Todo Verde has come a long way! Jocelyn Ramirez’s mission to fight for the Latino community’s access to affordable, clean foods began with smoothies and has now grown into a full on catering business.
Her journey started back in 2014 when her father was diagnosed with throat cancer for the second time and Ramirez made the decision to put him on a strict plant-based diet in the days leading up to his surgery. “The doctors couldn’t do radiation therapy so close to his first round of treatment,” she explained. “So they were going to have to do surgery – it was going to be much more invasive. In order to get him ready for that surgery I had to get him as strong as possible to prepare for the recovery.” And she did. Her father healed quickly but it was a wake up call for the entire family. It also awakened something within her. “When my dad got sick we started to explore healthy food [and] my parents really encouraged me to follow my passion. When my dad was out of the hospital I decided to take the leap. That was my practice round in regimenting. It was a little incubator moment to try to heal my family through this lifestyle.”
She quit her job as a Professor of Social Justice, Civic Engagement, and Leadership for Community Building at Woodbury University – a position and outlook that informs much of Todo Verde’s mission.“I’ve always had an interest with food. Social justice, food justice, it’s something that always comes to mind with me. It’s a vital component. Who has access to what particular types of food? Why is it that we only see particular types of food in certain neighborhoods? At the end of the day all you can do is try to do something about it.”
Ramirez’s work is meeting a great need. Growing up in South Gate, California she realized that there weren’t any fresh food options in her neighborhood. In fact, this is the reality for many in the US who live in food deserts. The USDA defines a food desert “as parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.” The Economic Research Service of the US Department of Agriculture estimates that around “2.3 million people (or 2.2 percent of all US households) live more than one mile away from a supermarket and do not own a car.” This is a huge barrier for lower income families and people of color who will more often than not be forced into unhealthy eating cycles and suffer the health consequences associated with consuming highly refined foods. “We mostly ate fast food growing up because there were no fresh food options in our area. We don’t even realize that we end up structuring our palate to like certain things. So even when we could eat healthy we still chose those processed foods. I wanted to come up with a stepping stone to eating healthy.”
With no culinary training but armed with curiosity and a knack for what tastes good, Ramirez set out to create and perfect vegan options of traditional Mexican and Ecuadorian-infused flavors. Now she’s in the business of healing everyone who tries her food.
What started out as a healthier take on aguas frescas has become affordable vegan meals based on traditional Mexican dishes. The Todo Verde Instagram feed is sprinkled with mouthwatering images of sophisticated substitutions that really won’t leave you craving for the originals. Ramirez has created dishes like: chile relleno stuffed with huitlacoche and roasted potatoes and topped with cashew crema and plant-based mole with roasted oyster mushrooms that is served over rice with pickled radishes. Sounds good, right? Even for my carnivorous heart, Todo Verde’s attention to getting the flavors and textures just right are both refreshing and hunger-inducing. Because let’s be real, more often than not vegan and veggie options can’t even compare to the homemade flavors we crave.
When teaching people how to switch up their diet, Ramirez often refers to “decolonizing” your diet. “Think about what foods are native to your area and how can you create foods based off of that? Become more familiar with what comes from the earth and step away from highly processed foods, which are some of the most highly consumed products in the world.” In short, decolonizing means eating local and focusing on a plant-based diet, which is harder than you would think. “Todo verde is trying to create more awareness but we’re not the answer. It’s a whole community of people that need to come together. It’s hard to change people’s perspectives on food and it takes a lot of effort and it takes a lot of openness.”
Her family has made a transition, incorporating more fruits and veggies into their diet and are nearly vegan/vegetarian. “Retraining your palate is HARD,” Ramirez conceded, “but they’re almost there!” Today she’s bottling and selling her aguas frescas to reach a wider market. “People kept asking for the aguas frescas by name and I wanted to create more access to that product; it was something I needed to tackle. We’re trying it out, seeing what happens, it’s only been a few weeks.” You can find her delicious twist on Mexican aguas at Zinc Cafe & Market in Downtown Los Angeles and Found Coffee in Eagle Rock.
Next, she’s working on creating a space for learning about nutrition in lieu of the food deserts that make up most of East L.A., “It’s important to create a space to talk and share knowledge on the subject or recipes and share it with a younger generation. We see so much unnecessary and chronic disease because of the absence of skill-sharing and actually participating in recreating.” She’s also working closely with women 24-35. “I see an opportunity with [them] to share that knowledge with [their] family, friends, or community. As women we have the power… if you educate a woman you educate a nation.”
You can find Ramirez stirring up magic at Levitte Pavilion’s McAurther Park location on July 14th, 21st, and on Aug 31st. You’ll also find her with her team at Smorgasborge every Sunday in Downtown Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for updates and check her website here for catering information.