This month marks seven years since I’ve been vegetarian (pescetarian, more specifically; I still eat seafood). And before you ask: no, I didn’t opt out of meat consumption to protest the negligence of animal lives (though, if that’s your thing, more power to you—respectfully and truly), but because it was a health-related decision I had to make for myself. That said, there are certainly still days when the aroma of wings and ribs make me salivate. My taste for great food hasn’t changed, but my options have—and sometimes that poses a challenge when I’m pressed for time and Chopt ain’t quite engaging my palate.
I was hype as hell to have scrolled by a Harlem Focus article about Woke Foods, a plant-based Dominican food business that offers catering, cooking classes and meal planning to folks in the Washington Heights area (I call Harlem home for now, so this isn’t too far from me). The cooperative was launched last summer by 26-year-old chef Ysanet Batista, who had just $200 in equity at the time. Since then, she’s started teaching community classes, some of which she teaches with chefs of color. Dope twist: each lesson represents the culture of its respective collaborating chef.
“I want to make sure we are not coopting other cultures,” Batista tells Harlem Focus. “So I ensure chefs who are from a particular country teach their cuisine.” And as it turns out, Batista faced challenges similar to those I faced when she first decided to go green. “I thought making the food I grew up eating vegetarian would be impossible,” she says. “But my mentor Jeseli Soto and my grandmother demonstrated to me it wasn’t.”
One thing any vegetarian will likely tell you is the diet change pushes you to get creative with your plate (unless you live off Morningstar and french fries, and no shade, ’cause I definitely went through that phase, too). In Batista’s case, she’s found mouth-watering ways to finesse her favorite traditional Dominican dishes: the slow cooked beef/pork in pasteles becomes mushrooms and cheese. Kipes are filled with Adobo-flavored sautéed veggies. Plantains get fried in coconut or grape seed oil.
And let me not forget to note the business isn’t called Woke Foods to be cute. Batista’s pushing for food justice in communities of color as well.
“I want people in my community to understand that food is political even though we don’t see it that way,” Batista explains. “We vote with our dollars. Farmers of color are constantly being exploited in our food system here and on my island. People need to stay woke about their food.”
I plan on signing up for a class soon. Until then, read more about the amazing young businesswoman here.
Check out more photos from her Instagram below.
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