Woke Foods: New York’s First Vegetarian Dominican Cuisine Cooperative

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Many thanks to Peter Jordens, who informs us about Woke Foods, a new food cooperative—centering on vegetarian Dominican food—launched by Ysanet Batista (shown above) in 2016 in Washington Heights, New York. Blavity reports:

The food cooperative provides a variety of services including catering, cooking classes and meal planning to the Washington Heights community. Woke Foods also serves as a monthly meeting place for chefs of color to meet, exchange recipes and teach one another about their respective culture. To Batista, what we eat is just as important as where the food comes from. “I want people in my community to understand that food is political even though we don’t see it that way. We vote with our dollars,” she told Harlem Focus. “Farmers of color are constantly being exploited in our food system here and in my island. People need to stay woke about their food.”

The traditional meat-based Dominican cuisine is given a brand new twist with Batista’s vegetarian ingredients. Throughout her college years, Batista experimented with traditional Dominican dishes like sancocho, asopao, kipes, and pasteles without meat serving as the essential ingredient.

“I thought making the food I grew up eating vegetarian would be impossible. But my mentor Jeseli Soto and my grandmother demonstrated to me it wasn’t.”

Katherine Hernandez (Harlem Focus) writes:

[. . .] In April, Batista, hosted the first cooking class of a series for community organizers to connect, understand and discuss issues in our food system. Once a month she collaborates with chefs of color in community kitchen spaces to host classes that take participants through a four-course meal that represents the culture of the collaborating chef. “I want to make sure we are not cooping other cultures. So I ensure chefs who are from a particular country teach their cuisine,” Batista says.

Her journey to becoming ‘woke’ about food began at an early age when, at 15, she stumbled across the PETA website. Scrolling through the brutal and graphic images the organization uses to illustrate meat consumption in America, she found herself in tears, and vowed to never eat meat again. But as a young girl being raised in a Dominican family, who stuck to their roots of “La Bandera Dominicana” (a plate of rice, beans, and meat) always on the dinner table, her new found vegetarianism became a challenge. “I thought making the food I grew up eating vegetarian would be impossible,” says Batista. “But my mentor Jeseli Soto and my grandmother demonstrated to me it wasn’t.”

Batista’s vegetarian quest intensified when she moved to Providence, Rhode Island, in her twenties to study hospitality and tourism at Johnson & Wales University. Determined to leave meat in her past life, she enrolled in the Peace Advocacy Network’s Vegan Pledge program. Paired with a Dominican mentor who would guide her through a 30-day trial period of veganism, Batista realized that Dominican meals and staples can, in fact, be transformed into delicious meatless food. As she traveled back and forth from Rhode Island to the Dominican Republic, she experimented even more so in her grandmother Ramona’s kitchen, recreating the hearty Dominican dishes she loved the most: sancocho, asopao, kipes, and pasteles without meat.

Adding a twist to Dominican pasteles, typically made with slow cooked beef or pork, Batista stuffs them with minced root vegetables, mushrooms, and cheese. She fills kipes, deep fried rolls made with bulgur wheat, ground beef and raisins, with sautéed minced vegetables flavored with organic Adobo. And to minimize her use of canola oil, she bakes or fries her sweet plantains in coconut oil or grape seed oil. [. . .]

Ysanet Batista, Woke Foods, (707) 800 9653, order@wokefoods.com; see http://www.wokefoods.com and https://www.facebook.com/wokefoods

For full articles, see https://blavity.com/woke-foods-new-york-vegetarian-dominican-food-business and https://medium.com/harlem-focus/the-woke-chef-behind-the-1st-dominican-vegetarian-food-business-in-new-york-city-58390d05929b

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