By Nelson Santana
August 22, 2017
Sazón sofrito, kipes (quipes), sancocho o salcocho—depending on the region in the Dominican Republic—or salami guisado are not the kind of dishes that come to mind when one considers vegetarian food. However, Merelis Catalina Ortiz and Ysanet Batista prove that you can have your cake and eat it too. New York-born, these entrepreneurs launched what they claim to be the first Dominican vegetarian food business that caters food, offers cooking lessons, and educates people in underserved communities on to how to prepare and eat healthy foods. Founded by two Afro-indigenous Dominican women, Woke Foods engages in food justice and food sovereignty.
According to Batista and Ortiz, food is political. Woke Foods is rooted in helping people understand that healthy food should be accessible to everyone regardless of a person’s socioeconomic status, race, or the community where they reside. According to Batista, Woke Foods’ primordial goal is to bring “healthy, plant-based food to our people”—communities of color.
After engaging in hours of conversation with Woke Foods’ founders, it is apparent that Ortiz and Batista do not approach clients via a top-down approach; rather, they connect with their audience, using their culture and knowledge as a tool of empowerment, and adding to that experienced knowledge, in turn, enhancing the individual’s cooking prowess.
Woke Foods also relates to their personal journeys. As an undergraduate student, Ortiz correlated diseases such as cancer and high cholesterol to the foods her loved ones consumed. “Growing up in a household within a family where food played such a big role in my life and seeing my family getting sick from the diets that they had…that is really what immersed me in learning more about food justice, more about food sovereignty…and through there I was able to get involved in organizations in Harlem and in the Heights.”
ESENDOM visited these trendsetters in their habitat and followed them for a few days. We caught up with Woke Foods at Atonement Lutheran Church at Bennett Avenue in Washington Heights in the first week of August. Attendees participated in a cooking lesson and learned about healthy eating.
Woke Foods is consistently on the road, bringing their knowledge to different communities. Although Ortíz and Batista do most of their work in Washington Heights and the Bronx, they also have taken their craft to other cities and states throughout the United States. Woke Foods participates in cultural and educational events alike, such as festivals and food popups. As of this writing, Ortíz and Batista are in the Dominican Republic (earlier today, Ortíz informed ESENDOM that her plane landed safely). Be sure to visit the Woke Foods official website to find out when Batista and Ortíz will be near you!
You can learn more about Woke Foods and these two dynamic women by watching ESENDOM’s full interview above.