For Ysanet Batista, being in the business of clean eating is more a political act than anything else, turning traditionally meat-laden Dominican cuisine into plant-based delicacies. With a mere $200 in equity, the Dominican chef last summer launched the city’s first vegetarian food business, Woke Foods, providing catering, cooking classes and meal planning to her surrounding community in Washington Heights, New York.
“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 says. “Farmers of color are constantly being exploited in our food system here and in my island. People need to stay woke about their food.”
Batista also collaborates with other chefs of color. They host classes at the community kitchen, taking participants through a four-course meal from their respective cultures. “I want to make sure we are not cooping other cultures. So I ensure chefs who are from a particular country teach their cuisine.”
Although growing up Dominican and giving up animal products was not an easy feat, Batista had some proper guidance and mentorship in her “woke” journey, learning to cook her favorite dishes of sancocho, kipe, asopao and pasteles without meat. “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.”