking restaurant

By Tom Wood

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Charity Morgan has a lot on her plate. She is currently focused on feeding the huge appetite of very large men. But for 2019 and beyond, she is preparing a feast of dreams.

A vegan, plant-based chef with a culinary arts degree, Charity cooks for her husband – Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan – and more than a dozen of his teammates, and “a couple of celebrity clients” that she won’t reveal “but where I couldn’t say no.”

Sometime after the Titans’ season ends, she hopes to launch a number of projects that could include a cookbook, a brick-and-mortar restaurant or a catering business as well as other projects that promote a vegan, plant-based lifestyle.

To that end, the Morgans are executive producers for a documentary, “The Game Changers.’’ More on that later, but suffice to say it is just one more avenue in getting her message heard.

“I’ve kept it very small because … it’s just more so about growing my business and testing it out because eventually that’s what I want to do,” she says. “After this season, I want to roll it into a business, whether it’s a plant-based meal plan for people, a restaurant – something. I’m just praying for that guidance, because I have something here and I do want to make it readily available (to the public).”

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is one of the Titans who has reaped the benefits of switching to a plant-based diet.

“She’s got all the information to get it done (in 2019), so I know that if she does it, it’s going to be successful. She’s got a great support cast, so I’m looking forward to seeing it happen for her,” Casey offers.

Her work with Titans players has garnered attention on ESPN, CNBC, VegNews, Vegan Magazine and podcasts, so much, she says, that athletes in other sports – including the Nashville Predators – have approached her about signing up for her cooking. That may happen someday, but right now she’s all about the Titans.

Chef Charity Morgan chops some onions in her kitchen as she prepares lunches.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I had someone reach out from baseball, and I also had someone else reach out to me to do something for the Preds,” Charity continues. “I’m open to all of that; I just have to figure out how because their schedule is so different from the Titans.

“I love my players and I love my husband, and no matter who they are, I’m going to do all that I can to help them.

“So, for me, my dedication is to the (Titans) players till January. I have a lot of opportunities outside of the Titans, and I haven’t opened them up completely because I’m giving the guys my dedication right now.”

Derrick Morgan is fully supportive of his wife’s plans to expand beyond the frenzied schedule of feeding the Titans.

“All options are on the table. We’re taking it day by day. She’s going to really do what she’s doing right now, which is opening up opportunities for her,” Derrick Morgan points out. “So, we’re just going to take them one by one and see what makes the most sense for us as a family.”

The road taken

Charity has more than 15 years of cooking experience since earning her degree from a Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has pursued vegan cooking full-time in just the past few years. She credits Derrick’s pursuit of healthier eating to extend his NFL career as jump-starting her dreams.

“It was actually Derrick who decided that he wanted to eat cleaner and do something that was going to help his body recover faster, cut down inflammation, and he started doing tons of research about plant-based diets,” she recounts.

“When Derrick decided it was something he wanted to jump on, he had my support 1,000 percent.”

That research included lots of reading, consults with his nutritionist and watching the pro-vegan documentaries, “What the Health,’’ (2017) and “Forks Over Knives’’ (2011).

“It all boiled down to just trying to find a competitive advantage with my recovery and just the health of my body,” Derrick says. “So, I was looking at things in the offseason as ways to limit the inflammation in my body and came across the plant-based diet.

BBQ chickpea salad

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

“I consulted a nutritionist, and it just kind of happened naturally.

“My wife, she’s a very amazing chef. And she was before she transitioned to a plant-based chef. Once she wrapped her mind around cooking without meat and dairy, her creativity took over.”

Charity started working on recipes and making food for Derrick to take to the Titans’ facility. He got a lot of razzing from teammates at first, then curiosity took over. One thing led to another and more guys converted to the idea of giving up meat for plant-based foods.

“They saw me eating my own food, asked questions and they knew my wife could cook from when she held barbecues and cookouts at my house in the past, so they definitely wanted to try it. Once they tried it, they asked to get on the meal plan,” Derrick says.

And now she’s up cooking at 7 a.m., in order to have her meal packages delivered to the training facility by 11:30. She started out last year giving players menu options, but soon realized they weren’t picky eaters.

“What is so amazing about this is the guys completely trust me with my meals,” Charity says. “Last season the guys got a menu list of everything I’m cooking this week, and I realized nobody was looking at the menu … because guys are guys. They’re like, ‘I don’t care, just feed me.’

“So, I found out that way did not work for the athletes. They just want something damn good. They do not want a lot of communication, they just want their food, and they want it, and they want it on time,” she adds, laughing. “So, the guys totally trust me.”

Eating good and plenty

A 2017 ESPN report cited the Buffalo Bills as going through 700 pounds of rotisserie chicken each week of the season, plus 500-600 pounds of New Zealand grass-fed beef and 200-300 pounds of salmon along with plenty of pasta, vegetables, smoothies and snacks. That’s typical for most NFL teams, with fried foods and fattening desserts in low demand at training tables.

Charity Morgan unloads meals for her husband and teammates at Saint Thomas Sports Park.

-- Michelle Morrow | The Ledger

Charity makes sure her Titans players still get all the protein they need – but the right kind of plant-based protein that will help them recover more quickly from injuries and have more energy that will help sustain their careers in the hard-hitting world of pro football.

“My meals were not very far from the rich, hearty meals the guys were already eating, but they were just cleaned-up versions of them,” she points out. “The NFL (is) a 100 percent guaranteed injury sport. … What it does do is lower those chances, even if you do get hurt, you’re right back on the field. My husband, he was right back on the field after an injury.”

Her confidence got a much-needed boost when she received a text message from Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk after catering an event.

“She sent me this beautiful text of ‘I’ve never had a complete vegan meal, but you just blew my socks off and that was the most incredible meal I’ve ever had,’” Charity recalls. “It was just so beautiful and just kind of encouraged me more, that I’m doing this right, because I often get to a point where I’m just like, ‘man, maybe nobody cares about eating plant-based.’

“But then I realized what my message is – showing people what vegan is not. It’s not a salad. It’s not steamed vegetables. It’s these beautiful, hearty meals like sweet potato black bean enchiladas, and Spanish rice and black beans, and huge burgers with caramelized onions and a vegan In and Out burger sauce. This is my message.”

And the players got the memo. The proof is, um, in the non-dairy pudding, so to speak.

“She’s done a great job of making sure we get everything we need for our body to make sure we’re fully recovered, making sure we have the energy to go out there and produce,” Casey says. “The biggest thing is she’s just making sure the way my body is able to function, the energy I have out there to produce on the field and being out there constantly and not having to worry about injuries.

“That’s the biggest thing about the switch.”

Adds Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard: “Health benefit-wise, I feel a lot fresher than I normally would as far as having a lot of meat in my system. I’m not saying that plant-based works for everybody, but it’s definitely working for me. And I feel more energized, I’ve got a lot more energy, I recover faster and the meals are great.”

Those positive effects have been noticed by Titans observers.

“It’s been a fountain of youth for Woodyard, and Morgan and Casey, who are still going strong even as they approach 30,” says veteran sportswriter Terry McCormick of the Nashville Ledger and TitansInsider.com.

They’re not cheap eats

Charity says she puts all the money Titans players pay her back into the food, ordering top-of-the-line products that she knows the players appreciate.

“I keep my prices very low for the players because I want it to be very approachable for them and not a turnoff,’’ she continues.

“If I was to start a business, I honestly would start it at double of what I’m charging the guys because right now I’m not even profiting.

“It’s like whatever I spend on the guys and what they pay me, I’m breaking even. And that is because I’m using high-quality ingredients, everything’s non-GMO organic.”

She buys local when possible, but also shops online.

“I find some of my stuff on the internet because it’s not readily available in Nashville,” she adds.

“For example, when the guys want French fries, I wanted food-service French fries because they’re crispier, so I found some Belgian French fries that are fried in sunflower oil only, and they’re organic. And that kind of stuff, just to get a shipment of that is $400.

“To get vegan shrimp shipped from Los Angeles, that’s another $400 for a case. And then I love truffle sauce and truffle oils and truffles, and making things so amazing for the guys, that’s costly. But I don’t care about that because it’s not about money for me. It’s about the experience, evolving as a chef and to be a messenger for the athletes.”

Players have gotten the message, and hope others will too as she plans to expand her operations.

“I was always curious because I always wanted to eat better,” Titans outside linebacker Brian Orakpo says. “When you think about vegan, plant-based foods, you’re thinking grass and lettuce all day, and I’m like that’s all you really think of when you first don’t know anything about it.

“Then when I see the meals that come in and what she prepares, it kind of changed my perspective on things, and I wanted to give it a try. I did, and I loved it, and that’s all she wrote. I’m just kind of addicted to it now.”

The Morgans and the movie

Be on the lookout early next year for the documentary, “The Game Changers,’’ which is directed by Louie Psihoyos and executive produced by James Cameron. Derrick and Charity are also executive producers.

It focuses on the quest of James Wilks, an elite Special Forces trainer and Ultimate Fighter champion, to promote a vegan and plant-based lifestyle. Arnold Schwarzenegger, surfing champion Tia Blanco, ultramarathoner Scott Jurek and many others are also featured.

“Funded by James Cameron, (it is) a documentary about elite athletes at the top of their game with their only protein source being plants,” Charity says.

The documentary was previewed earlier this year at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals. To learn more, check out the documentary’s website at www.gamechangersmovie.com.

It is a message that the Morgans are showing every day, not just telling.