Amy Quichiz is not what our society has traditionally presented as a plant-based activist. She preaches a cultish vegan dogma in favor of open-mindedness to many things not associated with veganism. She practices more than she preaches. And she is not skinny, white, straight, or socioeconomically privileged enough to throw exotic fruits and homemade seitan into a Whole Foods basket every other day. Still, to say Quichiz is compelling is an understatement: The unique combination of her coquettish disposition and the informed conviction of a not-yet-jaded organizer has captured a huge audience who seem to buy exactly what shes selling.
It sounded so small when it started, Amy Quichiz, 24, says about the idea of creating a gay led collective for women of color, with a focus on veganism, began when she was a sophomore in college. It began, officially as a business, in January 2018 as a way to share recipes via Instagram and show others how to eat a plant-based diet on a modest budget. Soon, Amy Quichiz and her friend and now cofounder, Mariah Bermeo, 23, watched the grassroots organization now known as Veggie Mijas flourish rapidly in a matter of months.
At the time, Bermeo was getting assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps; it was one of the catalysts that led them to start organizing vegan potluck events on social media. As the group grew, the modest gatherings evolved into well attended panel discussions on topics such as food justice and how to plant your own herbs.
Later on, there were yoga sessions and farm sanctuary trips that promoted mindfulness practices. A year and a half later, they have taken their online enthusiasm off the grid with a global community consisting of gay, women, and non-binary folks of color in the States, as well as in Australia, Peru and Canada, who connect often online and bolster each others wellness aspirations.
Amy Quichiz, the child of a Colombian mother and Peruvian father, wanted to create a space for more vegans like her gay Latinas to raise awareness of the positive impact that fruit and vegetables can bring into Black and Brown communities and to challenge the mainstream stereotype of what a vegan looks like: white, fancy yoga-pants wearing, straight female, organic eating, affluent, and thin.
Veganism has always been centered in whiteness Amy Quichiz says. Its important to have a space for minority folks, especially when we are talking about a vegetable based lifestyle, in which were often excluded from the conversation. Almost 600 scientific publications have documented racial and ethnic disparities in health care. When looking at the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S., for example, mortality rates among Black Americans are higher than among white Americans. Its no surprise why minorities, Black American Americans and Latinx included, are turning to a plant-based diet for more balance and better health.
People of color also experience underrepresentation in the vegan mainstream, Amy Quichiz used to be the only person of color at vegan events she attended while in college and having white vegan friends who often scolded her for her decisions. Many would shame her for not being a real vegan if she ate a free meal on campus and took the meat off the plate, she now knows, an egregious example of privileged snobbery. That food shaming, at one time, made Amy Quichiz feel that a vegan lifestyle was out of her reach.
But contrary to the narrative, many Black and Brown communities are rooted in the notion of veganism. The movement often forgets to credit the origins of veganism; non meat eating cultures have existed well before the current Westernized diet trend. Jainism, an ancient religion from India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Rastafarianism, developed in Jamaica, is just one of a few groups that promote a plant-based diet. Beef, pork, chicken, lamb. and goat only came to Latin Americas indigenous native communities after the Spanish conquest. In PreColumbian times, many followed a plant based diet.
But of course, youre not hearing any of this on your Beginners Guide to Going Vegan.
Although Amy Quichiz says that eating wholenon processed foods, like her ancestors did, makes her feel better, she no longer punishes herself or lets others punish her for not being vegan 100% of the time. Instead of calling it a slip up, she recognizes shes making an intentional choice to not be vegan when she wants. This conscious mental shift has helped her improve her relationship with food. Many vegans and vegetarians alike are turning to a flexitarian diet, focusing on protein that comes from plants instead of animal products, but allowing meat and other animal-derived foods, like dairy into the diet, when needed. Slipping comes with the context of being pressured to be vegan at all times, at all costs, no matter what, Amy Quichiz says. If there is no access to vegan food at that moment and I am hungry, I will eat it.
Black and Brown communities are often food wastelands, areas with limited access to nutritious and affordable food, and understanding the circumstances of why someone cant be vegan 100% of the time is important to the Veggie Mijas mission. They serve as a resource for recipes with items you may already have in your pantry or might be part of your diet already like rice, avocado, plantains or beans.. This ethos also translates to its events, where vegan or not, all people of color and sexual preference are welcomed if they have a willingness to learn.
People think veganism can be very elitist and snobbish, which it can be if you’re buying all these fancy expensive products. But if you are just [striving for] a plant-based lifestyle, it’s not that hard, Quichiz says. Much research recommends a plant-based diet, not necessarily fully vegan. For a healthy, balanced diet, we just need to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and consume less red meat as protein, opting for nuts, beans, fish and poultry, all versatile protein sources. But most of us do not, increasing the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and even certain cancers.
People think veganism can be very elitist, which it can be if you’re buying all these fancy products. But if you are just [striving for] a plant-based lifestyle, it’s not that hard, Amy Quichiz says.
Inspired to get into veganism by her Latina friends (and admittedly, after watching Earthlings, a documentary about how humans use and abuse animals for their own benefit), her reasoning for transitioning into the lifestyle are many. Being vegan aligns with her core values: feminism and protecting the environment, and the core value of feminism is equality for all. To Quichiz, Vegan feminism extends the circle of intersectionality to farmed raised animals.
At any Veggie Mijas event, you can find people with different reasons for cutting down their dairy and meat consumption, but they are all equally respected within the group. A collective that features a complete spectrum of diversity including gender, race and sexuality, Veggie Mijas is a safe place to discuss an important part of their lives: food, in a place without judgement and policing, thanks in part to the fact that its founders, and most of their organizers, are gay and are part of a minority. It is made by them and for them; para y por el barrio, as they like to say.
In challenging white mainstream veganism, Amy Quichiz wants young children to know that they have options as far as the lifestyle they choose. Veggie Mijas now offers educational workshops on veganism and the impact children can generate. Eating habits start from an early age, so Quichizs vision is to instill a strong sense of food values in elementary-aged children to teenagers by empowering them to eat healthier. There is a direct line to the entire community, who Quichiz and her cohort can influence and support.
Amy Quichiz and her group have now done workshops at schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. At the end of each workshop, they give students copies of their cookbook, Casa Verde, which includes Dominican, Venezuelan and other traditional recipes from Latin America. The hope is that the parents of the children they are teaching can also feel inspired to cook healthier meals at home. We also recommend The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook.
We underestimate brown and black children a lot, especially when it comes to their food choices. We think that all they eat is junk food but we don’t see the options that we are giving them, Amy Quichiz says. We don’t see beyond what they can eat. If you offer them foods that make them feel good, theyre going to choose that. You just have to give them a chance. And this doesnt mean cleaning out the full fridge and abandoning all cultural staples that are not vegan. Amy Quichiz advocates starting by veganizing each familys favorite dishes. Papa a la huancana boiled potatoes in a savory, creamy sauce is one of Amy Quichiz’s favorites; her mother has retained it in their family’s meal rotation by subbing in vegan ingredients that mimic the richness of cheese.
Its important to empower our kids to know they can make a difference in their communities, especially when we grow up in communities where there can be trauma and violence, Amy Quichiz says. There can be a lot of healing in planting, growing and talking about food.
And if you choose not to take on a Vegetarian lifestyle we have a solution for you as well. We sell a wonderful product called Super Greens.
Veggie Mijas is a platform for Women of Color to share cultural vegan/vegetarian recipes and provide safe spaces for Vegans of Color. Mujeristas Collective had the opportunity to interview the founder Amy Quichiz and she shared her journey as a Colombiana-Peruana vegan.
Full interview on MujeristasCollective.com/blog/veggiemijas
The Visibility Pack Picnic hosted by Veggie Mijas and SafeWordSociety at Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn on July 1, 2018.