Can green smoothies change the world?
Jocelyn Ramirez thinks so, at least in southeast Los Angeles, where food options are often limited to fast-food and what is available at convenience stores. A year and three months ago, she quit her career as a college professor to open Todo Verde, a small business committed to advancing food equity in the underserved neighborhoods of Los Angeles, where she was born and raised.
This food injustice stuck with her as a young adult who played by the book and went to school, got a master's degree, and went on to become a professor at a university for seven years.
However, it wasn't until her diabetic dad was diagnosed with cancer twice, and discovering that she had a thyroid condition, that she started to really analyze the effect that certain foods have on the human body.
"No doctors could give me a reason as to why I was feeling the way I was feeling, so I looked into my diet," Ramirez says as she places a quarter of a ripe avocado, a handful of dates, a tablespoon of maca powder, and some organic dinosaur kale into a VitaMix for her "Serio" smoothie at her booth at the South Pasadena Farmers Market. The name of the smoothie means "serious" in Spanish, and its flavor certainly is, tasting so cruciferous that it burns your tongue with its bitter, vegetal flavor upon the first thick sip.
"A month before my dad's second major surgery, I cleaned out his fridge and I made him nothing but smoothies and plant-based, clean meals. In just that one month alone, his doctor was shocked because he didn't need insulin anymore."
That is when she knew that she needed to follow her lifelong passion with plant-based foods and pursue what she called a "healing" way of life. She quit her job, started teaching yoga in LA's inner-city neighborhoods, and started selling vegan smoothies and maple-syrup agua frescas in East LA. Her business plan was simple: win over the first-, second-, and third-generation Latino families in food deserts whose food and drink traditions endorse diets rich in fatty meats and sodas by kindly reminding them of the naturally plant-based way their grandparents in their motherlands use to eat.
"Our abuelas have been making jugos y licuados for a long time, but used different ingredients," she says while stirring a pot of spicy hot chocolate made with pure organic cacao. "I think smoothies are a real easy way to introduce healthy superfoods to people who may have heard about these ingredients."
She's has grown to employ six people and currently sets up shop at three different farmers markets around the city, as well as every Sunday at Smorgasburg LA. In addition, you can catch Todo Verde hosting workshops on smoothies, and and other ways to introduce superfoods in community spaces, like Mi Vida in Highland Park.
Ramirez's goal is to have a welcoming brick-and-mortar space in Boyle Heights where people can come in, have a seat to have smoothie and some plant-based food, chill, and buy healthy ingredients in bulk at an affordable rate. She tells me about an experimental vegan chile relleno that she has been working on filled with roasted potatoes, huitlacoche, and smothered with cashew cream and tempeh chicharrones, for when she has that space.
She credits and is thankful for the work that the LA Food Policy Council is doing to change things at the policy level when it comes to food access, but also knows that there is much that can be still be done at the ground level as well to bring some immediate change.
"The reality is that we need to figure things out for ourselves. It's time to start a conversation about healthy food in our communities, en español, with the mothers and señoras and create a shift."